It’s no secret that the Hudson Valley is home to countless Hollywood movie stars and producers. Its lush and beautiful landscapes and proximity to New York City providing the best of both worlds. Though a handful of films have showcased the area over the decades, its cinematic footprint paled in comparison to other regions due to a flawed state program that didn’t consider the Hudson Valley “upstate.”
But that all changed in 2016. After significant advocacy from Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, New York State passed legislation allowing Ulster County and a handful of other left-behinds to finally compete for productions by offering the same 40% tax credit allotted to the rest of upstate New York. The legislation was signed by the governor in November 2016 and, as a result, the entire Mid-Hudson region is now included and will benefit.
Since the legislation passed, Ulster County has fast evolved into a hotbed for major movie and television productions, with numerous high-profile projects shooting here. The dramatic increase in Ulster County's film production industry comes as a direct result of Ulster County’s inclusion in the New York State Upstate Film Tax Credit program.
"My goal is simple: to make Ulster County a hub for the highly profitable entertainment history," Hein said. "It provides high value opportunities for our workers and low impact on our environment, while delivering millions to our economy."
Actor and director Mary Stuart Masterson, who thanked Hein for his tireless work in pushing for the tax-credit legislation, said the added 10% tax credit will make the Mid-Hudson Valley the go-to location for series television and film production.
"We have the locations, the talent, the workforce, and the amenities producers want when choosing where to base their productions," she said. "Now, they also have the economic incentive to say 'yes' to the Mid-Hudson Valley."
Hein said the impact of the added tax credit was felt almost immediately. In 2016, film production companies spent $8 million in the Hudson Valley. Following the implementation of the film tax credit, film production spending approached that figure in the first quarter of 2017 alone, and has kept climbing since.
Laurent Rejto of the Hudson Valley Film Commission said his organization has seen a 50% increase in film production since the new film tax credits were implemented.
In October 2017, Hein unveiled the Ulster County Film Finance Program to encourage more film, media, and television productions to select Ulster County as their filming location. An initial commitment of $8 million by four local banking institutions provides cash advances, bridge financing and loans, among other things, to film production companies to help grow the film sector locally and create more career opportunities for the county's youth and industry professionals.
Now, the area is coming into its own as a destination for quirky, daring cinema and television, with productions ranging from Sundance indies to studio comedies and HBO dramas lining up to shoot there. Here’s a look at some significant film and television projects that have shot on location in Ulster County recently, followed by some older classics and under-the-radar gems.
Recent and Upcoming Projects Shot in Ulster County
The Undoing (2020)
From the makers of Big Little Lies, HBO’s newest prestige limited series The Undoing stars Nicole Kidman as a successful Manhattan therapist whose life is turned upside down when the disappearance of her husband (Hugh Grant) triggers a series of shocking revelations. The production shot at several locations around Kingston last summer, including the Rondout Waterfront. The series is set to air sometime in Fall 2020.
I Know This Much Is True (2020)
The long-in-gestation adaptation of Wally Lamb’s beloved novel I Know This Much Is True was originally supposed to be a feature film, but ultimately became a miniseries when HBO came on board and Mark Ruffalo took the duel lead roles of twin brothers. Though the novel is set in Connecticut, director Derek Cianfrance chose to film in the Mid-Hudson Valley, including in Kingston, Poughkeepsie and Umbra of Newburgh, and thank goodness for that. The six-month production became the biggest film/tv project in the region’s history, generating more than $46 million for the regional economy in 2019, according to The Poughkeepsie Journal.
A Quiet Place Part II (2020) and A Quiet Place (2018)
Actor-filmmaker John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place became the surprise hit of 2018. An old-fashioned horror movie about a farm family fighting for survival in the face (or ear) of hearing-challenged alien invaders, A Quiet Place made fantastic use of the Mid-Hudson Valley’s breathtaking landscapes and farm pastorals, with Ulster County locations that included the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and downtown New Paltz. For A Quiet Place Part II (set for release this September), production mostly shifted to western New York, with the exception of a key reprise at the Springtown Truss (pictured above) outside New Paltz.
Amazon’s high-concept sci-fi comedy from The Office creator Greg Daniels offers an irresistible hook: In the near future, humans can circumvent death by uploading their consciousness to a customized digital afterlife. In the case of protagonist Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell), that afterlife is an idyllic mountain resort called Lakeview, which Ulster County residents will immediately recognize as the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz. Although the majority of the series was filmed in Canada, the production shot the famed Castle in the Catskills from a variety of angles and used the footage as plated backgrounds behind actors performing against green screen.
Billions - Season 5 (2020)
Speaking of the Mohonk Mountain House, it recently popped up in another popular television show, Showtime’s high-stakes financial thriller Billions. In season 5 episode 2, hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis) grudgingly attends a lavish financial conference upstate for the chance to spar with its host, Mike Prince (Corey Stoll), a Jeff Bezos-like titan of industry. Shot in winter 2019, the episode is filled with gorgeous drone shots of a snow-covered Mohonk Mountain House—and unlike Upload, the production actually filmed there, giving us some fabulous scenes of the actors interacting in various wings of the resort.
With a perfect 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Driveways is one of the best reviewed movies of 2020 and a lovely showcase for the Mid-Hudson Valley’s low-key charms. The understated story revolves around an unlikely friendship between a young boy named Cody (Lucas Jaye) and his 80-something neighbor Del (Brian Dennehy), a widowed veteran who regales Cody with stories of his life. Primarily set in Poughkeepsie, the film also shot all over Ulster County, including in Kingston, Rosendale and New Paltz.
Shirley was a big hit at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, with good reason. Ostensibly a biopic of reclusive novelist Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss), the film smartly avoids getting bogged down in the details of Jackson’s life and instead approaches the story as an interior psychodrama about dueling couples in academia. Set at Bennington College in Vermont, the film was shot all over the Mid-Hudson Valley, with Vassar playing Bennington, and several Ulster County locations making cameos, including Sam’s Point in the Shawangunk Ridge and Woodstock Film Studios.
Lost Girls (2020)
Another hit at Sundance alongside Shirley was Lost Girls, a dark drama about the real-life tragedy of Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan), whose search for her missing daughter Shannan led to the discovery of 10 homicide victims and the realization that a serial killer was stalking Long Island. The film was shot primarily in Long Island, but several crucial scenes take place in downtown Ellenville. If you’re unfamiliar with the details of the real story, be warned—this is not a happy ending.
The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
For his deadpan foray into the zombie genre, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch shot in the Mid-Hudson Valley, including in the town of Ulster. The star-studded cast includes Selena Gomez, Adam Driver, Danny Glover, and Tilda Swinton, plus several actors who were already known to frequent the region: Bill Murray, Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny and Tom Waits. The movie employed hundreds of locals as zombie extras and was a financial boon for the region.
A huge critical hit that garnered numerous awards, Diane tells the story of an aging woman (Mary Kay Place) wrestling with her own mortality as she watches her friends pass away and tries to help her troubled son. Cinema historian Kent Jones shot the low budget film in a brisk 20 days across Rosendale, Kingston, and Saugerties.
Ulster County on Film Through the Years
Cinematic highlights from the past.
Director Sydney Pollack’s production team brought their all-star cast to Ulster County’s Hurley Mountain Inn to shoot an upstate bar scene in this 1980s comedic masterpiece starring Dustin Hoffman. The film garnered 10 Oscar nominations, and Jessica Lange won for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, her very first Oscar win.
The Road to Wellville (1994)
Adapted from T.C. Boyle’s novel and directed by Alan Parker, The Road to Wellville tells the story of Dr. John Kellogg (founder of Kellogg’s cereal), whose eccentric obsessions with physical health and wellness led him to open the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, where wealthy patients submitted to Kellogg’s bizarre prescriptions. The film was largely shot at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, which stands in for the sanitarium.
Down to the Bone (2004)
Before director Debra Granik launched Jennifer Lawrence’s career by casting the then-unknown 16-year-old in Winter’s Bone (for which Lawrence would receive her first Oscar nomination), Granik helped draw the world’s attention to the great character actress Vera Farmiga in Down to the Bone, a gritty indie shot all over Ulster County, including New Paltz, Woodstock, Kingston, Saugerties, and Bearsville.
Higher Ground (2011)
The directorial debut of Farmiga, which she also starred in along with her little sister, Taissa, is a gentle and very personal study of one woman’s evolving relationship with her Christian faith. Farmiga, an Ulster County resident, shot the film in Kingston, Ellenville, Stone Ridge, and Kyserike.
The Better Angels (2014)
Produced by revered auteur Terrence Malick, The Better Angels is a meditative pastoral that depicts the childhood of Abraham Lincoln and his complicated relationships with his mother and stepmother. Though it’s set in Indiana, the filmmakers chose to shoot largely at the Mohonk Preserve.
Cold in July (2014)
This acclaimed independent crime noir stars Michael C. Hall as a hapless East Texas family man whose life takes a dark turn after he accidentally kills a home intruder. Director Jim Mickle, a native Texan, chose to use Ulster County — Kingston, Esopus, Woodstock — as a stand-in for East Texas because of the similar terrain.
The Ticket (2016)
This speculative thriller shot largely in Kingston tells the story of a man who regains his vision without explanation, and starts to change for the worse.
It Comes at Night (2017)
Critics adored the slow-burn narrative and moody atmosphere of this provocative arthouse thriller. The story unfolds almost exclusively inside a country house, and that particular house happens to be in the Byrdcliffe Art Colony just outside of Woodstock.
Growing Up Smith (2017)
Another flick shot entirely in Kingston, this coming-of-age family film revolves around Sam, a 10-year-old Indian boy growing up in small town America in 1979.
Stray Bullets (2017)
Written and directed by 16-year-old wunderkind Jack Fessenden (with a little help from his father, veteran indie filmmaker Larry Fessenden), Stray Bullets follows two teenage boys who accidentally collide with a group of armed robbers on the run. Filmed across Ulster County, in Stone Ridge, Rosendale, Kingston, Woodstock and West Shokan.