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Filming in boro ramps up as WGA strike’s effect fades

Despite a crippling entertainment industry strike earlier this year and a slumping economy, the western Queens film industry is once again soaring as more than a dozen films to be released next year are in various stages of production in the borough. Its two large television and movie studios are preparing to undergo massive expansion projects.

A spokeswoman for the city Film, Theatre and Broadcasting Office said 245 films were shot in the city last year before a nationwide Writers Guild of America strike halted television and film production for much of this year's first quarter.

But the number of productions has been increasing steadily in 2008 and Queens has hosted a number of high-profile film shoots, many of which will be released in 2009, and provided space for popular TV shows, including "30 Rock," "Gossip Girl" and "Ugly Betty."

City Film, Theatre and Broadcasting Commissioner Katherine Oliver said much of the city's production is still based in Queens and that city and state tax incentive programs continue to draw more film and television productions to the borough.

"The borough is a key component to the city's entertainment industry," she said. "Queens itself is sought after by producers and location managers for its diverse locations."

The borough's major film studios both have large expansion projects in the works that were previously stalled by the Writers Guild strike.

Long Island City's Silvercup Studios is still awaiting the kickoff of its $1 billion expansion along Vernon Boulevard, which will include new studio space, 1,000 apartment units, a waterfront pavilion, a 100,000-square-foot cultural institution, a 1,400-space parking garage, a catering hall and 70,000 square feet of retail space.

The project, known as Silvercup West, would be the largest film and television studio on the East Coast and would encompass 2.7 million square feet.

But Kaufman Astoria Studios plans to break ground on its $20 million expansion by month's end, a studio spokeswoman said.

Hal Rosenbluth, Kaufman's president, said the studio eventually plans to close off a portion of 36th Street in Astoria to allow for the creation of a studio lot.

Kaufman's expansion will include a new 18,000-square-foot soundstage as well as 22,000 square feet of support space, including dressing, makeup and grip rooms, hair and wardrobe.

A number of feature films, both independent and studio pictures, have been using the borough's streets as their backdrops and sets throughout the year. Most of the films will be released during the spring and summer of 2009.

Kaufman Astoria Studios provided studio space for the remake of "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3," a thriller directed by Tony Scott ("True Romance") and starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta.

The film, to be released in July 2009, follows a detective who attempts to negotiate with a group of armed men who have taken a city subway hostage and is a remake of the 1974 film starring Walter Matthau.

For several weeks this summer, Jackson Heights restaurant Ashoka, on 37th Avenue, acted as the set for "7 to the Palace," an independent feature about a chef (Aasif Mandvi, of TV's "The Daily Show") who takes over his father's Indian restaurant. The film currently has no release date.

Director Griffin Dunne's film, "The Accidental Husband," originally set for release in September, will now be released in March 2009. The film, a romantic comedy about a city firefighter who attempts to get revenge on a talk show host (Uma Thurman) after she advises his fiancée to break up with him, featured extensive shooting in Astoria, including scenes underneath the elevated subway on 31st Street near 23rd Avenue.

Nora Ephron ("Sleepless in Seattle") shot portions of her film, "Julie and Julia," in Astoria this year. The film, to be released in April 2009, stars Meryl Streep as renowned cook Julia Child and Amy Adams as a woman who decides to cook her way through Child's book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" during a period of one year from her Queens apartment.

Other films to shoot in Queens this year include "Whatever Works," the latest film from Woody Allen, which stars Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood and was shot at Kaufman Astoria Studios; "Old Dogs," a comedy starring Robin Williams and John Travolta that featured sequences at John F. Kennedy International Airport; "Amexicano," an independent film that explored the bond between an illegal immigrant and a blue collar Italian-American from Queens; "Caramel," a high-school comedy shot in Jamaica Estates that stars R&B singer Chris Brown and rapper Chingy; "Fighting," Astoria-born director Dito Montiel's follow-up to 2006's "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints"; "From the Inside," a small independent feature shot in Woodside; and "The Last Film Festival," an indie starring "Saturday Night Live" alum Chris Kattan that featured shooting in Forest Hills.

Angelina Jolie's summer blockbuster, "Wanted," also featured an extensive stunt scene that was shot in the borough, though the film was set in Chicago.

Read film reviews by Nathan Duke at his Web site, criticalconditions.net.

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