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Kaufman Astoria Studios Unveil City's First Backlot Film Studio

By Jeanmarie Evelly | December 3, 2013 12:26pm | Updated on December 3, 2013 4:35pm
 Officials cut the ribbon on the new 34,800-square-foot studio, which closed off a Queens block.
Backlot Opens at Kaufman Astoria Studios
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LONG ISLAND CITY — Officials cut the ribbon Tuesday on the new lot at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens — the first and only outdoor working stage in the city, according to the studio.

The 34,800 square-foot space is the result of a deal between the Economic Development Corp. and Kaufman Astoria, closing off a city block on 36th Street between 34th and 35th Avenues in Astoria. Construction of the lot began in July.

Studio staff, elected officials and even celebrities — actress Dascha Polanco from the Netflix hit "Orange is the New Black," and Grover from "Sesame Street" — were on hand to cut the ribbon at the new studio, which is marked by a massive gated entrance on 35th Avenue, complete with a working catwalk that extends 40-feet above street level.

Officials say the backlot will help make New York even more of a hub for film and television, drawing big name productions, bringing economic revenue to the city and giving Los Angeles a run for its money.

"It's a game-changer for New York," said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer. "Hollywood, watch out."

Backlots, commonplace in Los Angeles, allow production companies to shoot realistic outdoor scenes and stunts in the convenience of a studio setting, which can be less of a hassle than setting up shop on an actual city street.

"Today is the celebration of a vision coming true," said Kaufman Astoria president Hal Rosenbluth.

He said the outdoor lot is a major step for the entire neighborhood, which has grown into an arts and cultural corridor based around the Astoria Kaufman campus — which includes The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, The Museum of Moving Image and Queens Council on the Arts.

"This backlot will help sustain all the economic development that has transformed this pocket of Astoria," Rosenbluth said.

A number of big-name movies and television shows have been filmed at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in recent years, including "Sesame Street," "Nurse Jackie" and "Men in Black 3," and the soon-to-be-released "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

The Studios first opened in 1920 as Famous Player Lasky, which later became Paramount Studios, studio officials said. Paramount eventually moved to the west coast, and the U.S. Army took over the facility in 1942 until current Kaufman Astoria chair George Kaufman obtained the leasehold rights in 1980.

The studio has grown and expanded over the years. The city approved the de-mapping of 36th Street in 2011 in order to close off the street for the backlot.

"It's a blessing for me to see almost a finished product. I think we've accomplished a lot, I think we're just the beginning," Kaufman told the crowd at Tuesday's ribbon-cutting.

"I think you're going to see more and more movies done in New York, and I'm very proud of it."