Crains reported on Thursday that Props for Today, a premiere New York based property rental facility, is filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. The 28 year old company has been prop provider for such shows as Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. Sadly, It's another resource that has fallen victim to the economic meltdown slamming the entertainment industry. Add last years writers strike, and it's obvious to see how production suppliers have taken a grave hit in the wallet.
New York, once a viable option for production due to enticing tax credits that lured productions such as Life on Mars, Ugly Betty and Fringe from Los Angeles to Gotham, has run out of money to fund the cost of high end filming. Some shows are skipping town or being canceled. Fringe is heading to Vancouver, Ugly Betty is hanging in limbo, and Life on Mars was given the chop yesterday. Less production in NYC means less work for the peripheral companies and vendors who cater to producers, hence the crisis that Props for Today is facing. However, in filing for Chapter 11 protection, owner Dyann Klein said, “I believe I will be able to implement necessary changes in reorganization in Chapter 11 and emerge as a much stronger, healthy company that will continue to be the leader in prop rentals in the industry for years to come.”
Let's hope so. New York needs more production in its boroughs. Keeping these suppliers in business is what keeps NY part of a unique creative community. Call it the authenticity or the no nonsense attitude in the air. There is something special about a New York production as opposed to one filmed in sun drenched California, or the antiseptic streets of Canada. Even a show like The Office, which takes place in Scranton PA yet filmed in Van Nuys CA, cannot escape the fake backdrops, the palm trees in background shots, greenery in winter scenes, the mountainous range in exterior frames that do not replicate the hills of The Electric City nor its state. Not that The Office should be filmed in PA or in NY for the east coast feel. It's just that viewers lose their sense of realism when the location is not dressed up to suit the locale of the story. You get taken out of the fantasy, and realize - during those 30 or 60 minutes of escapism - it's all fake, and Pennsylvania looks like the San Fernando Valley.
Indeed, producers have to make do with their abundant west coast resources; however, the grit and groundedness of an NYC production is palpable in SNL or 30 Rock. The lighting is darker, the actors are hungrier and the pacing is quick. When Life on Mars produced its pilot episode, the story took place in 1970's Los Angeles and the cast was different. When the pilot tanked, ABC went in and upgraded the story to take place in 1973 NYC, moved production to Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, and revamped the cast adding east coasters Harvey Keitel, Gretchen Mol and Michael Imperioli to the already placed Jason O'Mara to create a splendid mix. The show's look and feel thrived on the New York streets, illustrating the grit of 1970's bankrupt Manhattan, the dirt and grime of the sidewalks, the cramped old buildings and those familiar neighborhoods no Hollywood studio backlot could ever reproduce.
Let's hope that NYC production gets back on its feet. Yes, being blocked from getting to your apartment because an episode of Law and Order has invaded your street, or you had to move your car miles away from your favorite spot right by your building entrance, or a sumptuous craft services food spread is teasing at your front gate can cause some grumpiness, but production in New York helps keep the entertainment industry real. Let's not lose it.