New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill championed by the WGA East and the DGA that will support a study into the lack of opportunities for female and minority TV writers and directors in the state — after which $5 million from the Empire State Film Production Tax Credit can be allocated to incentivize the hiring of women and people of color to write and direct television in New York.
The Television Diversity Tax Credit Bill, which was passed with bipartisan support in the state’s Senate and Assembly, provides that once the study is completed, qualifying projects would be eligible to receive up to 30% of the qualifying salaries and fees paid for hiring minority or female TV writers or directors who work or reside in New York. The credit is capped at $150,000 in salaries or fees per person and $50,000 for such fees or salaries for work done for a single episode of television.
In his approval memorandum, Cuomo noted: “The bill would create a tax credit for qualified production companies that employ women and minority writers and directors who work on television programs by a allowing a new refundable tax credit for television writers’ and directors’ fees and salary costs. The bill advances a laudable goal and builds on the success of New York’s Film Tax Credit.
“In order to comply with constitutional mandates related to a set aside such as this,” he continued, “I have secured an agreement with the legislature to conduct a study to first demonstrate the underutilization of minority and women directors and screenwriters who will benefit from this bill. The legislature has also agreed to require a minimum number of days of work be undertaken in New York, and restrictions on the amount of compensation eligible for the credit, since for the first time, this bill allows ‘above the line’ costs to be included for this credit. Based on this agreement, I am signing this bill. This bill is approved.”
It’s been a long slog for the guilds to get the bill passed. In 2017, Cuomo vetoed an earlier incarnation of the bill, saying that the state’s $420 million film incentives program was already “extremely oversubscribed” and that there was nothing in the budget to pay for the additional $5 million in spending called for in the diversity bill. He also said that there were “significant technical difficulties which make the bill fatally defective.”
“This bill enjoyed the unwavering support of thousands of writers and activists who made visits and phone calls to Albany, sent emails and shared tweets,” said WGA East executive director Lowell Peterson. “Television starts with storytelling, and our members made clear that this legislation was necessary to make television more inclusive and more reflective of the lives of the people who live here and who comprise the audience for the shows that are made here. This bill will strengthen the entertainment industry in New York and, most importantly, build a critical mass of diverse talent that ensures our industry continues to be an engine of growth and employment for years to come.”
Said Neil Dudich, the DGA’s Eastern executive director: “We commend Governor Cuomo for signing this important bill into law, encouraging television employers to discover the full range of New York’s talented directors and writers. We are incredibly grateful to the bill’s sponsors State Senator Robert Jackson and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo for taking a stand on this important issue, to our partners in this effort, the Writers Guild of America, East, and to New York’s broader labor and film community who provided their support. For years the DGA has pushed the industry to adopt more diverse and inclusive hiring practices, and we will continue to fight for fairness for all directors.”
Said Jackson, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate: “I’m proud to have the Governor’s signature on this bill. By encouraging greater racial and gender diversity among writers and directors of TV shows, we are doing important work upstream to make sure that we have relevant, culturally sensitive, and powerful portrayals on-screen that reflect the diversity of our city, our state, and our country.”
Said Crespo, the bill’s sponsor in the Assembly. “The New York State Film and Television Tax Credit has proven to be an extremely successful program as it has expanded the growth of the film and television industry in New York State. Although it has fostered tremendous economic opportunities, what it has failed to do is open doors for the incredibly innovative and creative minds of women and people of color throughout our neighborhoods such as a South Bronx. With this legislation, we will ensure that this growing industry also allows for the participation of this talent pool. It is important that the stories we hear and watch on screen reflect the true diversity of all communities in New York State and the nation. I am proud to have carried this legislation. Thank you to the advocates for their passion and efforts and to the Governor for signing this bill into law.”