When mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio was running for the highest office in New York City, he promised to build on Mayor Bloomberg’s legacy of supporting the continued growth of film and television production in the city by helping the film industry spread into the outer boroughs. With cleanup of the Gowanus Canal threatening to close Brooklyn-based Eastern Effects’ main facility – including their main sound stage and productions office that have served as the home of FX’s “The Americans” – many in the New York film industry showed up at City Hall on Wednesday to call on the mayor to deliver on those promises.
“Last Thursday the EPA made it official, our studio, which we’ve spent invested years of our lives and millions of loaned dollars, will be demolished for a temporary staging site for Gowanus Canal cleanup. We are here today to call on the city to step in and save us,” said Eastern Effects owner Scott Levy in a press conference prior to hand-delivering 2,100 letters of support, including ones from Edie Falco, Zack Braff, HBO, Fox, WGA and SAG-AFTRA.
The potential closing of the sound stage highlights how thin New York City production infrastructure has been spread in recent years. With the 30% tax incentive attracting 52 scripted shows last season, the city’s crew, equipment and stages are over capacity.
“We cannot be losing production space when we are using every square inch of it,” Leslie Gyson, “The Americans” assistant unit production manager, told IndieWire in an interview. “There’s no space to go, productions are having to go up to Mt. Vernon.”
Supporters of Eastern Effects believe there are three nearby alternate and vacant sites that could be used for the clean-up. The EPA, however, disagreed and last Thursday handed their final plans over to the city.
The Mayor’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is in a difficult position, because they negotiated with the EPA to have two blocks of large storage tanks be built next door to Eastern Effects, so as to not have to demolish a park and swimming pool used by residents of nearby low-income housing. Using the Eastern Effects site as a staging and work site makes the most sense to the EPA and DEP because they could enclose and cover the entire toxic site.
According to the DEP, the problem with the three alternate sites proposed by Eastern Effects is they are across a major street (Nevins) from the storage tanks, so not only would they not be able to enclose the entire site, they likely would have to close Nevins Street for portions of the multi-year project.
In a press conference of his own on Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio said the city would help Eastern Effects and asked for patience as the site doesn’t need to be ready for clean-up efforts for another four years.
“We want to help Eastern Effects, and we’re very willing to,” said the mayor. “Our folks are engaged with them, and there’s time. I certainly understand their sense of urgency, but there’s time because the actions – from what I understand – would negatively affect them are some distance in the future. So we’re going to work with them very hard to find a solution.”
In an interview with IndieWire, Levy expressed frustrations with a the lack of timeline, and pointed out that productions need to be able to plan ahead of time and that “living in a grey area” could be difficult on business.
The other concern for Levy is that Eastern Effects doesn’t own their building – they have a 20-year lease – and they had to borrow $5 million to build their main stage. The city is legally bound to make the property owner financially whole, but not the tenants. Ultimately, to rebuild a stage (which takes approximately two years) in another location will take time and financial support from the city, which officials indicate is a distinct possibility. Levy and his supporters don’t see how it wouldn’t be far easier and cheaper to use one of the alternate sites, which has been backed by a number of community organizations.
When asked about Eastern Effects’ proposed alternate sites, the mayor grew somewhat impatient.
“Again, sometimes people have trouble taking yes for an answer,” said de Blasio, in response the question. “We want to help them. There is time to work it out. We certainly want to see their business continue to thrive. I think ultimately we’ll work it out with them.”