How movies get made in NYC
Planning on seeing an NYC-centric flick at the Central Park Conservancy Film Festival? First, find out how production crews work around the masses to film in the city.
Mon Aug 16 2010
Sex and the City
Beginning Tuesday 24, the Central Park Conservancy's annual film festival will screen five films showcasing New York City icons—like King Kong, with its climactic scene atop the Empire State Building, or the subway in the 2009 remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. But how do film crews actually do their jobs at public sites like bridges, the subway, streets and buildings? "You're always going to affect something," says location manager Mike Kriaris, who has worked on Sex and the City, The Other Guys and Salt. "I always equate it to dealing with a body of water: It's easier to redirect it around you than it is to dam it up." But despite the inconvenience, filming here offers a sense of authenticity that simply can't be replicated on a soundstage in Los Angeles. We spoke with Kriaris and fellow location manager Rob Striem (I Am Legend, Duplicity) to learn about filming in NYC, from the boring (obtaining permits) to the supremely cool (crashing cars underneath a bridge).
On the subway:
The Hoyt--Schermerhorn station in Downtown Brooklyn, which services the A, C and G lines, houses an abandoned platform and a quarter mile of unused track, which makes it an ideal spot for filming (Martin Scorsese shot the music video for Michael Jackson's "Bad" here). For Salt, Kriaris reached out to the MTA for permission to use the station and one of its newer trains; he also requested a cleanup crew, who removed trash and dust from the tracks and platform. Several cast and crew members also had to take an eight-hour safety course. Each day during filming, Kriaris and his team would load equipment onto the train at the Coney Island subway depot at 5:30am; once they arrived at Hoyt--Schermerhorn, they'd spend two hours setting up. Luckily for commuters, even Angelina Jolie couldn't affect subway travel: Normal operations continued on the functional tracks during filming.
In the buddy-cop comedy The Other Guys, Steve Coogan plays an evil financier; to create the character's office, Kriaris and his crew worked with Rockefeller Center owner Tishman Speyer to take over part of the Top of the Rock observation deck, a popular tourist attraction. Because the building is privately owned, getting permission to film was relatively simple; contending with tourists, however, proved challenging. Kriaris and his team would start setting up at 12:01am, when Rockefeller Center closed to the public, but civilians were in the building by 8am, while filming was still taking place. "We'd be carrying equipment out and there'd be tourists coming and going," Kriaris says.
Striem had a similar crowd-management issue while filming a scene in Duplicity, which takes place in Grand Central Terminal. Striem decided to film the scene on a Sunday, when the station is less crowded, between dawn and noon. Metro-North customer-service personnel helped commuters maneuver around the set.
In the street:
Before shooting anywhere in New York, location managers must collaborate with city agencies that have jurisdiction over the various parts of the local infrastructure, including the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting. Then, it's a matter of crowd control. To film the scene in Sex and the City in which a jilted Carrie Bradshaw confronts her fianc, Mr. Big, outside of the iconic midtown branch of the New York Public Library, Kriaris consulted with the MOFTB in order to control streets around the building. Kriaris then hired 15 production assistants and two police officers to prevent the paparazzi and 1,500 excited onlookers from swarming Sarah Jessica Parker in her meringuelike wedding dress. While six traffic cops stopped cars from turning onto the street, security guards kept an eye on overzealous fans.
Striem ran into similar difficulties while filming the scene in the postapocalyptic flick I Am Legend in which Will Smith walks down a deserted Fifth Avenue. Striem and his crew would arrive at 6am, and aim to shoot from 10am to 3pm ("You want to avoid the rush hours," he reasons). As many as 200 production assistants helped keep pedestrians out of the frame, while 20 traffic cops kept cars idling.
The Queensboro Bridge has hosted many an action sequence—the climactic scene of Spider-Man was shot there in 2001, for instance—but a Salt scene involved some serious coordination. Jolie hijacks a police car and sends it plummeting over an exit ramp onto vehicles parked on the street below. Kriaris needed permission from the MOFTB as well as the DOT's Division of Bridges, which let Kriaris and his team shut down an entrance ramp on the Queens side of the bridge. Then, he hired six traffic officers and two police cars to keep bridge traffic moving 100 yards behind the camera as it traveled across the bridge. When Con Edison engineers expressed concern that the impact of the falling car might damage the gas pipes running below the street, Kriaris and his team designed a street-level plywood platform to serve as a buffer. "We basically made it so there was absolutely no impact on the actual road surface, even though we were dropping a 6,000-pound car from 20 feet," he explains.
Click here for an extended chat with Mike Kriaris and Rob Striem.