Katherine Oliver never thought she would work in government. But in 2002, the former journalist saw a unique opportunity to help rebuild a post-9/11 New York City by bringing Hollywood to the five boroughs.
“I thought it would be a great way to help the city, and I was curious about an innovative approach to the city and helping it rebuilding itself,” said Oliver, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.
Oliver, now 49, was appointed commissioner in August 2002. Before that, she worked for Mayor Bloomberg in the private sector as general manager of Bloomberg Radio and Television. Her accomplishments as commissioner are credited for the growth of the TV and film industries in the city over the past decade.
When she took over, there were nine prime-time TV shows in production in the city. Today, there are 23—Gossip Girl, Law & Order: SVU and Smash are a few of them. The number of films shot on location in the city has gone up as well, with 174 movies shot here in 2001 and 188 in 2011.
Oliver’s first task on the job was convincing moviemakers that filming in New York City could be simple and worthwhile. Previously, the agency was processing permits with electric typewriters, and the wait time to get a permit could last up to three days, she said. Meanwhile, filmmakers were “faking” New York in places like California and Canada.
“We wanted to send a signal to the industry right away that we were going to turn things around and make things more efficient,” she said, adding that she always believed customer service would be key to the agency’s success.
In 2004, the state launched a tax credit program for all eligible productions shot in the city.
The agency did other things to incentivize shooting in New York City as well, such as creating a discount card program in which filmmakers can get discounts at participating restaurants, lumber yards, prop shops and other businesses. This also helps the local businesses in the area, she said.
The industry’s growth has had a wide-reaching impact on the local economy, Oliver said.
There are 130,000 jobs in the city’s film production industry, an increase of 30,000 since 2004, according to Boston Consulting Group, which did a study for the agency. The industry also accounts for $7.1 billion in direct spending in the city.
“When a film shoots in New York, it’s not all about the actors and directors, but it’s the small businesses, like the florist, the dry cleaners, and the restaurants and the shops that will benefit from the productions,” Oliver said.
The most challenging part of her job, she said, is ensuring the satisfaction of both the industry and residents, who sometimes have to deal with parking challenges and other quality-of-life issues from having a film set so close to work or home.
She said the agency has done outreach so that communities can be introduced to the film industry and see how film production in the city employs local workers and helps local businesses.
A film and TV fan herself, Oliver said she is excited to see New York turn into a “TV town.” But one of her favorite parts of her job is being able to contribute to the economic goals of the city.
“We really resurrected an industry and a whole sector, and that’s quite gratifying,” she said.
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