Woody Allen has undoubtedly bruised some feelings in the New York film community by telling journalists in Madrid today that he shoots his films in Europe because New York’s too expensive for him. But is has been his reality since he transplanted the plot of 2005’s Match Point to London. He gets more bang for his buck abroad.
“Woody’s right, it is much more expensive to shoot in New York than in Europe or even a city like Detroit,” said a production veteran who has made films with Allen in New York. “I don’t think Woody’s trying to give the city a face slap. This is more than ever a bottom line business. If the 30 shooting days his budget gives him in New York buys him 42 days in Spain, who can blame him for taking it? Outside New York and L.A., you can get a guy to drive a van for $250 a week. In New York, it’s $2000 a week. Spread the same markup over everything from carpenters to locations, hotels and sets, and you can see that filming in New York could add $5 million to Woody’s budget.”
Since Match Point, Allen has shot all but one of his subsequent pics—the 2009 Larry David New York-based comedy Whatever Works—in Europe. Cassandra’s Dream and Scoop were in London, Vicky Cristina Barcelona was Spain. The film he’s now promoting, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, shot in London, and the location of Midnight in Paris is self evident in the title. It has been a long time since Allen was regarded as New York’s preeminent resident filmmaker, who each fall made a movie–usually near his upper East Side neighborhood–played clarinet at Michael’s Pub, and was a fixture at Madison Square Garden for Knicks games.
Back then, Woody was not only treated like royalty by the local industry, but also the studios that bankrolled his movies. He got funding without having to show scripts, and had complete control. Studios lost enthusiasm for that arrangement after his grosses fell following a scandalous breakup with leading lady Mia Farrow. Revered as an auteur in Europe, he found funding privately. The first budget was conditional on shooting abroad, but he liked it and began tailoring his scripts specifically for locales like London, Barcelona and Paris. I would argue the change of scenery reinvigorated his work, and each of those locales have made it economical for him to shoot there.
New York has gotten along fine without him, particularly when it was able to compete with Toronto and other pseudo-Gotham locales with 30% tax breaks and extra incentives for productions that use Gotham post production services. That carrot was just renewed by New York State Legislature, which extended the program another 5 years through 2015, with $420 million ready to be allocated each year.
Despite Woody’s exodus, Gotham is flush with TV series, and a bunch of films are planning to make stops in town. I’m told they include Marvel’s The Avengers, the Jim Carrey film Mr. Popper’s Penguins, the Stephen Daldry-directed Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close with Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks, Men in Black 3, and possibly the Mike Nichols-directed Great Hope Springs with Meryl Streep. In a move that’s worth more to New York’s economy than two Woody Allen films, Universal has set the caper film Tower Heist to shoot completely in New York this November, with Brett Ratner directing and Ben Stiller starring.
“When you have a big budget film, you’re getting a huge tax rebate and that made it more affordable compared to Toronto,” Ratner told me. “The bigger the film, the more you’re going to save. The New York crews are in my opinion some of the best, because they grew up working for Woody, Joel and Ethan Coen, Marty Scorsese and Spike Lee. New York becomes a character in any movie and the rebate made it so reasonable that we’re shooting 100% of the film here and doing all of the post-production in New York.”