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The Reel Queens: Queens’ film engine isn’t faltering despite slowdown

The film and television industry may be concerned about luring productions to the city amid dwindling tax incentives and the economic downturn, but the list of films shot in Queens alone this year indicates that feature films are still using the borough as a backdrop.

Earlier this year, the borough’s film and TV studios — Long Island City’s Silvercup Studios and Kaufman Astoria Studios — said TV shows that had been using their lots for several years continued to shoot in western Queens, but they had not received any calls from new shows that wanted to film in the borough. In addition, they said no TV pilots had shot in Queens this year, whereas the city and state’s tax incentives for the entertainment industry had drawn 19 pilots in 2008.

The state Legislature voted in Gov. David Paterson’s proposal to put $350 million back into the state’s budget for the incentive program in the spring, but studio executives said the move was not enough. Silvercup CEO Alan Suna said that most TV shows plan three to five years ahead of time and will not commit to the borough if they are unsure whether they will qualify for the tax credit a few years down the road.

But while the number of TV shows using the borough as a locale has declined, the number of films being shot in Queens appears to remain steady or even be on the rise.

“While there has been a slight 4 percent drop in location shooting days from 2007 to 2008, the [city] attributes that drop to several factors, including the writers’ strike, the ‘virtual’ actors’ strike [and] competition with other states’ tax incentives,” said Marybeth Ihle, a spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office of Film and Television. “Television production has remained steady and a dozen feature films are currently in production in the City.”

Between the end of this year and late 2010, a total of 16 films with established actors that were shot in Queens within the past year will be released in theaters.

Two of this holiday season’s high-profile comedies were shot in the borough. “Old Dogs,” which will be released on Nov. 25, stars Robin Williams and John Travolta as two business partners whose lives change after strange circumstances lead them to being the caretakers for 7-year-old twins. The film featured shooting at JFK International Airport and Shea Stadium. On Dec. 25, Universal Pictures will release Nancy Meyers’ new film, “It’s Complicated,” which stars Meryl Streep as a divorcee who finds herself torn between her unfaithful ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) and an architect (Steve Martin). The comedy included sequences at St. John’s University in Jamaica Estates.

More than a dozen films shot in Queens will hit screens in 2010. “Remember Me” stars Robert Pattinson, of “Twilight” fame, and Emilie de Ravin as a pair of young lovers whose relationship is threatened as they attempt to deal with family tragedies. The movie, which also stars Pierce Brosnan and Chris Cooper and will be released on Feb. 12, featured filming in Forest Hills.

On Feb. 26, Kevin Smith’s new film, “A Couple of Dicks,” will be released. The film, which stars Bruce Willis and Sean William Scott, is a comedy about two police officers whose adventures include locating a stolen baseball card and chasing down gangsters who are operating a money-laundering business. Smith’s film included shooting along Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood.

“Salt,” which is one of the summer’s big action thrillers, will be released on July 23. The film, which was directed by Phillip Noyce (“The Quiet American”), stars Angelina Jolie as a CIA officer who must prove loyalty to her country after being accused by a defector of being a Russian spy. The film, which also stars Liev Schreiber, was partially shot at Silvercup Studios, but also included sequences on the Queensborough Bridge and at Queens Village’s Creedmoor Psychiatric Center.

Bayside has acted as a movie set for several films within the past year that are set for release in 2010. In November 2008, 48th Avenue was blocked off to allow for the shooting of “Every Day,” a drama starring Helen Hunt and Liev Schreiber as a couple in the middle of a marital crisis. Several scenes were also shot in Whitestone.

In late June, Bell Boulevard restaurant Papazzio was overrun with cameras and crew members for the filming of “Rabbit Hole,” a film by John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) about a couple (Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart) whose son dies in an accident. The movie also filmed sequences along Corporal Stone Street and 40th Avenue in the neighborhood as well as others in Douglaston Manor.

Maspeth’s Clinton Diner is on its way to becoming one of the nation’s most recognizable eateries after three films used the 57th Place site for filming. The diner, which was a backdrop in key scenes of Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” stood in for a Detroit restaurant last summer for the filming of HBO’s TV movie, “You Don’t Know Jack.” The film, which is directed by Barry Levinson (“Rain Man”), tells the story of controversial doctor-assisted-suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, who is played by a nearly unrecognizable Al Pacino.

The diner will also be seen in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut, “Jack Goes Boating,” which tells the story of a limo driver who is attempting to attract a girlfriend, as well as “Beware the Gonzo,” which stars singer Jesse McCartney and Campbell Scott in an independent high school-based film.

Earlier this year, Long Island City’s Steinway Moving and Storage provided warehouse space for “Blue Valentine,” a drama that follows the span of a couple’s marriage over a period of years. Steinway owner James Benatti will appear alongside stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in a few of the film’s scenes.

“Lottery Ticket,” which stars Ice Cube as a man who has to survive a weekend after his greedy neighbors find out he’s holding a lottery ticket worth $350 million, was also shot in Long Island City, as well as sections of Astoria.

Drew Barrymore and Justin Long were in Hollis Hills last summer to film “Going the Distance,” a comedy about a couple dealing with a long distance relationship, while “Yelling to the Sky,” which stars likely 2010 Oscar nominee Gabourney “Gabby” Sidibe (of the critically adored festival film “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”) as a teenager growing up with a mentally unstable mother and absent father, was shot in Hollis.

In addition, the horror film “After.Life,” which stars Liam Neeson, filmed in Douglaston, while “Paper Man,” which features Jeff Daniels and Ryan Reynolds, shot at various borough locales last year.

Read film reviews by Nathan Duke at criticalconditions.net.

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