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Cuomo’s START-UP NY Brings Effects Crew To Albany

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Visual effects firm Branch VFX has begun its third month in partnership with UAlbany’s division of the START-UP NY program, which allows businesses to operate tax-free for ten years in locations near universities.

As a condition of participation in the program, Branch has committed to creating sixteen new jobs and will partner with UAlbany in creating digital arts and other internships.

Shade, Branch’s sister company, is known as a “top-tier” firm in the film industry, having worked on simulating everything from the adamantium claws in Wolverine to the teeming throngs of protesters in Selma.

Branch VFX, LLC was started by Shade founder Bryan Godwin, who is no stranger to taking advantage of tax incentives; Branch’s website pitches potential filmmaker customers by reminding them that effects work done in their New York office can qualify them for 30 percent tax savings via the New York State Post Production Tax Credit.

“Branch mitigates all of those conflicts,” reads the site, “while keeping your bottom line, and your tax rebates in tact.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched START-UP NY in 2013, promising it would “supercharge” New York’s job market. The Empire State Development Corporation, the agency handling START-UP, estimated in 2016 that 1,135 jobs had been created since its inception.

State representatives’ response to START-UP has been lukewarm to cold, with many complaining that the several hundred million dollars spent on the program were ineffectual. At the beginning of the month, NY Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan published a message identifying START-UP as an item he wants reviewed.

“Investing in job creation is and will continue to be a priority,” said Flanagan, “but we can’t throw good money after bad.”

UAlbany currently is partnering with six other firms in START-UP NY. Matt Grattan, director of Community and Economic Development at UAlbany, said that last year’s count estimated that the six firms have created sixteen new jobs in total since 2014.

Grattan said in a phone interview Thursday that making internships or other opportunities available is a prerequisite for partnering with a potential start-up.

“It’s not just about letting a company come in and squat on some tax-free space,” said Grattan, “it’s about establishing a relationship with your sponsoring university.”

Owner of Shade and Branch Bryan Godwin said in an email that internship planning was in the works.

“We are still working out our internship program, as we need to get our core team to 100 percent,” said Godwin. “However, there will be opportunities in the digital media arts space, production coordination (communication arts) and potentially computer science and programming in the near future.”

Sam Margolius, executive producer at Branch, said that interns would potentially be working on projects that film and television studios keep secret and secure throughout development.

“All employees and interns are thoroughly vetted and run through our on-boarding process before ever having access to protected content and workstations. They are legally obligated to adhere to our strict security protocols and sign NDA’s,” Margolius said in an email, referring to non-disclosure agreements.


Joe Hoffman is the managing editor for the Albany Student Press.

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