Home Arts & Leisure Suite Talk: Natasha Caputo of Tourism & Film for Westchester County

Suite Talk: Natasha Caputo of Tourism & Film for Westchester County

The film industry in Westchester County continues to grow, with big-budget blockbusters like “The Girl on the Train” and “The Post” and popular television shows from “The Affair” to “The Blacklist” choosing to shoot their scenes in Westchester. It’s estimated that the film industry generated more than $30 million for the county in 2016, a 130 percent increase from the 2014 figure.

Natasha Caputo. Photo by Bob Rozycki.

Natasha Caputo, director of Tourism & Film for Westchester County, is one of the driving forces behind that burgeoning film scene. Prior to taking the helm to promote all that Westchester has to offer for film productions and vacationers, she was a consultant for brands like American Express, Madison Square Garden Entertainment and Cirque du Soleil. Prior to that, she spent eight years running the strategic marketing and partnership operations of New York City’s tourism agency, NYC & Company.

What first attracted you to the position with Westchester County Tourism?

“Even though I grew up in Manhattan, I attended high school in Dobbs Ferry and graduated from Iona College, so Westchester always held a special place in my heart. Now, I live in Mount Kisco and enjoy all the benefits of living and working in Westchester. I took the helm at Westchester County’s Tourism and Film office in 2011, and it has been an amazing experience from day one. To know Westchester is to love Westchester, so promoting our brand for tourism and film productions doesn’t feel like
work at all!”

How has the film industry in Westchester changed over the course of your tenure with the County?

“Westchester County has a long history with the film industry. But we’ve really seen our activity grow over the years as our office has built contacts and established procedures that streamline the process for filming here. The film community is small, so word gets around that Westchester is film-friendly.

“We’ve also seen many municipalities establishing themselves as film havens — they’re smart about facilitating productions, and they offer a real variety of locations in one town or city. The city of White Plains, for instance, has attracted a lot of episodic television film activity, and was also a location this year for two feature films: ‘The Post,” directed by Steven Spielberg, and ‘The Irishman,’ directed by Martin Scorsese.

“Hastings-on-Hudson is also very popular with film crews for it’s small-town vibe that’s generic enough to suit any time period or geographic location. They’ve seen activity from feature films like ‘The Girl on the Train,’ as well as episodic shows like, ‘The Leftovers,’ ‘Girls,’ and “Divorce.’”

How does the film industry promote tourism?

“Film activity generates curiosity about Westchester. Fans of certain films and television shows also want to visit the locations they’ve seen on screen. When Westchester is in a film, it’s apparent that the County really has it all. You can access exquisitely maintained historic properties, impressive government buildings, private homes, gorgeous parks, rural towns, bustling cities, farmland, industrial spaces, restaurants and hotels — and everything is within easy reach and a short trip from Manhattan.”

How does the film industry bolster the economy?

“Film activity is an important contributor to the local economy; it brings in revenue and creates jobs here. When productions film in Westchester they hire local talent, they stay in our hotels and they’ll spend on things like catering, supplies, vehicle rentals, equipment rentals and more. That’s all in addition to daily fees that go to the locations and municipalities.

“Every two years we conduct a survey to measure the economic impact of film activity. We released the results of the most recent survey in July 2017, and announced that the film and TV industry generated an economic impact of more than $30 million in Westchester in 2016, almost doubling the amount from two years prior. The impact came from 532 on-location production days in Westchester in 2016, a 67 percent increase
since 2014.

The economic impact survey was conducted earlier in 2017 by the Westchester County Tourism & Film office, and gathered film activity data from municipalities across the county. The county’s economic impact estimates are based on a formula used by the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) and includes permit revenues, as well as revenue generated by retail establishments, restaurants, hotels, equipment rentals, and other film industry vendors.

“In 2017, Westchester County collected a total of $656,224 in location fees for film, television and commercial shoots at county-owned properties, a 31 percent increase vs. 2016. In addition, production days for county-owned properties in 2017 were up 27 percent from 2016.”

What are some of the things the county is doing to attract film industry professionals to Westchester?

“We maintain a high profile with the film community and promote our locations and services through a host of communications channels. We also work with properties and municipalities in Westchester to educate them on how to become more ‘film friendly’ if they’d like to increase their film activity.

“Our team handles everything related to film here — from that first initial scouting request, right down to when production wraps. We work as a liaison between productions and municipalities and properties in Westchester. We promote our county’s many benefits to the film community and we field scouting requests, facilitate permitting, trouble shoot when issues arise and generally do everything we can to streamline the
production process here.’

What are some of your most memorable moments related to the film industry in Westchester?

“It’s certainly memorable to have an Oscar-nominated film on the roster of productions filmed in Westchester! Westchester County film lovers should be sure to see ‘The Post,’ starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, because the film was shot right in White Plains and the old AT&T building is the Washington Post newsroom.”

Any favorite movies or television shows that were shot in Westchester?

“In addition to feature films, Westchester is a favorite location for episodic television. ‘Madam Secretary’ (CBS) is one of my personal favorites because it’s a great show, and because the team has really made use of so many great locations in Westchester. They’ve filmed in many Westchester County Parks, Aquario Restaurant in West Harrison, the West Harrison Fire Department, the Ritz-Carlton Westchester, the Westchester County Courthouse and the Cross County Shopping Center. It’s always fun to tune in and see if you can recognize Westchester locations.”

Any films or movies that you’d hoped would film in the county but got away?

“Westchester has seen quite a bit of film activity over the years, but we’ll always welcome more. We expect 2018 to be a great year, if 2017 is any indication. 2017 was pretty amazing — we had Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Barry Levinson, and Steven Soderbergh filming projects here. We also continue to attract many episodic television shows, such as, ‘Divorce,’ ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ ‘The Americans,’ ‘Billions,’ and ‘The Blacklist.’ Demand continues to grow, and the volume of scouting requests continues to rise every year — as more productions discover Westchester County, they’ll want to come back again and again.”


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