Orange County Partnership - News

  • Brendan Fraser at the Academy Awards

Film Sector Has Become a ‘Whale’ of an Industry for Orange County

Earlier this month, Orange County received some national notoriety when a motion picture filmed at a major film and production sound stage here won several Academy Awards, including “Best Actor.”


Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus and Director of Tourism and Film Amanda Dana congratulated veteran actor Brendan Fraser for winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the film “The Whale.”


Much of the $3-million motion picture was filmed at Umbra Stages in Newburgh, making it one of several current and upcoming movies and TV series being produced in Orange County. Fraser earned the Oscar for his portrayal of a Charlie, a reclusive English teacher who suffers from severe obesity, who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter. “The Whale” production used Umbra’s stage 4, an 18,000-square-foot drive-on sound stage. The movie also won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.


“Brendan Fraser’s performance was incredibly moving and became celebrated, culminating his Hollywood comeback,” Neuhaus said. “We were so honored the producers of ‘The Whale’ utilized Umbra Stages and are proud more filmmakers are discovering Orange County as a production hub. I also want to thank Amanda Dana and the Office of Film for working diligently to ensure a streamlined process for producers, directors, and talent such as Mr. Fraser and many other noteworthy stars.”


“This is such a well-deserved honor for Brendan Fraser,” Dana said. “I could not be happier that our Film Office and Umbra Stages were able to assist in bringing this production to Orange County. We work tirelessly to strengthen our filming incentives program, which will continue to enhance the desirability of filming in the beautiful and resource-abundant Orange County.


Dana and Nora Martinez, film specialist with the county’s Film Office, noted that the film and television production sector has enjoyed explosive growth since the end of 2019.


Dana related that at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, film and television production did not slow down, but was impacted when New York City studios were shut down. However, Hudson Valley facilities remained open.


“Production crews came here and they realized that they liked to film in the Hudson Valley because it offers a better quality of life while they are filming,” she said. These crews required certified production studios and sound stages and Orange County has Umbra Stages, which operates three stages (Stages 1, 2 and 4) in Newburgh (two on Scobie Drive and another stage at the basement level of Motorcyclepedia Museum on Lake Street).


Under construction are another three Umbra Studios stages in the Town of New Windsor, two stages at the former Anthony’s Pier 9 and another at a former bowling alley on Route 9W between Newburgh and New Windsor.


“When those projects are approved and have their CO, we will have six studios between Newburgh and New Windsor,” Dana noted. She added that the county is hopeful that Michelson Studio 2 will rebuild its sound stage in the City of Middletown that was destroyed by fire in November 2020.


The three stages that currently exists in Orange County are fully booked. Recently, HBO Max began filming “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” at the Umbra Studios. This will be the third HBO production in Orange County. In 2020, filming commenced on “I Know This Much is True” and in 2021 production began in Orange County on the series “White House Plumbers.” Last year, production was completed in the fall on Universal Peacock’s production of “Poker Face.” The series was filmed on location in the Hudson Valley, including Orange County, as well as at Umbra sound stages in Newburgh.


The “Pretty Little Liars” production has secured all three Umbra Stages in Newburgh and the county is assisting it in securing a fourth stage since the Umbra stages in New Windsor are not completed.


“We have been showing them warehouse spaces, we have been showing them malls and everything else you can think of to be the fourth sound stage for them,” Dana said.


With more studios coming online, Dana believes the industry will continue to grow and prosper in Orange County. This sector also provides significant benefits to small businesses in Orange County, either nearby the studios themselves or when filming on location in the county. Among the industries that have secured tangible benefits from film and sound production work in the county include food caterers, cleaning and waste companies, electrical contracting firms, rental companies as well as the hotel and lodging sector.


As an example, Pamela’s on the Hudson in Newburgh has set up a division specifically for the film industry to cater to productions filming in the county and according to its website offers its scenic views of the Hudson River from its waterfront patio for production photos.


Dana said the Film Office and Choice Films, which operates Umbra Studios, have both undertaken extensive canvassing for possible film and television productions. “Between the two of us, we have been inundated with filming,” she related.


Martinez recently asked location managers for the Poker Face production to estimate what their monthly location fees were during filming in the Hudson Valley. They estimated their monthly location fees (that would go to municipalities, private entities, etc.) to be approximately $400,000 per month, which would put their total fees for the 10 months of filming at approximately $4 million. Those fees are just for filming and do not include the costs associated with catering and hotel/lodging.


The county, which took over operation of the Film Office in 2019, acts as a liaison between the film industry and government agencies in Orange County, helping to set up contacts within its municipalities and streamlining paperwork to help filmmakers who want to bring their productions to Orange County. Other services provided by the Film Office include location support; permit assistance; crew and resource referrals; casting and crew call support. Additionally, the office assists productions with the New York State Film Tax Credit Program, the nation’s most stable and successful production and post-production tax credits—offering as much as 35% on labor and qualifying post-production projects to productions who bring their business to Orange County.


Gov. Kathy Hochul, as part of her proposed budget, has called for enhancements to the tax credit program. According to a report in The City, the Hochul proposal would greatly expand the state’s tax credit by raising the annual cap to $700 million a year from $425 million. It would also increase the amount of the credit to 30% of expenses, where it had been before it was reduced to 25% by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2020. Payment of the credit, which can lag for several years, would be sped up as well.