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Utica's Stanley Theatre home to new state film commission

The Film Utica Stanley Theatre soundstage.
Film Utica
The Film Utica Stanley Theatre soundstage.

Utica is ready for its close-up. The city is home to a new state-recognized film commission.

New York's state film tax credits have encouraged filmmaking in the state. The state budget increases the state money available from $420 million to $700 million each year in 2024. Productions filmed in upstate New York could be eligible for a 40% total tax credit.

Lisa Wilsey, the executive director of the Stanley Theatre and the board chair of Film Utica, said the idea of starting the film commission arose during the pandemic when the Stanley Theatre could not operate as a live performance venue. But, New York was allowing film and television production businesses to operate.

"I realized, during the COVID shut down that Stanley is not only a live performance stage, she can be converted into a sound stage," Wilsey said. "Really what was missing was the Film Commission."

Wilsey said the Stanley Theatre was used by companies like Netflix and HBO to film interviews for documentary series. Now as the official state commission Film Utica, she said the goal is to attract new business to the city. This helps create new jobs as productions can hire local talent like grips, costumers, carpenters and makeup artists to get their production off the ground.

"That creates sustainability for the people that are here," Wilsey said. "It also accelerates the economics of downtown with the tourism money coming in from these people that are moving here."

The commission cites Utica's affordability and proximity to large cities like New York City as reasons for filmmakers to pick the Mohawk Valley for their next production.

Wilsey said the Stanley Theatre is not just a theatre anymore — it's a multimedia company.

"It's going to have different branches of it that all have to do with the entertainment business," Wilsey said. "I think that's very important for theaters to explore. It's hard to change because it's confusing and unknown, but it was really necessary for this theater to do that."

Wilsey said several projects are on the horizon for Utica — including a multi-million dollar production from a Rochester filmmaker.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.