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Inside View: Rochester/Finger Lakes Film & Video Office

By Christine Bunish

Nora Brown
Executive Director – Rochester/Finger Lakes Film & Video Office
Rochester, N.Y.  •  www.filmrochester.org

Nora Brown

Markee: What was it like to have The Amazing Spider-Man2 in town?

Ms. Brown: “We got a call from a location manager who was looking to shoot a car chase, crash and gun battle upstate for a movie called London Calling, so we sent images of Rochester’s Main Street and tunnels. Then they sent someone to scout the city, followed by stunt people and more locations people. By that time, a small group of us knew the movie really was The Amazing Spider-Man2, and we were in the running. The last visitors did a lot of math to calculate if Main Street was wide enough for cars to go fast enough for the chase. What sealed the deal was our ability to shut down a major downtown intersection for the duration of the shoot. Everyone stepped up to the plate to make it happen.”

Markee: What did it take to shoot the car chase that’s the opening sequence in The Amazing Spider-Man2?

Ms. Brown: “We shut down Rochester’s four-lane Main Street for 10 days. The cross-traffic footprint grew and shrunk day-to-day, and we moved a main transfer point for buses over one block. They changed the street signs and parked stunt cars along the road – dozens of New York City taxis, police cars, buses and even a Daily Bugle truck. The lion’s share of the shooting was in front of the county office building. Locals will recognize it, but everyone else will think that it’s New York City. The producers told us they’d never have been able to pull this off in Manhattan.”

Markee: Your film office was launched about 20 years ago – what makes it stand out?

Ms. Brown: “A lot of people who answer the phones at regional film offices work for convention and visitors’ bureaus, and they don’t speak ‘film.’ We’re staffed by filmmakers. My deputy director and I each have had 30-year careers in film: I started as a production assistant on features and worked my way up to coordinator, unit production manager and eventually producer. When you call us you can tell we’re experienced at this.”

Markee: What’s the history of filmmaking in Rochester?

Ms. Brown: “There’s always been production here. We’re the home of George Eastman, Kodak and the George Eastman House film archives. Well-known DPs come here to test new film stock and crews have gotten their chops working with them.”

Markee: What incentives are in place to fuel production?

Ms. Brown: “Increased incentives include a 30-percent fully-refundable tax credit on qualified expenses for shooting in upstate New York and an extra 10-percent credit on below-the-line labor costs. The latter is huge for independent features, which typically don’t have high above-the-line budgets: They spend it all on making the film and 50 percent of that is usually labor.
“Our biggest competition comes from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio, not New York City. So we think the increased incentives will cause filmmakers to take a longer look at upstate New York.”

Markee: What makes the Rochester area film-friendly?

Ms. Brown: “We have an easy and affordable permit process, a highly qualified crew base and a qualified production facility: Young Lion Studios, an amazing multiple soundstage facility in a former Kodak building with equipment and support services. Our locations include Americana towns and cities and vineyards that can double for California and Europe.”

Markee: What are some of the more surprising locations you offer?

Ms. Brown: “Letchworth State Park is called the Grand Canyon of the East with its gorge, the Genesee River and dam – it’s been really popular. The Erie Canal has villages all along its way; the High Falls Brewery is a manufacturing plant available for shooting. All of our county parks give the look of being in the middle of the woods, but you can park your trucks right beyond the tree line. There’s even a horse farm 15 minutes from downtown Rochester.”

Markee: How do you follow The Amazing Spider-Man2?

Ms. Brown: “Two independent features are expected to shoot here; we do indie films pretty seamlessly and production budgets go a lot farther here. Our commercial business never really slowed down – Welch’s films commercials at Finger Lakes’ vineyards before the grapes are ripe, so they have to import them. We get a lot of reality and documentary programming, too, including the BBC. And we’re always up for more films like Spider-Man!”