New York City’s First Backlot Opens at Kaufman Astoria Studios

Kaufman Astoria's Backlot features a new steel gate entrance. Photo courtesy of Jill Lotenberg.

December 4, 2013 - Kaufman Astoria Studios has unveiled New York City’s first Backlot in Astoria, Queens. The landmarked studio, once the home of Paramount Pictures, has created the outdoor "black-box" working stage to allow productions the ability to film outside in a controlled environment, providing more flexibility and reducing the need to film on city streets. The the block-long Backlot marks the completion of the newest addition to the growing Kaufman Astoria campus, a vibrant arts and cultural district in Astoria.

The official announcement of the new Backlot was attended by a number of industry representatives and elected officials, including United States Senator Charles E. Schumer, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, George Kaufman, Hal Rosenbluth, Media and Entertainment Commissioner Katherine Oliver and many others. The official ribbon cutting was held at the new gated entrance of the historic studio on 35th Avenue.

“The Backlot is an exciting new development for the film and television industry in New York as well as for this area of Astoria,” said Hal Rosenbluth, president of Kaufman Astoria. “It will draw more world-class productions to New York and gives these productions much needed outdoor space to create temporary sets that can stay up for as long as they need to shoot. It also gives the campus a striking new gate designed by David Rockwell that will become a new iconic landmark for the neighborhood and will help attract new businesses and productions.”

The 34,800-square-foot Backlot allows productions to construct temporary outdoor sets and shoot exterior and special effects shots within the campus. The lot is conveniently located adjacent to the sound stages, which supply power and support spaces, such as dressing rooms, production offices and set building workshops. Kaufman Astoria worked with the Rockwell Group, an award-winning architectural firm, to design the entry gate and rear gate as well as the streetscape of the studio lot. The main gate, located on 35th Avenue, features a dramatically lit steel truss that rises 40 feet above the street that serves as a working catwalk for productions.

“As the first dedicated Backlot in the five boroughs, film and television productions are now more likely to yell ‘action’ and choose Kaufman Astoria Studios and New York City as a location for filming,” said Senator Charles Schumer. “Today’s ribbon-cutting is a tremendous milestone for the neighborhood, the city, and the thousands of people who work in New York’s booming film and television industries.”

“The addition of New York City’s first-ever outdoor sound stage puts Astoria on the map when it comes to producing blockbuster movies in the United States,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, Chair of the New York City Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee. “I am proud to have helped make this historic project a reality in the same neighborhood where I grew up as a child. By expanding Kaufman Astoria Studios we are continuing the resurgence of the arts that has spurred a renaissance here in Astoria.”

“From Rudolph Valentino to Big Bird and Grover, Astoria has played an important role in New York City’s production industry,” said Commissioner Katherine Oliver, Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. “Kaufman Astoria Studios’ new Backlot further enhances New York City’s reputation as a thriving center of production and will help attract even more films and television series to the City. This is an industry that contributes $7.1 billion to the local economy, supporting thousands of local businesses and employing more than 130,000 New Yorkers who work behind the scenes, and we’re thrilled that more productions will soon call New York City home.”

The completion of the Backlot is the latest step towards realizing the overall vision of creating the Kaufman Astoria campus, which real estate developer and Chairman of the studio, George Kaufman, began over 30 years ago. Mr. Kaufman created a full-service production center that helped bring the film and television production industry back to New York, while also reinvigorating the entire neighborhood. The Kaufman Astoria campus has grown into a vibrant arts and cultural district. In recent years, the campus has more than doubled in size and now includes 12 acres with seven stages, K/A/S Lighting, KAS Music & Sound, local and national retailers and cultural organizations such as The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, Museum of the Moving Image, TDF Costume Collection and Queens Council on the Arts.

“The Backlot at Kaufman Astoria Studios is going to add to the life of the campus and will help us attract more productions to New York,” said George Kaufman, chairman of Kaufman Astoria. “When I first came here in the early 1980s, I knew that we had the potential to turn this neighborhood into a thriving production, arts and cultural district for the City and I am proud to see that vision is a reality today.”

Most recently films such as Men in Black III, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Bourne Legacy and Smurfs filmed at Kaufman Astoria. Current productions include hit television shows like Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie,” Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” Amazon’s “Alpha House” and “Sesame Street,” which has been filming at the studio since 1992. Over the years, Kaufman Astoria has continued to expand and renovate. In 2010, the studio opened Stage K, a state-of-the-art, 40,000-square-foot film and production studio located across from the main studio stages.

Kaufman Astoria Studios first opened its doors in 1920 as Famous Player Lasky, which later became Paramount Studios. At that time the studio was the largest motion picture stage outside of Hollywood and hosted such early film stars as Rudolph Valentino, Claudette Colbert, W.C. Fields, Gloria Swanson, the Marx Brothers, Sylvia Sydney and numerous others. Subsequently, Paramount Studios moved most of its operations to California, and in 1942, the U.S. Army assumed control of the facility and used it to produce military training films. The studio remained an Army installation until the early 1970s, at which time it fell into disuse. A not-for- profit foundation was later formed and dedicated its efforts to preserve the studio’s original use. This foundation was instrumental in having the studio site dedicated as an American Landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior. In 1980, George Kaufman was awarded the leasehold rights to the studio space and later renovated and expanded the facility.

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