By Jack Egan
At the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard just across the East River from lower Manhattan, the first major new movie-and-television production lot to be built in New York in years is ready to be launched.
Steiner Studios opens officially in September but will be ready for some limited shoots as early as July, according to Jay Fine, the chief executive of the new operation. “We are hoping to be full very shortly and create 1,000 new jobs here,” he says.
Steiner’s timing couldn’t be better. New York is in the midst of a production boom reminiscent of 1998 when 221 movies were shot in the Big Apple. The new studio complex is a welcome addition. Moreover, it is the type of full-fledged facility that New York’s production community, and even Hollywood producers, have long said was needed to attract big movies to Gotham—not just for a few days of shooting to catch the Manhattan skyline, but to make the entire movie from soup to nuts.
The new studio consists of five interconnected soundstages, ranging in size from 16,000 to 27,000 square feet. The biggest of the five becomes the largest available in New York. Three of the stages are an accommodating 45-feet in height. The studio is 15 minutes from downtown Manhattan. The Hollywood style gated lot, the first in New York, includes parking space for 1,000 cars and numerous amenities. Beyond the 15 acres Steiner presently occupies, there is more space nearby which could eventually be used for a traditional Hollywood-style backlot, though New York’s often inclement weather may be a deterrent.
Steiner Studios also benefits by being the first out of the gate. After years of plans and proposals, many of which were scrapped, some that foundered and some that are still on the drawing boards, Steiner comes on line with 100,000 square feet of new studio space when it’s badly needed. That increment boosts the approximately 600,000 square feet presently available in New York City by around 16 percent. (By comparison, Los Angeles studios have at total of 3.5 million square feet of space.)
Moreover, Steiner has gotten the jump on three other active plans to expand studio space in New York:
• Kaufman-Astoria Studios in Queens—which harks back to the silent-screen era and has been the home for Sesame Street for 34 years and is where the Pink Pan–ther sequel is now lensing—has broken ground on a major new soundstage. “Our project was delayed because of 9/11 and the city’s economic crisis, but now it’s back on track,” says studio president Hal Rosenbluth.
• Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, a key location for many New York-based productions such as HBO’s The Sopranos and Sex and the City has an ambitious plan to add 300,000 square feet of new production space to be known as Silvercup Studios West, which in turn would be part of two-million-square-foot mixed retail, residential and office space complex.
• A project called Studio City of New York, consisting of a 15-story building on Manhattan’s far west side, has been pending for several years. The $375 million structure will include some studio space, mainly for television, but is designed mostly as office space for entertainment-related companies. The project needs a major anchor-tenant before it can get a greenlight from its financial backers, which include Wall Street’s Lehman Bros. and Pacifica Ventures, based in Los Angeles.
With all of these projects in the wings, there’s some concern that today’s scarcity of top-flight production space could eventually turn into a glut, causing the New York studios to cannibalize each other’s clients when there won’t be enough activity to fill the space available. There’s already scuttlebutt that Steiner has been romancing some of Silvercup’s HBO clients.
“So many of these projects get announced and never get built,” says Fine, whose background is as a studio production manager for both CBS and NBC. “But we’re here and almost ready to go with what will be the largest and most modern production facility east of Los Angeles.”
The project has been financed to the tune of over $100 million by the Steiner Equities Group, a privately held real estate development firm headed by father and son David and Douglas Steiner. New York City threw in another $28 million.
New York City film commissioner Katherine Oliver, who has spearheaded the effort to get more filming to New York, dismisses concerns. “I believe that competition serves to strengthen the industry and ultimately, deliver finer products and services to production,” says Oliver. “In 1998 and at other points in our production history we’ve had to turn away business, utilize armories and other locations that do not have the appropriate grid height or power requirements or parking that a studio furnishes. New studios will not only attract additional projects, but help us to retain features that would otherwise do only a few days of ambitious shots on location.”
Other New York studios say they welcome Steiner Studios, and don’t feel their own expansion projects will be compromised. “There is no explosion of studio space going on in New York,” says Silvercup CEO Alan Suna. “All of these projects have different timelines and their own rationales and will prove their worth as they come to market.”
Charles Herzfeld, senior VP for sales and marketing for Technicolor Creative Services on the East Coast, has his own perspective as a postproduction executive based in New York. “Of course there’s more studio space needed here, but when you add it all up this is a huge amount,” he says.
Herzfeld notes that though demand is now strong, there’s no guarantee it will be sustained. The number of episodic television series that have been made in New York, such as Sex and the City, has lately been on the decline. “The gamble is, if you increase the studio space, you encourage that much more capacity in services, and then you might find there’s not enough business,” he says. “My feeling is that, whatever they say, these studios are going to expand only to the extent they see there is an actual need for the space.”
By Jack Egan