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Buffalo’s Booming Film Industry: Why Hollywood is Coming Here

BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) — If you take a look around, it seems every week there’s a new movie being shot in Western New York. Just a few days ago, a movie starring Tom Hanks, “A Man Called Otto,” was shot in Niagara Falls.

And no, Tom Hanks did not make the trip to WNY.

Not only are more movies coming here, but more production studios are popping up — giving Hollywood almost everything they need to film movies right in our backyard.

From “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” shutting down the Kensington Expressway, to “Marshall” flooding Niagara Square, Western New York has built a strong reputation for being a destination for Hollywood.

What makes Buffalo so attractive? Part of the formula has to do with New York State Film Tax Credits that moviemakers get — luring movies here from other states.

“So what the tax credits do is enable people to come here because roughly 20% of your budget is the tax credit that comes back to you,” said Frank Rossi, acting coach at Buffalo Film Casting.

And the rebate can mean big savings. Large productions can get an additional 10% credit on expenses if they film in Western New York. The state film tax credits have been extended to 2029, after the passage of the state budget.

Movies are also coming here for Buffalo’s architecture—from downtown Buffalo, to Silo City, to quaint villages such as East Aurora, where some Christmas movies have been filmed.

And when production crews get here, local businesses thrive, like Sloan’s Antiques in Buffalo, which gets flooded with film crews.

“They come in for anything, you don’t know what they’re going to want, they may want a shark, they may want who knows what — the old refrigerator to do a 50s scene or a 30s scene,” said Max Sloan , owner of Sloan’s Antiques, which has been in business for nearly 70 years and is one of the few remaining antique shops in the region.

“The film industry in Buffalo is like a jewel in the crown of the Queen City,” Sloan added.

Movies are also coming to WNY for what’s not here — gridlock and paralyzing traffic delays.

“We don’t have the population density and it allows for very easy movement around town,” said Tim Clark, commissioner at the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission.

Rossi said Hollywood really took notice of Buffalo in 2016, when “Marshall” came here.

“Once ‘Marshall’ hit with the 29 principals — wait a minute, Buffalo has actors that can act as principals, speaking roles — that kind of initiated everything and since then its just been snowballing,” Rossi said.

What we’re seeing in Buffalo is the emergence of production studios that can meet or beat expectations in Hollywood. News 4 was granted access inside Buffalo Film Works Stage 4 on Babcock Street, which is one of the largest soundstages in the Northeast.

“This is, by New York standards and Hollywood standards, a gigantic soundstage,” said George Pittas, co-owner of Buffalo Film Works. “It’s just an incredibly large soundstage.”

The soundstage is 100 feet wide and more than 800 feet long — large enough to fit nearly three football fields, with plenty of room to shoot multiple productions at the same time.

“Here, you could do it indoors all year round, so the Buffalo weather is not an issue anymore,” Pittas said.

It’s a $5 million project that is nearly complete and has already hosted big productions, such as “A Quiet Place 2,” “Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin,” and “Cabrini.”

The soundstage is expected to be complete by the end of the spring. Pittas said the soundstage would’ve been completed last year, but the pandemic caused supply chain issues.

That’s not all…

A $50 million film and television studio complex is planned to go on Niagara Street. The project is being led by Great Point Capital and Rich Products.

Additionally, an $80 million film studio will be built on South Park Ave. by Buffalo Studios.

Plus, an equipment rental company that caters to the film industry called Buffalo Camera Expressway Cinema Rentals will open this summer near Buffalo Film Works.

Joe Wooley, a Buffalo actor, who’s been on shows such as “Billions,” “Blue Bloods” and “Law & Order SVU,” is amazed at all the progress.

“The tables have turned: we have a talented pool of actors here in Buffalo and Western New York, and now that production companies are coming here with the casting directors, they’re not just looking at us as extras and backgrounds anymore, we’ actors,” Wooley said.

And, there’s hope for even bigger things ahead.

“I think our next really big hope is to land an episodic television show that would shoot in Buffalo for years,” Clark said. “And if you get that, it’s steady, steady work, and they spend an enormous amount of money.”

Speaking of spending money, Empire State Development says 30 films or TV series that have been shot in WNY have received film tax credits. Those productions have spent more than $100 million locally and have hired thousands of workers.

Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.

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