Astoria’s Kaufman Studios now home to NYC’s first backlot

Senator Chuck Schumer cut the ribbon on Astoria's Kaufman Studios new backlot, with Sesame Street muppet Grover looking over his shoulder. Credit: Bess Adler, Metro
Senator Chuck Schumer cut the ribbon on Astoria’s Kaufman Studios new backlot, with Sesame Street muppet Grover looking over his shoulder.
Credit: Bess Adler, Metro

As of Tuesday, New York City has its very first studio backlot.

Kaufman Studios, the production home of Sesame Street since 1992, cut the ribbon on their new 34,800-square-foot, block-long backlot on 35th Ave. in Astoria, Queens.

“It’s a gamechanger for New York,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, as he cut the red ribbon in front of the lot’s curlicued grey gate. The Sesame Street muppet Grover hovered over his shoulder.

New York is home to a handful of big studios: Steiner Studios in Brooklyn, where the HBO show “Girls” is filmed; Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, where Tina Fey’s show “30 Rock” was filmed; and Kaufman Studios, home not only to Sesame Street, but also the Netflix show set in a women’s prison, “Orange Is the New Black.”

And both the city and the state have been pursuing various measures in the last several years to entice more productions to the area, from statewide tax credits for “below the line” costs: the salaries of “the blue collar workers,” State Senator Michael Gianaris noted, like caterers and set builders.

City government has also established incentives for the film industry, through the Mayor’s Office of Film and Television as well as the City Council’s Arts Committee, which Queens Councilman Jimmy van Bramer chairs.

Van Bramer was the excited host of the backlot’s ribbon-cutting.

“They already do big movies, they’ve got ‘Men In Black III’-caliber movies,” Van Bramer said proudly of Kaufman Studios. “But this is going to allow them to do even more going forward which is really important.”

Kaufman Studio’s president, Hal Rosenbluth, said the studio is already getting calls from new productions that have not filmed with the studio previously but are interested in the backlot.

“Since we put up the construction gate every production that has been here has utilized the street for a shot of some kind,” Rosenbluth said. “Rehearsals or small car shots or special effects shots putting up the big green screen and dropping actors in front of the green screen over and over again.”

Schumer also referenced his long-standing relationship with George Kaufman, who founded the studio 30 years ago and who, Schumer said, backed his very first campaign in 1980, when no one else believed he could win. Now the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Schumer recently persuaded the National Parks Service to extend the Kaufman Studios’ lease of the backlot street from a 40-year lease to a 99-year lease.

“I like to see New York be No. 1 in everything,” Schumer said.

“Hollywood watch out!” he added. “I think [Councilman Jimmy van Bramer] said that we want to be known as Hollywood East. I predict that a few decades from now, Hollywood will be known as New York West.”

Schumer recounted a recent visit to Kaufman where he filmed a cameo for the new Amazon show “Alpha House.” The cameo apparently plays off of Schumer’s reputation as a matchmaker with his staffers.

“We have better talent than they do, let’s face it,” Schumer said. “So many people who have to work in California, the talent, want to be here.”

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


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