Like many regions around the world, Kingston, NY is eager to grow its share of the film and television production industry, which is projected to generate $325B globally by 2020.
As a city of just over 23,000 people, Kingston is never going to be the next Hollywood. However, recent developments (some sudden, some years in the making) have it poised to join places like Portland, ME, Asheville, NC, and Missoula, MT as small-town film meccas; places where the combination of incentives, an existing arts and cultural scene, and natural assets explode into economic success and job creation.
As a marketing agency that celebrates Kingston’s creative spirit, we’re pretty excited about this possibility, so we're writing about it. This post is also sponsored by Brave, a video production company based in nearby New Paltz, NY that produces independent film, commercials, music videos and branded entertainment.
Onto the list!
1. There's already a growing film industry
In 2015, the Hudson Valley Film Commission (whose mission is to grow film/video/media production for the entire region) estimated that production companies spent about $8.25M in the region, an increase of 83% from the year before.
Their site also lists a robust number of pre-production, production, and post-production professionals working locally already:
As a whole, New York State’s film film and tv sector was estimated to have grown by 23% from 2004 to 2013.
2. Proximity to NYC (The 2nd-Best Big City for Filmmakers)
In 2016, Moviemaker rated New York City as the 2nd best big city to live and work as a moviemaker. Even though the cost of living is high, the article cited New York’s tax credits, ease of acquiring permits, critical mass of skilled, experienced crew, and the legendary scenery as huge pluses.
Kingston, NY is not New York City; it’s about 100 miles away. That means that it’s far enough to not have insane real estate prices, taxes and living expenses, but it’s close enough to get to, with multiple ways to get there. So if you're thinking about making Kingston your home base, you can still be connected to projects in the city and commute when need be.
3. Diverse, Picturesque Places to Shoot
There's a skyrocketing number of productions choosing to film around here, partially because of the diversity and availability of perfect filming locations. Just flip through the 51 Most-Instagrammed Places in the Hudson Valley on our own site, or check out Abandoned Hudson Valley to see amazing photography of castles, hotels, roadside attractions, mental institutions and other oddities that are just sitting around, waiting to take on new life in film.
Kingston, NY is a small, historic/industrial city bordering on mountain ranges, rural areas, and the Hudson River. There are a lot of possibilities for film locations here, and in lots of surrounding small towns and villages with their own character.
The HVFC also lists eight different location scouts on their directory who specialize in the region.
4. Workforce Training, Infrastructure and Colleges
Kevin Klowden is a smart person from the prestigious Milken Institute’s California Center. He said that while many states and counties throw different tax incentives out to film production companies to stimulate economic development, they don’t work well in a vacuum.
“What makes things work is you need to invest in and build up local workforce,” he said, adding that “states that have provided incentives for investment in permanent infrastructure, like production facilities, have seen the greatest benefits”.
Enter the Mary Stuart Masterson-led Stockade Works.
On December 8, it was announced that the non-profit “film and television production and post-production studio that will provide training opportunities for young urbanites seeking careers in the entertainment industry,” received $1M in grant funding from New York State. That’s part of an almost $12M investment that’s expected to be raised through a combination of historic and federal tax credits, private investments, and a variety of grant-based funding sources.
The investments will help renovate a dilapidated 70,000 sq. foot factory in Midtown Kingston into (among other things) a powerhouse in workforce development for the local film industry. It will also feature multiple sound stages, work areas, and a community event space for screenings and panels.
That’s in addition to an existing labor pipeline that’s fed by a mix of prestigious private colleges (Bard, Vassar and Marist College within 30 miles), high-performing public schools like SUNY New Paltz, Ulster, and Dutchess, Orange/Ulster BOCES, One Stop Career Center programs and more.
5. Availability of real estate and creative studio space
The area surrounding Kingston, NY has too many quaint villages and towns to count, all with something unique to offer. But for big chunks of creative, commercial space, Midtown Kingston is the place to be. It’s known as the “Midtown Arts District,” which, for creative enterprises, may equal easier access to grants and regulatory opportunities (also where Stockade Works is located).
Eight months ago, we wrote a piece titled “5 Reasons to Move to Midtown Kingston Now,” and it’s already outdated. Existing spaces range from the tried and true Shirt/Pajama/Brush Factories (see our infographic), 721 Media Center, a gutted former Bank of America building (imagine editing inside a bank vault), and there's anticipated new working space that may available at the upcoming Stockade Works building, Ferrovia Studios (former ice skating rink!), and the Ulster-Greene ARC building.
6. Eagerness of local stakeholders
Government officials, residents and local businesses are excited for the film industry to grow in this region.
On the official side, Stockade Works was included as a priority project on the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council’s application for NYS CFA funding, while the expansion of film tax credits to the region garnered almost universal bi-partisan support from people ranging from Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, NYS Senator George Amedore, and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.
There's not yet a NYC-style "Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting" one-stop shop for film permitting, but economic development officials and other stakeholders are known to be very helpful with facilitating productions.
Residents are also excited to get involved with local film production; Sisterhood of the Night, which was filmed in Kingston, attracted 150 local extras, and many local businesses went out of their way to be involved as a location. One Kingston AirBnb even talks specifically about providing accommodations for film production company personnel on its website.
7. A local film scene
People who live and breathe film don’t have to go far to network with peers and enjoy local work. We count at least five film festivals within 30 miles of Kingston, as well as numerous independent theaters. Celebrities like Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Jason Lee, Kal Penn, Michael C. Hall, Andie MacDowell, Melissa Leo, Natalie Merchant either live or have worked recently in town, and nearby, people like Paul Rudd, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who own a local candy shop together) Vera Farmiga and Peter Dinklage could be your neighbors.
8. Tax Incentives
Until November, Kingston’s Ulster County (along with several other nearby NY counties) was receiving the same tax credit as NYC for production (30%) and post-production (35%), while much of the rest of the state had a credit that was 10% higher.
Thanks to action by local and state government, and activism from local stakeholders, the tax credit has been raised 10% higher on both counts: 40% for production, and 45% for post-production. You can find the full details at New York Loves Film. Effective immediately, this is a huge swing in the local economics of film-making, and turns Kingston from a good to great destination.
What did we miss? Let us know in the comments!