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McKinstry: Yonkers can be 'Hollywood on the Hudson'

The recently-renovated pool at Tibbetts Brook park would

The recently-renovated pool at Tibbetts Brook park would make for an ideal backdrop for a film or television production, says Gerald McKinstry. Photo Credit: Leslie Barbaro

In 1993, I watched that Neil Simon flick "Lost in Yonkers" and thought, this doesn't look familiar.

Turns out, the film crew was lost somewhere in the Buckeye State.

It was easy to chalk it up as another snub to a city that's used to being overlooked by the likes of Hollywood and overshadowed by its southern neighbor, New York City.

But filming on location has its own host of logistical challenges, and industry pros have their own sought-after places. It raises the question, who would want to film in Yonkers?

Mayor Mike Spano thinks many movie directors would, so he's making a push for films with a new film office that offers incentives and a streamlined process. This week, he also announced a new website,

Plenty of directors have yelled "Action!" in these parts. Yonkers has had cameos in some notable films: "Catch Me if You Can," "Sleepers," "The Royal Tenenbaums," and, more recently, scenes from HBO's "Boardwalk Empire."

The list is actually quite long.

The city's architecture, factories and landscape are a draw, and these city streets can double for any of New York's boroughs -- or look like a mill town from, say, the turn of the century.

The Tudor homes of the Park Hill neighborhood rival those elsewhere in the country. City Hall offers a great courtroom and, if you get caught watching a "Law and Order" marathon, look closely. You might just recognize a crime scene. Or the person in the credits dubbed, "Man in Diner."

There's also a historic train station, Alder Manor, Shonnard Castle, and plenty of churches and great parks like Untermeyer or Tibbetts Brook. And, of course, the Hudson River.

At just 25 miles from midtown Manhattan, filming in Yonkers and surrounding communities beats schlepping a cast and crew all across the country.

Spano wants to tap that market.

"We are sending a simple message," Spano said Tuesday at Yonkers Stage, a 32,000-square-foot indoor movie set off Tuckahoe Road, as he announced the revamped film office at City Hall. "Yonkers is open for filming."

Films that have had scenes shot at Yonkers Stage include "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," "American Gangster," "The Manchurian Candidate," "Doubt," "I Am Legend," and many others.

In announcing this renewed effort, Spano said the city would forego the $300 to $500 permit filming fees. While that's no great loss to the city budget -- nor a great savings to a big-budget film -- the better message is that the city is film friendly.

In addition to scenery, film companies are looking for a partner to ensure a smooth process. So the mayor's retooled film office should help filmmakers navigate typical bureaucracy and the city's neighborhoods.

It's good for business.

In the 1990s, I grabbed a few days' work on set for "The Preacher's Wife," starring Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington. The gig -- a cross between scout, gofer and guy who watched the extras -- paid some decent coin that soon found its way into the local economy -- or, um, any number of McLean Avenue establishments.

Movies are big business and they tend to inject money into local economies, but this film office will have to make sure they tap into local caterers, contractors, mom-and-pops and maybe even a few extras. Often, that's the difference between a film being an economic boon or a nuisance, annoying locals with closed streets and traffic tie-ups.

The mayor nailed it when he said the city is a natural backdrop. This office will have to balance productions' needs with those of residents.

Yonkers may not be a leading lady these days, but she can hold her own as a supporting cast member.

Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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