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More filming coming to Harlem

Cyril Josh Barker | 12/12/2013, 4:08 p.m.
more film and television projects are using Harlem as a backdrop
Angela Bassett

Harlem or Hollywood?

If you ask many uptown residents, they might say they’ve stepped into Tinseltown, as many of them have been bombarded by lights, cameras and the occasional celebrity sighting when they’ve walked out of their buildings.

It seems more and more film and television projects are using Harlem as a backdrop, which not only shows off the neighborhood, but also benefits local residents and small businesses.

The latest big film that’s putting Harlem on the silver screen is the holiday movie “Black Nativity,” a film adaptation of Langston Hughes’ off-Broadway production that stars Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and Jennifer Hudson. Most of the movie was filmed uptown, and it even had its premiere at the Apollo Theater.

However, “Black Nativity” is just the tip of the iceberg according to Made in NY, the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. Recently, a number of feature films, television shows and commercials have used Harlem as a set, including CBS’ “Blue Bloods,” “The Face” on Oxygen and the new “Annie” film starring Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhané Wallis that’s set for release later next year.

In 2012, there were 267 feature films permitted by the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, 162 of which are over 90 minutes long. In the current 2013-2014 television season, 28 episodic series are currently filming in or have filmed in the city.

“Overall, production is at a strong pace across the city,” said Katherine Oliver, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. “There are so many iconic places where people want to film. Harlem has beautiful brownstones and is a great location for filming period pieces without having to recreate a set. The neighborhood has so many beautiful structures.”

Along with giving the world a more intimate view of New York, filming also helps the community. The city’s entertainment industry employs over 130,000 New Yorkers. It has provided an increase of 30,000 jobs since 2004 and contributes approximately $7.1 billion to the local economy annually.

Producers are also encouraged to solicit small businesses in the neighborhoods they shoot. The Office of Media and Entertainment created the Made in NY Discount Program, which gives discounts to vendors, including restaurants, transportation, lumber yards, florists, props and post-production.

“We really want filmmakers to support local businesses,” Oliver said. “When films come for their permits, we give them a Made in NY discount card so they can get what they need. We also have a phone app so they can know what businesses are nearby.”

Along with giving exposure to the neighborhood, Made in NY is also giving jobs to local residents through its Production Assistant Training Program. The program is a full-time, five-week-long training program for New Yorkers who are unemployed, underemployed and lacking opportunities in the industry. Since February 2006, 450 people have been through the program, with 96 percent of grads being people of color.

Lifelong Harlem resident Ralph Rodriguez graduated from the program this past September and has worked on a number of productions. The 22-year-old said he’s had consistent work on movie, television show and commercial shoots, including VH1’s “Black Ink Crew.” Rodriguez is also an aspiring director and producer.

“I’ve always been into film, and it was something I wanted to do since high school,” he said. “I went in to apply for a job, and I was put in touch with one of the directors of the training program. She sent me to an information session that same day about the program. I’ve worked on 10 different productions.”

For more information on the Made in NY Production Assistant Training Program, contact the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment by calling 311.