New York City’s film office has a new chief, Kwame Amoaku, who’s got a goal fit for the five boroughs: to grow production beyond its record-setting pre-pandemic levels. In an interview with IndieWire, Amoaku said he’ll provide “concierge service” to film and TV production, streamlining the permitting process, balancing community and industry needs, and boosting the city’s crew base and infrastructure.
It won’t be easy. But if he can make it here…
Amoaku comes to New York with some three decades of experience in production: He worked as location manager for NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” and his career has included a long list of call-sheet positions from actor and director to production coordinator. He was tapped for the deputy commissioner position at the New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) last month after serving as the director of the Chicago Film Office since 2019.
“Filming in New York is very challenging. There are a lot of natural obstacles to filming here. Our job is to make it as painless as possible,” he told IndieWire. “My position is to be that liaison between the industry, the city, and the businesses here in New York to make sure they can cooperate to work together to everyone’s advantage.”
The pandemic stymied production in the city as it did everywhere else, but additional stress came when MOME was tasked with overseeing permitting for outdoor dining. Many in the industry saw former mayor Bill de Blasio as less committed to the idea of production as an economic engine compared to Michael Bloomberg, whose administration birthed the “Made in New York” program, or David Dinkins, who made the entertainment office a cabinet-level one. Adams’ rich fundraising effort included tens of thousands in donations from entertainment companies and figures.
“That sense of community is a very important thing that was established during the period and I will admit, got a little lost in our last administration,” said Jon Kamen, CEO of RadicalMedia, which crafted the “Made in New York” campaign and whose recent productions include the Oscar winning “Summer of Soul.” “I think that Eric Adams and [Amoaku] are refocusing those efforts with the guidance of others.”
Amoaku’s appointment was announced on July 21 as one of three production-related components of Adams’ citywide economic recovery plan. The mayor also created the city’s first Film and Television Production Industry Council, with figures from the Motion Picture Association, major studios, and guilds and unions, who will advise the city on policies and programs. He also issued an executive order that requires each city agency to name a film office liaison, with the hope that will signal the citywide importance of the industry and cut down on red tape.
Production reached an all-time high in 2019, with tentpoles including “West Side Story” and “In the Heights” filming simultaneously in the city. In the pandemic era, competing locales like Georgia, California, Oklahoma, and Massachusetts have found success in courting blockbusters with a bedrock of infrastructure, crew, and tax incentives.
Amoaku has a say in the first two. “If you want to have growth, there’s workforce and there’s infrastructure,” he said. “You need both of those to increase the capacity for both.”
Oklahoma last year launched a three-pronged effort to court productions, with one of the tenets workforce development. New York has production assistant, post-production, and writers training programs, and Amoaku is interested in expanding exciting efforts. “We have to work on diversity here,” he said. “There’s a ton of untapped talent here in New York.”
When it comes to encouraging the development of sound stages, Amoaku said it will be key to work with his counterparts across the tri-state area. There’s already new construction in the works, including in the Hudson Valley, where Electric Owl Studios is looking to create a 6 to 8-stage complex, a follow-up to the facility its building near Atlanta.
“For years it was enough infrastructure, or close to enough, but with streaming content being as robust as it is now, we really saw a need for extra stage space,” said Dan Rosenfelt, who co-founded Electric Owl with Michael Hahn. Only in New York!