Should New York Say “Cut” To Expensive Film Industry Incentives?

by Sara Morrison

CBS’s new show, The 2-2, blocks off street parking in Washington Heights for a recent location shoot. Generous incentives from both the state and city are bringing more productions to the city than ever.

For a week last May, Marcelo Duek, owner of Boca Grande, an interior design and furnishings store, stared out of his two-story-high storefront windows at the double-decker, 1,150-square-foot trailer parked outside. There was nothing else to see; the trailer blocked the entire view out of the store – and any passing member of the public’s view in. Duek’s SoHo neighborhood was the set of Men in Black III, and the trailer housed star Will Smith’s personal gym. “A $500,000 tractor trailer so Will Smith can pump muscles before a shoot,” Duek scoffs.

Duek estimates that between the trailer blocking his storefront and the mass of people and film equipment, he lost 80 percent of his business the week Men in Black III took over an eight-block radius of the neighborhood. He says he never received any compensation from the production or the city.

But Duek also sees the benefit of local shoots. “I do like the filming – it employs a lot of people I know,” Duek says. It also helps Duek’s business occasionally, as Boca Grande makes props for some productions.

And there are plenty of local productions these days to make those props for, as New York isn’t ready to end its film incentive programs any time soon. Public funds are used to lure film and television productions here to create a permanent large-scale industry the city’s film office credits with adding $5 billion a year to the city’s economy and 100,000 jobs – though other estimates say the true value is much lower. Incentives range from free ads in city bus stops to a 30 percent credit of a production’s in-state budget. For a blockbuster such as Men in Black III, that can be worth tens of millions of dollars.

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Got Props?

Got Props, co-owned by Nicole Stiegelbauer, is going through a period of restructuring after the cancellations of the New York City-based soap operas that were its main clients.

Now in its new location at the Brooklyn Navy Yards and with so many new TV series and movies shooting in the city, Got Props should be just fine.

Will Broadway’s Priscilla Queen of the Desert Drag Live Music Down?

by Sara Morrison
Priscilla Queen of the Desert’s Palace Theatre Broadway home. The show’s use of pre-recorded music alongside a live orchestra has drawn musicians union Local 802’s ire. (photo: Sara Morrison)

"The only real art is in the lip synch."

So says Bernadette, one of three main characters in the sequin-encrusted, feather-coated Broadway musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert. The character is referring to the lavish drag shows the play is about, but her words are applicable to the musical itself – and the controversy surrounding it.

The three male leads alternate between using their own singing voices and lip synching to the female Diva characters along a disco-laden soundtrack featuring songs such as “Hot Stuff,” “I Love the Nightlife,” and even “Sempre Libera,” from the opera La Traviata. A jukebox-style musical, the show has no original compositions.

The accompanying instrumentation also, in a way, practices the art of lip synching: The nine musicians in the orchestra, located underneath the stage and barely visible to the audience except for the above-ground conductor/keyboardist, play along to pre-recorded, synthesized string tracks. None of the live musicians play string instruments. For this, the show has become the main villain of the Save Live Music on Broadway campaign.

"A Broadway musical should have live music," says campaign spokesperson Laura Dolan. Launched two months after Priscilla's March 20 opening, Save Live Music says its goal is to raise awareness of and target all threats to live music on Broadway and beyond, but Priscilla has always been its main focus.

But Save Live Music may be doing some of its own lip synching. Although a nonprofit organization called the Council for Living Music is credited as the author of the site and its blog posts, the words come from Local 802, the union that represents Broadway orchestra musicians.

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Nine Months Later, The Book of Mormon is Profitable

The Book of Mormon's cast celebrates another milestone for the smash Broadway hit. (photo: Joan Marcus/Book of Mormon)

The idea of putting money into a Broadway musical about Mormon missionaries written by the creators of South Park may have seemed insane to some, but a few brave investors will now reap the rewards, as The Book of Mormon Twitter-announced today that it has earned back its initial $11.4 million investment.

The show has been an unlikely hit with critics and audiences alike, garnering nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and breaking the Eugene O’Neill Theatre’s box office record 22 times since its March 24 opening night.

Patrick Healy at The New York Times ArtsBeat blog attributed Mormon's fast recoup to marked-up “premium” ticket prices as high as $477, allowing Mormon to earn, according to Entertainment Weekly's Aubry D'Arminio, an average of $1.1 million a week, almost twice the estimated $600,000 it costs to stage.

Still wondering what all the fuss is about? The AP sums it up nicely:

It was crowned best musical for its offensive yet good-natured look at two missionaries who arrive in Uganda and get way more than they bargained for, including gun-toting warlords and a running gag about maggots in a man’s scrotum.

Kickstarter Projects Update

Back in September, this blog reported on the crowdfunding sensation that is Kickstarter. Two of the projects profiled in that article recently checked in with updates:

Amanda Wilder’s campaign to fund the completion of her documentary, Approaching the Elephant, has begun. Watch her five minute pitch video above and click the link to find out more about how to back her project, which was one of just six picked by the Kickstarter for its weekly blog post that highlights the staff’s favorite recently-launched projects. The title of that post, by the way? “New Projects Are Approaching the Elephant.” It can’t be a bad thing when Kickstarter itself gives you a shout-out.

Meanwhile, Kianga Ellis reports that her unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign has a happy ending — The New York Group Show will live on at the end of this year on the walls of her new Brooklyn loft, and she’s currently looking for artists to submit up to five pieces that relate to theme of “rebellion and empowerment in contemporary art.” You can find out more, including the artist submission deadline (December 10th!) and details about the space and the show, here.

Roller Derby’s Niche Businesses Keep on Rolling

by Sara Morrison

Nicole “Bonnie Thunders” Williams and Danielle “OMG WTF” Flowers work behind the counter at Five Stride Skate Shop, the Brooklyn store they co-own. (photo: Sara Morrison)

Six days a week, Nicole Williams, 28, and Danielle Flowers, 32, ride their bikes from the apartment they share to Brooklyn’s Five Stride Skate Shop, the business they co-own. Here, they are best known to their customers by different names and for their activities on a different set of wheels: roller skates. As Bonnie Thunders and OMG WTF, respectively, Williams and Flowers are two of the best skaters in the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league, and Five Stride specializes in selling to roller derby players like them.

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Despite Labor Woes, Sotheby’s Art Auction Far Exceeds Estimates

1949-A-No. 1 by Clyfford Still sold for nearly $62 million at Sotheby’s recent contemporary art auction. (Source: Sotheby’s)

Neither economic nor union woes seemed to have an effect on Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction last week, where nearly $316 million worth of art pieces were sold. Those results are the best for a contemporary art evening auction at Sotheby’s since May 2008 — before the recession — and its third-highest contemporary art evening auction total ever, according to the Sotheby’s press release.

The total far exceeded even the highest presale estimate of $270 million, with four pieces by abstract artist Clyfford Still bringing in about $114 million of the total. Before the sale, Bloomberg’s Katya Kazakina wrote that the entire Still collection could fetch “more than $70 million.” Still’s 1949-A-No. 1 alone nearly hit that mark, selling for just under $62 million and doubling the $25-35 million estimate. According to The Denver Post, the proceeds from the sale of Still’s works will go to an endowment for Denver’s Clyfford Still Museum, set to open November 18th.

But the ongoing labor dispute between Sotheby’s and its locked out art handlers (often joined on the picket line by Occupy Wall Street protestors) could not be completely ignored. The New York Times’ Julia Chapman wrote that Sotheby’s contemporary art specialist Anthony Grant was heard saying “I hope the Occupy Wall Street group doesn’t show up” during a brunch held by the auction house a few days before the sale. About 100 of them did, joining teamsters for an “Occupy Sotheby’s" protest. According to’s account, protestors supporting Professional Art Handlers Local 814 were a “vigorous group” with their own oompah band. Reuters reported that an “undetermined number” of those protestors were detained by police for trying to block the sidewalk.

Features of the Freelance Economy

On the heels of last week’s article here about one NYC freelancer in the art world comes this article by Martha Retallick at Freelance Switch about the growing freelance economy:
But when it comes to the world’s economic recovery, [freelancers are] anything but a sideshow. If anything, we’re a major part of the solution. To the point, we’re building a new economy.

A pretty dramatic assertion, but it’s an interesting read — especially the section about “involuntary freelancers.”

(via abetterfreelancer)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011 - 6 -

NYFA’s Artist Fellowship Program: Less Money, But More Opportunities

by Sara Morrison

The way the New York Foundation for the Arts distributes its Artist Fellowship grants changed this year due to a combination of changing discipline categories and funding cuts. In the past, NYFA awarded $7,000 grants to artists in sixteen disciplines over a two-year span, eight each year. Now the organization will award grants to five disciplines a year over the course of three.

David C. Terry, NYFA’s Senior Officer/Curator of Programs and Awards, says that while the number of disciplines decreased from sixteen to fifteen, the change will actually ensure that more types of art are represented. No categories were removed outright, but disciplines that were determined to overlap with each other, such as Crafts and Sculpture and Video and Film, were combined. A new category, Folk/Traditional Arts, was added. “So what may appear to be a narrowing of disciplines is actually an increase in opportunities,” Terry said in an email.

Artists who rely on NYFA’s flagship program can certainly use the help. Over the past three years, state and federal funding cuts significantly reduced the amount of money NYFA has to give away. According to New York state budget reports, the New York State Council for the Arts (from which NYFA receives “major funding” for its Artist Fellowship program) has seen drastic funding cuts every year since 2009. The result is that there are fewer fellowships to go around:

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Brooklyn Freelancer Curates Art — and Her Career

by Sara Morrison

Risa Shoup peers out from behind "Rapture Romance #5," created by two artists who go by the moniker “Ghost of a Dream" and use discarded lottery tickets and romance novel covers in their work. The pair was recently signed to Davidson Contemporary, a division of the “blue chip” Maxwell Davidson Gallery, and Shoup bought the piece in the hopes that it would significantly appreciate in value. Unfortunately, her busy work schedule has left her no time to display it in her apartment. (photo: Sara Morrison)

Risa Shoup, 28, describes herself as a “happy workaholic.” A freelance art curator and development consultant for nonprofit arts organizations, Shoup’s love of her work is obvious whenever the gregarious Brooklyn resident talks about it. Her speech becomes more animated and her eyes light up behind her thick-rimmed glasses. That passion is what fuels her as she juggles her time between her many clients. It’s also why she’s planning to leave it behind in favor of law school.

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