By: Jonathan Chan
You’re almost late, out of breath, and nearing the escalator in front of Jay Express that leads up to the first floor. Rushing to get to class and thinking you can make it in the next three minutes, when you’re stopped by a man blocking the entrance. He simply shakes his head and says “Nope. Sorry, this is closed.” Looking up the escalator you can see a film crew crawling about, hauling six-foot lights and several cameras. And now you have to wait for the elevator to take you one floor up.
We’ve all seen the taped cardboard on walls and floors of the hallways in the New Building and whole floor levels being cleared out by film crews from “Law and Order.” Last October, four sections of the New Building were occupied by film crews including Lil Jay’s Café, two science labs, escalators from the third to fourth floor, and Greenroom and Hallway. With the exception of the two science labs, film crews avoided filming during community hour.
All this filming begs the question: How much does John Jay make from these rentals? This question can be answered by the school’s budget on the college website under “Finance and Management.” The 2015 Year End Report shows a revenue income of $861,314 from “Film/Commercials/TV Shoots” alone. Expenditures for the same category however, amount to $269,094, leaving $592,220 at the end of the year. However, these numbers do not represent the entirety of the system set up at John Jay.
The money earned from rentals, both facility and filming, are pooled in a type reserve to be picked out from when needed. Since John Jay is not fully funded by the state, The Auxiliary Service Corporation, a non-profit, who manage the rentals in John Jay, with the exception of the Theater and Athletics department, helps fund student programs, scholarships, and a lot of events on campus with that pool of money.
Helen Cedeno, the Director of Accounting, Audit, and Compliance, is the Treasurer and non-voting member on the board who helps make decisions concerning where money should be used.
On average, the monthly revenue from filming in 2015-16 is $74,214. But “the film industry is volatile” said Cedeno and therefore, every year, money from shootings vary. During 2014-15 year, John Jay had gotten a lot of money for renting space for the movie “Annie,” ending with a monthly average of $102,982. Since the rentals are sporadic, the Auxiliary Service is sometimes limited in where they can help fund students.
Yet, despite the money made, students are still unsure whether the rentals are worth it because of the inconveniences the film crews cause. One student, Jennifer Palomino, a junior, thought back to an incident where the film crew disrupted her class.
“A film crew was doing a scene right outside one of my lit classes. Our door was taped up and everything and while the professor was teaching, we could hear them clearly outside,” Palomino said.
While the Director of Film, Television, and Commercial Services, Nancy Marshall, cautions film crews about how to interact politely with students and faculty, Cedeno said sometimes the film crew will hinder classes or students. Marshall tries to avoid this by first contacting whoever is using or planning to use the room the film crew wants to film in and give priority to John Jay faculty and students if the room is needed.
“We give priority to students so the film crew does not interfere with their classes or events” said Cedeno. Marshall also tries to make most of the filming time after or before community hour, the busiest time at John Jay, or at night, when most students have left.
If a film crew does damage something, they pay for it right away, said Cedeno.
But, how did the rentals start? John Jay, at first, did not advertise as a film site. It began with the decline of the John Jay bookstore.
Because the Higher Education Law had expired in 2013, book vouchers that students received from financial aid became obsolete. With most of the profit coming from the student vouchers, the John Jay bookstore started to lose money, soon “not even being able to make rent,” Cedeno said, for the store.
With the bookstore gone, John Jay had to quickly fill a gap in revenue. At around the same time, a location scout from a film crew found John Jay. This meant better reputation for John Jay and a new source of income for the Auxiliary Service Corporation.
“We had to find how to better serve the students,” Cedeno said and the film rentals became the answer.
Decisions for where the money is used go through a meticulous procedure before they can happen. Cedeno describes this process as “strategic” because of how much planning and revising that happens. First, a proposal needs to be made from board about any student needs, such as an event or program. It must have a well structured budget proposal to show how exactly the requested money is being used and why the program or event needs it. The proposal is then pitched to the student and faculty boards in the Auxiliary Services, who must approve the plan. If they do not, the plan must be revised or is denied completely.
The meetings for the proposals are open to students and faculty in the conference room on the 7th floor at 619 West 54th street.
“Transparency is the most important for us so students can learn about how all this works. I love when students are curious” said Cedeno.