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John Battista, Mayor���s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting

October 9, 2013 - For more than a decade, John Battista has served as the deputy commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, helping to coordinate some of the most elaborate sequences ever to be filmed in New York City. Now he begins a new chapter in his career, and we look back at his time with the City.

In 1999, Battista became the commanding officer of the NYPD Movie/TV Unit, the division of police officers assigned to monitor productions for safety. “It was my first experience with the industry,” he recalled. “There wasn’t much filming here at the time.”

When he was still in charge of the NYPD Movie/TV Unit, he was called upon for what was one of the most logistically challenging sequences to ever be done in New York City. For the 2001 film Vanilla Sky, which starred Tom Cruise, the production wanted to clear Times Square of all people and vehicles for a scene that finds Cruise running through an empty Times Square. After going through potential ideas, Battista helped determine how much time the production would get and when they could film – two hours on a weekend morning just after dawn – and through close coordination with traffic agents and the filmmakers, they were able to successfully execute the sequence.

“This opened the door to studios realizing New York City could be a place to bring films and TV shows,” he said.

In 2002, Battista was getting ready to retire from the police force. Before he did, he brought the then newly appointed film commissioner, Katherine Oliver, around to various sets and explained the logistics and challenges of filming in a city of 8 million people. “She understood,” Battista said, and when Commissioner Oliver asked him to stay on as deputy commissioner, he agreed. “It was a great opportunity to do something I enjoy,” he said.

Because Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Oliver were bringing a business model to City agencies, Battista saw it as a powerful statement. “It meant that we were able to say ‘yes’ to more requests,” he said. “We had the support of the Mayor.”

“One of the first challenges I faced as the new film commissioner was a complicated location shoot with Spider-Man,” remembered Commissioner Oliver. “I quickly realized a critical part of our job was traffic control and logistics. John Battista not only had the know-how to coordinate the shoots from experiences in the NYPD and traffic, but he had the right attitude to get things done and make everyone – both production and the communities – feel like they got what they needed. And he always did so with a smile and a winning personality.”

With this renewed atmosphere of collaboration with the film industry and a number of innovations spearheaded by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting to make filming in the City as easy as possible, production levels grew, as did the complexity of their requests. Whether it was staging a complicated dragon dance in Chinatown for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice or recreating the Thanksgiving Day Parade for Tower Heist a week after the real one – “We had two Thanksgiving Day Parades that year” – Battista and the film office were able to accomplish the seemingly impossible. “Every time we were challenged, we were always able to meet the demand,” he said.

Arguably the most complicated production to film in the City was I Am Legend, which starred Will Smith. For a pivotal evacuation scene, the sequence was filmed over a series of five nights, featuring 1,200 background actors, a Blackhawk helicopter, Hummers, Coast Guard cutters and a number of barges. “We were coordinating with City, state and federal agencies,” said Battista, “and were pretty successful in the end.”

Throughout this increase in filming, Battista has always been cognizant of balancing the needs of the studios and productions with the concerns of the community. “We realize it’s a viable business and employs a tremendous amount of people, but we’re sensitive to the needs of small businesses and the community,” he said. With productions now required to follow a set of guidelines when filming in a community, like posting contact info so that residents can address any of their concerns, and the film office responding to all of the phone calls and emails it receives, it’s gone a long way to keep New York City film friendly.

“Everyone at the Mayor's Office learned so much from him over the years, and we are certainly well positioned for the future,” said Commissioner Oliver.

Now Battista is looking forward to working with the industry in a new capacity. As of October 1, he is the executive vice president of operations and client services for York Studios, one of the newest qualified production facilities in the City. Located in Maspeth, Queens, minutes from Manhattan, the 40,000 square foot space includes shooting studios, production offices, dressing rooms and on-site parking.

“I’ll still be connected with the people I’ve worked with in the past and all the friendships I’ve developed,” said Battista. He aims to bring his singular experience to the job and help the industry in new and exciting ways.

His years of service and all that he’s accomplished will not soon be forgotten by the staff of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and the countless productions he’s worked with over the years. “We thank him for his service,” said Commissioner Oliver.

“After 31 years of working with the City,” Battista said, “I’m proud of all that we’ve accomplished based on the teamwork of everyone in the film office and the leadership provided by KO.”

Industry Star

Margarita Acevedo, Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting
John Battista, Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting
Tom Reidy, Madison Square Park
Steven Holtzman, Canal Creatures Productions

Jennifer Lenihan, Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting
Lynne Meadow, Manhattan Theatre Club
Thomas O'Donnell, Local 817
Katy Finch, Brooklyn Workforce Innovations
Meredith Conti, Grand Central Terminal

Gino Lucci, Picture Cars East
Habibah Ali-Love, OFTB
McCord Fitzsimmons, Former OFTB Intern
Lis Pearson, New York Public Library
Veronica Miles, EcoSet
Lisa Rubin, Hudson River Park Trust
Mari Jo Winkler, PGA Green
Michael Super, Coney Island, Parks and Recreational Manager
Caroline Stephenson, NYC Economic Development Corporation
Lisa Lucas, Tribeca Film Institute

Harriet Taub, Material for the Arts
David Moy, OFTB
Fred Cerullo, Grand Central Partnership
Marge Feinberg, DOE
Nate Grove, Marinas
Frank Gribbon, FDNY
Jeffrey Sangrund, Brooklyn Bridge Park
Javonne Parker, Staten Island Ferry
Justin Green, Build It Green! NYC
Tom Ross, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent"
Eric Peterson, Randall's Island
Connie Fitzgerald, Department of Environmental Protection

Joey Violante, Technicolor
Stephanie Argamaso, OFTB
Vito Turso, DSNY
Elizabeth Rapuano, Governor's Island
Estelle Cooper, Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Alvah Holmes, Former MOFTB Intern
Dana Kuznetzkoff, Line Producer
Eva Radke, Film Biz Recycling
Karen Meyerhoff, Guggenheim
Meredith Rothstein, Roseland Ballroom
Charlotte St. Martin, The Broadway League

The Artists Company
Celina Sze, OFTB
Sharon Jensen, The Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts
Terence Gray, New York Television Festival
Sam Levy, Summer Play Festival
Wes French, General Services Administration
Tom Maiorano, Brooklyn Navy Yard
Joan Cooney, South Street Seaport
Jeannine Marotta, Staten Island Economic Development Corporation
Brooke Smy, Tishman Speyer
Elliott Kerman, Tax Credit Accountant

Matthew Kania, Assistant Location Manager
Lieutenant Joe Lassen, Movie/TV Unit
In Memoriam - Nancy Littlefield
Ivory Henderson-Robb, Department of Transportation
Jack Powers, New York City Economic Development Corporation
Robin Forst, Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center
Kitty Preston, CUNY Locations
Liz Carollo, Greenmarket
Donna Masly, Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation
Sean Jones, New York City Department of Corrections
Sheila Greene, NYCHA

Ralph Musolino, Parks and Recreation
Rick Cotton, NBC Universal
Joe Fontao, Location Manager
Gretchen McGowan, HDNet Films/Open City Films
Tim Tompkins, Times Square Alliance
Erika Feldman, Theatre Row
Vin Lenza, Staten Island Development Corporation
Tristan Assent, "Made in NY" PA
Denise Motta, New York City Economic Development Corporation
Terry Lawler, New York Women in Film and Television
Monty Ross, 40 Acres and a Mule

Pat White, Local 764
Michelle Byrd, Independent Feature Project
Matt Miller, AICP
Kyle McCarthy, MTA Metro-North
Jeannette Pinero, Department of Correction
Bambi Brook, Dawn Animal Agency
Andy Nagy, NYCHA
Juan Rosario, HPD
James J. Claffey, Jr., IATSE Local One
Mac Brown, Producer
Cheryl Hodge, VTU
Llewellyn Wells, Executive Producer
Lawrence Major, Parks and Recreation

Ken Konfong, Economic Development Corporation
Whoopi Goldberg, Actress/Producer
Caroline Baron, FilmAid International
Thomas O'Donnell Sr., Local 817
Drew Jiritano, Special Effects Coordinator
Carla Rajj, Location Manager
Al Cerullo, Film Pilot
James Lauer, FDNY
Dan Mercado, Parks and Recreation
Rebecca Seale, DCAS
Alberteen Anderson, MTA
Joseph Ellis, NYPD
Peter Basich, DOT
Richie Silverman, NYPD