A week ago, I left my downtown Buffalo apartment, headed for a cup of coffee and ran into a bunch of people wielding chain saws, axes, guns, pitchforks and shovels.
They were fighting off imaginary alligators or sharks in the streets.
It was all for a movie that is being produced by the same company that gave the Syfy channel the campy success “Sharknado” last summer. I was told the tentative title was “Alligator Apocalypse,” but some suspicious extras now believe the scenes they were shooting really were for “Sharknado 2: The Second Coming.”
Whether it was “Alligator Apocalypse” or the “Sharknado” sequel, the film is a long way from the big one that got away – “Draft Day,” the Kevin Costner film set inside the Cleveland Browns organization that opened this week.
The original “Draft Day” script was set in Buffalo and director Ivan Reitman scouted Ralph Wilson Stadium before movie finances forced him to change the setting to Cleveland.
Reitman actually apologized to Buffalo on Wednesday night on John Murphy’s Buffalo Bills radio show. The Toronto native noted on WGR that the extra money saved by shooting in Ohio just was impossible for Buffalo to beat.
But according to local Buffalo Niagara Film Office Commissioner Tim Clark, New York State soon will be leveling the playing field somewhat with additional tax breaks that could lead to more movies filmed here.
And we all know how much pride Western New Yorkers take in films shot here.
Clark explained that starting in January a bill passed in the State Legislature calls for an additional 10 percent tax credit for labor costs for episodic TV or movies shot here, Syracuse and Rochester. That is in addition to the 30 percent already given for some film costs.
He quickly added that the bill wouldn’t have saved “Draft Day” because the 10 percent comes off “below the line” expenses that don’t include actor’s salaries.
“You don’t want taxpayers to pay up to 30 percent of Tom Cruise’s salary,” explained Clark. “That’s above the line. The reason we lost ‘Draft Day’ is Ohio has a 25 percent tax incentive. It is lower than New York and people may ask why didn’t they shoot here? It is for both below and above the line. Kevin Costner is in that thing so they pay 25 percent of his salary.”
“Ivan really wanted to shoot here,” added Clark. “He is from Toronto, he likes Buffalo. We couldn’t match the 25 percent. We were $3 million off. These guys go back to their studios. The guys in the accounting departments make the decisions.”
A former local TV news executive and press representative for local politicians, Clark has been the film commissioner for eight years.
“We’ve gone from a few TV shows a year and maybe some locally produced movies to bigger regional stuff and it has grown and grown and grown,” said Clark. “And we’ve actually captured some pretty big things now. The biggest thing we were involved in was (Nik) Wallenda walking over Niagara Falls.”
The wedding of Pam and Jim in “The Office” a few years ago and the shooting of scenes for the Melissa McCarthy movie “Tammy” also were big catches.
Clark is hopeful that the positive experience that “The Office” director Paul Feig had here will pay off down the road.
“Paul Feig is very close to Melissa McCarthy and when she was here shooting ‘Tammy’ last summer she even said to me that Paul said he had a great time in Niagara Falls. He remembers his experience. And that could be good.”
In his eight years, Clark said he has driven “around a lot of interesting people” in his 2006 SUV and had some interesting experiences.
“The first major movie that I worked with was ‘The Savages’ with Philip Seymour Hoffman right after he won the Academy Award for ‘Capote.’ Laura Linney (who co-starred in “The Savages”) said the paparazzi saw her at the airport. The movie guys were ticked off about that. They ended up asking me to help Hoffman get from the airport. The NFTA Police brought him to my car and eventually to the set. I had the car for a week. The first thing he did was light up a cigarette. I’m like, ‘Dude, this is a brand-new car.’ ”
Clark said a similar drill occurred when Susan Sarandon arrived to shoot scenes for “Tammy.”
“I met her at the airport,” recalled Clark. “I wasn’t quite sure it was her because she had big glasses and a hat. I went to her and said, ‘Susan is that you?’ I said, ‘I’m from the film office.’ So we took her out the back door to a golf cart, to the NFTA Police, to her car service.”
Clark suggested that the tax break bill for filming west of Albany is likely to lead to him driving around more celebrities in his SUV shortly.
“It is driving lots of inquiries,” said Clark.
“There are numerous calls from major networks about shooting scenes in Western New York because of this incentive,” he said.
Clark added that WNY’s connections in the TV and film world can be helpful in attracting projects.
“I run into more people from Buffalo in decision-making roles at networks and movie studios and even in smaller production companies who for whatever reason – maybe an emotional attachment to their hometown – they want to bring shows back here,” said Clark.
Clark noted you lose some like “Draft Day” and you win some like “The Best Man Holiday,” directed by Malcolm Lee, Spike Lee’s cousin.
“Malcolm Lee shot scenes here last May,” said Clark. “They transformed the Ralph into Giants Stadium. In the movie, he thanked the Buffalo Bills even though it said New York Giants.”
The film projects shot here not only make Western New Yorkers proud, they also pay off in a more lucrative way.
“The economic impact is millions,” said Clark. “I can tell you Malcolm Lee spent $1.2 million locally. There were a lot of local extras, a lot of local crew, the caterer was on duty 24 hours a day.”
Clark can’t give away any secrets, but he noted three films will be shooting here this summer, one starting in May. The productions typically stay here for 28 to 35 days.
So beware of alligators, sharks, pitchforks and chain saws.