Thinking of Shooting in New York City? Keep These Five Tips in Mind
The filmmakers behind ‘Landing Up’ share how to get the most out of your New York production.
[Editor’s Note: No Film School asked Producer Stacey Maltin and Director Dani Tenenbaum to write about filming in New York based on their experience shooting ‘Landing Up’.]
Making our first feature film Landing Up has been the most exciting, nerve-wracking, thrilling, emotional journey. Landing Up tells the story of Chrissie, a girl with nothing to lose and everything to hide. When she finds herself living life on the streets she learns the art of manipulating strangers to put a roof over her head. But when she meets the guy of her dreams, her secret threatens to ruin their perfect relationship.
As independent filmmakers working on a micro-budget we had to learn every part of the filmmaking process. Between the highest highs and the most desperate struggles we found a filmmaking community in New York City that became an integral part of making the film come to life. Check out our filmmaking tips for making your first feature in New York and then check out the film.
In New York City, it only costs three hundred dollars for your whole production for as many shooting permits as you need.
1. Tap into the talent pool
When making a low budget film, you really need to start by understanding what resources you already have and what you can do with them. Our biggest resource in NYC was...NYC! New York City attracts the finest and most talented filmmakers in the country, and they all want to work and make art, so you can find skilled collaborators even if your budget is not that high.
One strategy we used was contacting assistants that were trying to move along the ladder and offering them a higher position. We asked a good best-boy to be our gaffer, 2nd AC to be our 1st AC, assistant casting directors to be our casting directors and so on. They were all hungry, eager to prove themselves, and they wanted the credit to leverage for moving up in their next gig. That was one of the best decisions we made.
We also got a lot of help from the filmmaking community we belong to: The Filmshop. We workshopped our film in early stages during the writing sessions with them and later on when we were editing it. We even created a little focus group that helped us make decisions in that last phase of editing Landing Up. In addition, we had more than 20 members of this community working with us on this film from pre to post. It was truly an unquantifiable resource and a major force in getting the project completed.
2. Barter equipment or time
Sometimes (most times?) you don’t have the money to get everything you want (labor/equipment/set design etc.) in order to make your film. There’s always a better camera, sharper lens, more powerful light. But consider the fact that this is true not only to you but to everyone else, which means that everyone has something that the other is looking for.
Since we didn’t have the money to get all the equipment or crew we needed to film Landing Up the way we wanted, we offered our next best thing: our time and talent. We were able to barter with a friend and get a great camera package for the whole duration of our filming and, in return, we worked on our lender’s set during the production of his feature film. In a different barter, we produced a pilot for one of our PAs. This is a great way to get something you don’t have by giving one that you DO have, like time and hard work. Of course, you can barter anywhere, but New York has a larger pool of working filmmakers with gear than most other cities.
“The first thing you need to learn as an independent producer is how to be uncomfortable.”
3. Finding locations in New York may be easier than you think
New York offers a wealth of variety when it comes to location options. That being said, it can also get very expensive very quickly. We didn’t have the budget for a locations manager but luckily our scrappy producer team put our brains together and figured out what the city had to offer.
The first thing we had to become comfortable doing was reaching out and actually asking for a favor. It sounds simple but can feel really uncomfortable. Luckily, the first thing you need to learn as an independent producer is how to be uncomfortable.
Of course, your locations start with your script. Landing Up exists in two worlds, the first being Chrissie’s life on the street, which is gritty. Danger can lurk around any corner and she constantly needs to be on her game and aware of how one wrong choice can lead her down a dark and dirty rabbit hole.
One of the main locations we had in the film is a homeless shelter. After doing research and volunteering at both city shelters and privately run shelters in New York, we got a good idea of what we wanted the shelter to look like. Filming in a real shelter was out of the question so we ended up connecting with a friend of our producer who owned a raw basement space in Brooklyn and was willing (as long as we had the right insurance) to lend us the space for free. Then it was up to our fantastic production designer who transformed the space into a believable shelter. It was “movie magic” in every sense of the word and was much cheaper than renting an already designed space by the hour.
4. Get to know the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment
The Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment is an incredible resource that does everything from offer discounts on all things production for Made in New York film projects, to controlling film permitting. In New York, you do not need a permit if you are going to shoot handheld with no sticks. However, If you want to set up lights in a night exterior scene, for example, then you need a permit.
Permit applications need to be turned in 48 hours in advance (which can be tricky if you’re super indie and things are always subject to change). The great thing about New York is that it only costs three hundred dollars for your whole production for as many shooting permits as you need. You can pay extra for services such as the towing unit to make sure a street is cleared or for specialized flaggers if you have a car scene, but if you don’t need any of those then the flat fee covers the whole film.
5. Use the New York Tax Credit
The Mayor’s Office is also where you can find and apply for the New York Tax Credit, which we found to be an amazing gift to independent film. The tax credit offers 30% back on qualified expenses. Most expenses below the line are qualified and most above the line are not. There are exceptions to both such as the fact that talent is not qualified but talent expenses are. Musicians who record music are qualified but licensed music is not.
In order to qualify for the low budget level 1 program you need to shoot at least 75% of your film on location in New York and also film at least one day on a qualified sound stage and build a set that has at least three walls. Filming on a sound stage can be expensive but there are indie friendly studios such as Brooklyn Fire Proof in Bushwick that are wonderful to lower budget films.
You need to have your initial application completed at least two days before principal photography begins and, once you wrap post, you submit for an audit. The audit can take 8-9 months to be processed but at the end of it you’ll have a sizeable chunk of change coming back to you. As an added bonus, you’ll have utilized New York employees and resources and been a part of keeping the film economy going.
Making your first feature is always going to be a journey of that has hurdles. The best thing you can do in any city is to have a solid team around you and the grit to see it all the way through.