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Kaufman Astoria Studios CEO Hal Rosenbluth on the future of film production amid COVID-19

Kaufman Astoria Studios President & CEO Hal G. Rosenbluth joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how the pandemic is impacting studio reopenings and break down the future of film production as coronavirus cases surge across the country.

Video Transcript

BRIAN CHEUNG: Well, there are some big movies coming out soon. I personally got my eye on "Wonder Woman-- 1984," which is hitting HBO Max on Christmas. But with COVID raging, what's the backlog looking like for new movies?

Joining us now for a deeper dive into how movie studios are handling this is Hal Rosenbluth. He's the CEO and President of Kaufman Astoria Studios. And also with us is Yahoo Finance's Ali Canal. And Hal, we don't need to look far to see how stressful it is to make movies during this time. I'm referring, of course, to the Tom Cruise breakdown on the set of "Mission Impossible 7."

But seriously, I mean, I feel like his rant had a really interesting point, which is that movie studios employ a lot of people. So from your perspective, how are production companies kind of navigating and deciding when to take the risk on to keep the literal lights on?

HAL ROSENBLUTH: Listen, I think what Tom Cruise did was, without knowing all the details, 100% correct. We're an industry in which the productions are spending millions of dollars to create new departments, COVID departments, COVID officers. The protocols that we're using in this industry are probably as strict as there is in the country in an attempt to keep everybody safe and healthy and working. And to see him get upset over someone that was not abiding by these rules that are in place, OK. You're allowed to be upset. It's impacting everybody's livelihood that's in this industry.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: And Hal, we're really seeing New York City flourish into this East Coast Hollywood. But because of the coronavirus, we've been hearing a lot about this New York City exodus for not only businesses but residences as well. If this exodus holds true post COVID-19, do you think that could threaten the TV and movie boom that we're seeing in the city right now?

HAL ROSENBLUTH: Look, I think right now we are very blessed. The industry has come back wanting to be in New York, and one of the reasons they want to be in New York is because of the huge depth of talent that exists here. And when I say talent, I'm not only talking about acting talent but the capability to crew up a show. If New York is doing 50 to 60 scripted shows, we've got 50 sets of starters, you know, almost like a football team. We're able to field a team for each and every one of these shows, both from a facility end as well as a technical-crew end as well as an acting-talent end.

That's not easily duplicated in other parts of the country right now. They certainly can do it in LA, and New York is the second biggest production center in North America.

SEANA SMITH: Hey, Hal, it's Seana. Question just about the impact that these studios have on communities because I think that's so critical to point out, especially at a time like this when there's so many small businesses, so many restaurants struggling to survive. What kind of impact have you seen in locations where you have studios?

HAL ROSENBLUTH: Look, for us, we use the studio as an anchor to rejuvenate an entire neighborhood. My first lesson on economic impact came many years ago when, in a newspaper article, a local restaurant complained that we weren't busy enough, and he had no reason to believe that there was a labor dispute at the time between LA and New York. And I'm going back a lot of years. But what he said in the paper was his lunch business was down 70%.

And all of a sudden I went, oh my god, that here's this facility, and we're actually able to impact this man's business by 70%. It was an extraordinary thought process to me in terms of the responsibility we have to the community and what we do.

We've done seminars where we've had producers stand up there and say this is how much money we spent in a local pizzeria or the local dry cleaner and watch the audience go ooh. You know, people, I think, are over the idea of what an actor is being paid. An actor is going to get that money whether they're shooting in New York, LA, or outside of the country. So to see an impact happen on a local small business is actually a good feeling, and we know that we're doing-- having a positive impact to any place that we're hanging our hat in this industry.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: And Hal, Congress just passed that second COVID relief bill. You guys did receive PPP funding that first time around. And in part because of that, you were able to keep all of your employees on the payroll, which is just amazing. So what do you need this time around to stay afloat and to thrive amid the pandemic?

HAL ROSENBLUTH: What we need is-- well, one, during that period I was very happy to keep all of our employees employed. To me, we're only as good as the people we have working at the studio. That's what provides the image. That provides the service to our clients.

Going forward, we need the industry to stay strong. We need an education aspect to happen to recognize that this industry has become one of the pillars of the economy in New York. It is-- in a world in which New York needs to diversify its economic dependence, having an industry that has been wanting and willing to come back and spend their money here and hire all the people-- studies show that we represent 100,000 direct and indirect jobs in New York and all good-paying jobs. We need to be able to keep these jobs going. We need an education for the general public and our legislators to continue to understand the import that this industry has on New York and what its benefit to New York's economy is.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Well, and Hal, I feel like there is that recognition, you know, the Made in New York initiative, and we've seen those stamps on a lot of productions that were made here in this great city. Have you had conversations with the state and local municipalities and other lawmakers during this period of time to say here's the type of support that our industry needs right now, and what has that conversation looked like as we hit this inflection point with, you know, COVID cases surging but that vaccine on the horizon?

HAL ROSENBLUTH: Right now you saw what happened in California where they made it an essential business so long as the strict protocols remain. Our protocols are the strictest-- probably-- I'm going to say the strictest in the country unless you're going into a lab. People are tested continuously. We're in ultra-protection mode across the board. You don't get on our campus without being screened.

So I think when I talk about education, the analogy is I have-- I went on as a tourist to Vancouver, which is one of the larger production centers. And just on the bus I said, are you guys bothered by the location trucks? I just wanted to see reaction. And they said, are you kidding me? It brings a billion dollars into our economy. That's the education I'm talking about from almost a public perspective.

So as we hear negative stories that happen on anybody that gets any help from a governmental body, think about it. Think what the impact really is on the other side. What is the impact this industry has on the economy as a whole and to your friend having a job or your family member? It is huge, and it's really important that we are able to continue-- like I said, keep going and make sure that this industry continues in operation so the economic impact continues.

SEANA SMITH: Hal Rosenbluth, CEO and president of Kaufman Astoria Studios, great to have you on the show, as well as Alexandra Canal. Thanks for joining us.

HAL ROSENBLUTH: Thank you very much.