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BY WINNIE McCROY | When Commissioner Julie Menin of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) saw an opportunity to reclaim a prestige event, she didn’t skip a beat — and now, just in time to celebrate their 60th anniversary, the Grammy Awards are back in the New York groove. Set to broadcast worldwide from the nation’s music capital on the night of Sun., Jan. 28, the Grammys bring with them more star power than any solo gig Madison Square Garden has ever seen, along with an estimated $200 million in attendant revenues.
“In the first week that I was on the job, I went out to LA to meet with The [Recording] Academy, because we knew the contract with The Staples Center was up,” Menin recalled. “There was an opportunity for us to create a very compelling case for New York, because the Grammys had not been here for 15 years… So we were very focused on what we could do to bring them back to the city. It was a golden opportunity.”
Menin had heard a lot of anecdotal evidence about how the music industry had moved to LA, but she wanted data. So, being the commissioner, she commissioned a study of the music ecosystem. It revealed that, despite the recent closing of smaller venues, New York City’s music industry supported 60,000 jobs and “sold more live music tickets last year than the top other three cities, LA, Nashville and San Francisco, combined.”
The negotiations involved the various labor unions at Madison Square Garden, putting together a host committee, and details regarding a one-day load-in, rehearsals, and the ceremony itself at MSG — and the Grammys are just the beginning.
“Certainly having a close relationship with labor and working very closely with them, they’ve been a fantastic partner in this,” Menin noted. “There were a lot of different components to the negotiation and we’re thrilled it is happening, and I think it’s a great harbinger. We are actually in negotiations with other shows outside of music that we think would be great to bring here to New York City. It’s value-added, economic revenue.”
And that economic revenue is conservatively estimated to be at least $200 million. Last year, the city of Los Angeles commissioned a study to show how much the Grammys brought in — everything from hotel rooms to transportation, and all the different industries that will benefit.
“The Grammys bring dozens and dozens of staff members who stay here well in advance,” Menin noted. “There is everything from wardrobe to trucking to so many different attendant costs, and it’s not just that one night, it’s weeks and weeks in advance, and oftentimes months in advance.”
As for the main event itself, Menin’s three teenage sons are rooting for their favorite hip-hop artist, Lil Uzi Vert, to win — but their mother just hopes everyone brings their best to the stage. “They have a great roster of people,” she said, “and I think it’s going to be a great night. What’s exciting is, no matter what kind of music you like, there’s something for everyone.”
MENIN’S MOME MISSION | Having served as a three-term chair of Community Board 1 and thrown her hat into the ring for the 2013 Manhattan Borough President race, Menin was appointed Commissioner of Consumer Affairs by Mayor Bill de Blasio during his first term.
“It was really wonderful running that agency, because it goes to the core of the type of law I practiced for many years,” she recalled. “And I really believe in the ability, through consumer protection regulation, to make sure consumers are not being defrauded.”
Two years into her work at Consumer Affairs, Menin was tapped by the mayor to revamp MOME.
“One thing I’ve really focused on is trying to increase opportunities, in particular for women,” said Menin. “And so well before the Harvey Weinstein allegations, we made an announcement that we were going to do five women’s initiatives. Because if you really want to help women in media and entertainment, you have to create more economic opportunity for them. It is absolutely critical.”
First, Menin announced a $5 million fund for women filmmakers and playwrights — making MOME the first city agency in the country that is actually giving direct cash grants to them. Then she held a financing conference for women filmmakers and playwrights, after studies showed that that they were not getting the same access to capital as male directors and playwrights. So MOME connected them to venture capital firms, to angel investors, and to different funding sources.
When research showed that women doing their proverbial “elevator pitch” weren’t seeing the same track record of success as men, “We did pitch workshops to help women refine their elevator pitch,” Menin said, “and it culminated in this women’s financing conference. I was incredibly personally gratified to see these women be able to get their projects financed.”
Currently in the midst of its launch is the Greenlight Her program, a TV screenwriting contest for women that received 300 script submissions, winnowed down to two. With the help of students at the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, which MOME has provided scholarships for, and whose student body is primarily people of color and women working at Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, two pilots were filmed. To see the pilots — “Half Life” by Patty Carey and “Maturity” by Robin Rose Singer — visit nyc.gov/GreenlightHer. Voting ends on Sat., Jan. 27. The winner gets four episodes of their show greenlit to be produced and aired on NYC Media later this fall.
MOME also launched the show “Her Big Idea,” a block of programming profiling women entrepreneurs who had “one big idea” and blew it out of the water, and the attendant challenges, trials and tribulations. They also launched The Vanguard, a TV show about women in the media business, their challenges, and how they overcame them.
Also on the slate of women’s initiatives, Menin noted, is “a study on the role gender plays in film directors’ histories. We’re going back and looking historically at how gender plays a role and, if so, what were the implications of it between male directors and female directors. We are pretty close to releasing that study.”
A lack of women in leadership roles is not just endemic to media and entertainment, said Menin; it exists in every industry, from medicine, to politics, to law. It’s part of her job to find parity.
“We have an attendant duty to really break down these walls and create these economic opportunities for women,” Menin vowed. “And if we’re not doing that, shame on us.”
WORKFORCE PROGRAMS & INITIATIVES | “When I first came into the agency, one of the charges given was to make sure we keep production at an all-time high, because it’s an economic driver for the city,” Menin explained. “If you want to build more school seats and more affordable housing, we want to ensure that our economic sectors and revenue generated for the city are as strong as possible. Film and TV are a $9 billion industry for New York City, employing 130,000 New Yorkers, everything from the truck driver driving to the set to the makeup artist.”
With production at an all-time high, Menin focused on creating workforce development programs for those who have been traditionally shut out of the system. Hearing that TV writers of color were having trouble breaking into the industry, she launched a program with The Writers Guild to train 500 diverse TV writers. She had them working with some of the best TV showrunners in the business as their mentors.
“Every single participant in the program got feedback on their script, and that’s invaluable. And a subset of them were chosen for an intensive one-on-one program,” she said. “And the feedback we got on that was so tremendous because so many of these writers say to us, ‘I never heard anything. I never knew what about my writing was good or bad, or was it just thrown in the waste paper basket?’ ”
The Made in New York Post-Production program has also been launched, an extension of the agency’s Production Assistant training program, which gives free training to 700 New Yorkers on how to get a job in production. Menin followed that with a workforce program on podcasting certification, calling it the most democratic medium, where the job growth is doubling.
In an effort to balance the needs of the community with film projects, Menin launched the Film Green Initiative, becoming the first city in the country to instill a set of rules around sustainability, everything from recyclability to how to dispose of sets. If the production meets the criteria, they’re added to MOME’s certification program, and are permitted to use the NYC Film Green seal of approval on all their marketing and promotional materials.
Menin also branched out into publishing. Bemoaning the closing of both independent and mainstream bookstores, she launched the One Book, One New York program, which became the largest community read in the country. It resulted in a sales increase of 400 percent of participating books.
Not only will MOME hold One Book, One New York again this spring, but they will also continue their analog program, One Film, One New York, partnering with A.O. Scott from The New York Times to pick films about New York City and put them out to public vote. Last year, Spike Lee’s “Crooklyn” won, and was screened across the city so all families could have a night at the movies. To further ensure this kind of access, MOME distributed 1,000 free tickets to NYCHA residents to see Broadway shows, and another 1,000 tickets so families could go to the movies for free.
“It’s all about having access to the arts and culture,” Menin said. “Being able to express yourself creatively through the arts is important. Just last week, we announced animation training for at-risk youth aged 12–24. The city is expected to have 10,000 jobs in animation in the coming years, so having these kids trained in this field is so important. It’s all about trying to make the city better, each and every day.”
For more information on the opportunities provided by the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, visit nyc.gov/mome.