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GSA Goes Hollywood

May 15, 2017

By Ben Zabava

Spring is TV pilot filming season and, believe it or not, GSA often has a role in all the activity and excitement! No less than six television series have filmed so far this spring at GSA-owned facilities in lower Manhattan: “Billions” and “Time After Time” at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, “Blindspot,” “The Blacklist” and an untitled Paul Davies project at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building, and “Salamander” at the Ted Weiss Federal Building.

“Billions” filming on location at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House - photo courtesy of Stephen Ronaghan"Billions” filming on location at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Ronaghan, congressional services representative, GSA Region 2)

In fact, buildings in the region’s portfolio have a long and busy history of serving as location shoots for television and film, from Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” 30 years ago to more recent fare like the 10-time Oscar nominated “American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and the upcoming “The Wizard of Lies” starring Robert DeNiro as Bernie Madoff. It is all part of Region 2’s pioneering work in GSA’s national Film and Event Outleasing Program.

“Film and television location scouts search the area for ‘film-friendly’ buildings all the time, and they find many of our buildings as ‘film-friendly’ as can be,” said Allison Arias, the Region 2 film outlease coordinator. “The Javits Federal Building, the Ted Weiss Federal Building and the Mollo Federal Building are all in high demand, and the U.S. Custom House at One Bowling Green is the most sought after of all.”

“Scouts and production crews love Bowling Green both for its own great beauty and for the fact that it can stand in for other city locations they might not be able to get, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both Bowling Green and The Met are prime examples of Beaux-Arts architecture, so the substitution is pretty convincing,” said David Anthone, program manager of R2’s Film and Event Outleasing Program and Historic Preservation Officer.

“Not that these crews don’t go all out to get everything else right,” he continued. “For a series called ‘Time After Time,’ set dressing was so thorough that fake museum displays, plaques, brochures and TV monitors were installed to create an H.G. Wells museum space within the Custom House.”

That sort of attention to detail is mirrored on GSA’s end by ensuring that all film shoots are properly licensed and managed, including security, insurance, janitorial services and accounting. All is done so as not to interfere with the federal business within the buildings; most shoots take place after hours and on weekends.

“Production companies pay to paint or refinish surfaces to what they need and then pay to put them back,” Anthone said. “The team from ‘Ugly Betty’ had to pay about $15,000 to paint and repaint at Bowling Green some years back. Sometimes it also happens that the work was exactly what we wanted and we don’t have them undo it, such as the time we permanently kept the drapes from when Bowling Green was used as a set for ‘Inside Man,’ or the wall sconces from when Bowling Green was also used as a set for ‘Boardwalk Empire.’”

Besides further showcasing and documenting the architectural legacy of GSA buildings to the public, film and television outleasing also generates revenue. All overtime and reimbursable expenses for security, property management and janitorial services are recovered from the production companies, which also pay a licensing fee for the use of GSA-owned facilities. Last year in Region 2, such licensing fees amounted to $300,000, which were transferred into a special GSA historic preservation fund used for restorations within the region’s landmark buildings. Recent awards from that fund include the decorative ceiling restoration at the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, artwork conservation at the James T. Foley U.S. Courthouse in Albany, and work done at a U.S. land port of entry—all at no expense to taxpayers.

Finally, Region 2 has used its experience to conduct national training and further develop these programs in other regions, such as Region 4 in Atlanta and Region 5 in Chicago. For more information about the outleasing for film and TV program, “have your people call our people,” Allison Arias at allison.arias@gsa.gov or David Anthone at david.anthone@gsa.gov.

Last Reviewed: 2019-07-31