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New York woos back the screen to streets

Hollywood given Gotham version of a red carpet

NEW YORK -- The upcoming thriller by Martin Scorsese, ''The Departed," revolves around a gangster and a police officer who conceal their identities to infiltrate opposing forces, and their deceit is not the only disguise in the film.

The movie, starring Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Leonardo DiCaprio, takes place in Boston, but most of it was shot in New York City, where Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood stood in for South Boston and Raoul's restaurant in SoHo played the part of a fancy Beacon Hill eatery.

Faking another city on the streets of New York is not only rare, it is a role reversal for producers, who have long favored shooting in cheaper locations with fewer headaches.

But under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city has taken extraordinary steps to change its reputation.

New York has launched a tax credit that, officials say, has generated $600 million in new business and thousands of new jobs, and that has begun to transform the industry.

''The perception was, 'Ugh, New York. We really want to be there -- great locations, great crews, but there's the hassle factor,' " said Katherine Oliver, Bloomberg's commissioner of film, theater and broadcasting. ''So what we have tried to do is market, promote and change that."

A new law in Massachusetts provides tax credits and other incentives to movie production companies that make films on location in Massachusetts. But it came too late for ''The Departed," which shot in Boston for six weeks. Producers said last summer that shooting mostly in New York saved them at least $5 million.

In New York, the first hassle was said to be the cost of shooting here. In the late 1990s, productions fled the city for tax incentive programs in other cities and countries, particularly Canada, creating their New York scenes on sound stages and nondescript urban streets.

Business dropped off even more after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, so the Bloomberg administration invited the nation's entertainment leaders to a meeting at Gracie Mansion, the mayor's official residence, to ask them what the city had to do to turn things around.

To match the appealing offers outside New York, it became clear to city officials that they needed their own tax credit, which went into effect one year ago.

The program gives a 15 percent credit to productions that do 75 percent of their work here.

The package of incentives also includes free media -- including space on Times Square jumbotrons -- and discounts at city attractions. The result has astonished entertainment leaders and city officials. The number of location shooting days, which is how the city measures the health of this $5 billion industry, swelled by 35 percent in 2005.

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