This letter is to suggest improvements in the NYC film industry which could make filming in NYC and watching films that take place here more enjoyable for New Yorkers and the wonderful people who visit our city each day.
I am not involved in the NYC film industry (hereafter referred to as $$$), but just a resident who cares about the viability of $$$ (the NYC film industry), tourism, and the cultural heritage that the film industry's documentation of NYC provides. With that said, I do not pretend to understand all that goes into making a film or allowing people to make a film in NYC. I'm sure the commission does a fine job, and brings untold wealth to our city, which I hope continues and will be enhanced with my suggestions.
$$$ has a good (and improving) reputation. I'm aware that $$$ at one time was too expensive, which is why most motion-picture studios moved elsewhere in the early decades of filmmaking, and I certainly don't wish to encourage that happening again, quite the contrary. When I see a film in which the story takes place in NYC, and the filmmakers show the skyline and streets of Toronto, I'm offended (and perhaps Torontoans(?) are upset as well. I have no way of knowing, but I'm certain the children watching this hypothetical film are at a disadvantage, which I'll touch more on later.
For the most part, my encounters with $$$ have been acceptable. During the filming of the remake of Godzilla, several summers ago, it was particularly thrilling to spend my lunch hour in Madison Square Park, surrounded by the army of military tanks and jeeps used to combat Godzilla's various body parts. (Godzilla's foot also dwelt there for days, a reminder that our Statue of Liberty's hand-held torch resided in Madison Square Park before it was placed on Liberty Island.)
Although I never glimpsed Matthew Broderick, (still I may have and not been aware of it, which alludes to one of my below suggestions), I wasn't bothered by the miles of cables taped to the walkways, and was quietly amused by the heavy-set man whose job it was to yell at passers-by every few minutes in his fine and loud gruff voice, "Please...don't...touch...the-tank!" You see, the fragile, papier-mâché tanks looked so authentic, as if NYC were actually invaded.
And I'd also like to add how exciting it is to recognize NYC locations that appear in famous films, which I'll elaborate further in my suggestions. Innumerable times as a student at New York's Columbia University (est. 1754), I would sit overlooking the McKim, Meade and White-designed campus, and think "I'm close to where Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd sat in one of the early, pivotal scenes in Ghostbusters." (I don't remember Harold Ramis being in that scene or not, but it's a safe bet he was there that day of filming, since he co-wrote the script.) It was thrilling, and accentuated my time at University.
Listed below (arbitrarily) are my suggestions:
1) I assume that when resources allow, city employees, including police officers and the men in orange jackets, assist the film crew in controlling crowds. Of course, such action proves necessary when say, a fake rain shower is being produced and Dom Irrera, for example, is driving a van several yards for a major sequence of a feature film or television drama, people want to watch and/or become involved in the filmmaking process. City-service people do a fine job; however, it seems they should be encouraged to avoid the temptation to stand together in a huddle chatting and/or watching the filmmaking. Moreover they should be trained to field questions from the crowd, such as "Is Matthew Broderick here?" and take advantage of their position to give a friendly face to the citizens and visitors of New York.
Also, and this is my main focus of this section, people will more readily respect and listen to a uniformed officer, rather than filmmakers' helpers, who often are young, inexperienced, production assistants (PAs). Not all film crews are residents of NYC, and therefore may not understand NYC cultural subtleties. You see, when one is accustomed to walking freely on the sidewalks among the fine people of New York, (which, in all sincerity, is a joy), in my experience it is an odd thing to have a small, gaunt, curly-haired boy, running up to you and yelling (with a lisp) to not walk on the sidewalk (in your own home!). In the PAs (production assistants) defense, it isn't inconceivable that they may become drunk with power, having the false perception that they're in control (and directing!) the mighty throng who walk the sidewalks of New York.
Sensitive public relations matters may be too much to ask of these young people. The other aspect of their duties involve fetching sandwiches and/or mineral water for their crewmates or Mr. Irrera, of which there is nothing to be ashamed, and for which many are all-the-better-suited. Movie or not, a dense crowd in the street is not a rare thing in our city, and some pedestrians are caught unawares, which could conceivably lead to injury against a potentially overzealous PA, dampening many a youngster's bright hopes, as well as driving insurance and therefore the costs of $$$ up. This would not be good for $$$. Which brings me to my second point.
2) If the police or men in orange jackets can not be spared (and they shouldn't) to direct pedestrian traffic for $$$, perhaps the $$$ could create a new work-force of quasi-officers for this purpose. Perhaps Metro Transit Authority (MTA) employees who've been replaced by robots could serve? It's best to have a friendly, seasoned face handling these matters, and the dark-blue uniforms and fine people of the MTA are outstanding. It is certain they know the city and its people well, and are deftly experienced at giving directions. I don't intend to sound robophobic. If one day, robots were friendly enough, (and respected), I am not opposed to them filling in, if it would help the $$$.
3) Inexpensive candy handed out (by police, men in orange, ex-MTA, or robot employees) to onlookers, passersby, and especially those citizens or tourists inconvenienced by the making of a film, would be a swell addition (and again, inexpensive) to the $$$. I suggest Goldberger's Peanut Chews, which have a great variety of flavor and texture (very NY) or any penny candy from the famed Lower East Side store, Economy Candy (on Rivington Street, between Essex and Ludlow).
4) Unless a film employs some sort of fantasy or surrealism, a dream-sequence, or some other obviously illogical motif, a production company should be fined by $$$, for misleading the public concerning simple facts about NYC. By simple facts I mean the incontrovertible, physical laws, not open to interpretation, (and perhaps the fines should be doubled when these mistakes occur during a film sequence which doesn't aid or affect the narrative of the film). These fines needn't be exorbitant, just enough to encourage the fair use of the city.
Here are a few examples of what I mean: Adam Sandler in the comedy Sonny Boy, takes his newly(and falsely)-adopted son out for an Egg McMuffin to McDonald's late one morning, and has only ten minutes until (he believes) Egg McMuffins will cease being served. He races on foot, with his six-year-old companion in tow, from his loft in Soho, past a park (Washington Square?), and then beneath the electrically-lit, flashing numeric sculpture displayed at 100 Water Street (an NYU dormitory in the Financial District). This numeric sculpture seems to serve some sort of financial function, being a short jaunt from Wall Street, as if announcing the Lotto. Everyone loves it, (I see people staring and pointing, wondering aloud if it has a purpose. Could it be a clock?) which is probably why the location scout for Sonny Boy chose it for Mr. Sandler's hit movie, (good for $$$ to feature the great sites of the city).
Adam Sandler takes his child in McDonald's immediately after walking past said sculpture. There is a Wendy's by South Street Seaport, but no McDonald's in close proximity, ergo no Egg McMuffin. (And to my knowledge there are no knock-off Egg McMuffins in the world-one of the few creations not readily copied-which is clearly why Adam Sandler's protégé adamantly desired one.)
Why would someone who needed to walk in a hurry from Soho (southeast) to Water Street, choose to walk northeast to Washington Square? Perhaps to avoid some hazard, a stalker possibly, or if he were wanted for questioning, or forced to take another route by the filming of another film. One can only imagine. The answer may be on the editing-room floor; Sandler was attempting to evade a social worker from Child Protective Services later in the film. However, to make it well below the Brooklyn Bridge! Even if he were passing some other park and were long-legged (he may be I'm uncertain), it is at least a 45-minute walk, and with a child, much longer. If his loft were in Tribeca it would be faster, but not in ten minutes, and not by that route. (Although wealthy due to an insurance settlement and well-placed investments, Mr. Sandler's character was not quite in the tax bracket that would allow him to reside in Tribeca, even with a young attorney as roommate-nor was he old enough to have moved in when it would have been affordable.)
I realize this is absurdity to someone familiar with NYC, but think of the person (possibly Adam Sandler's biggest and most dedicated fan visiting the sites from her favorite film) pointing to that electric number sculpture (clock?), then searching for the nearby Egg McMuffin (provided it's in the morning when McMuffins are served). She may become disappointed and angry not only at New York, but at $$$, and possibly Adam Sandler-I sincerely hope she could not stay mad at him.
Another example I'll mention briefly to be certain you understand the Adam Sandler incident was not a fluke. William Hurt, in a suspense/thriller I viewed (on NYC public television!) portrayed an Irish, NYC janitor/Vietnam veteran who lived in a basement apartment in what was intended to be Hell's Kitchen (Clinton), which I must say, he being William Hurt, is unbelievable in itself. A fact that was reinforced by having him in one scene driving across the Williamsburg Bridge onto Delancey Street, beginning a sentence (speaking to James Woods) and finishing his sentence outside a building on what is obviously the steep, heavily flowered streets along Riverside Drive. Below the grid-to Morningside Heights (over 130 blocks and across town)-in one sentence. There were no science fiction devices in the plot of the film, although there was a wholly unbelievable Israeli agent played by Christopher Plummer, or someone who looked like him.
5) Here are a few acceptable illustrations of when incongruities can be done well:
Hell's Kitchen (Clinton) was the setting for a tale of murder and abuse and the resulting (long and tedious) trial, with an all-star cast: Kevin Bacon, Dustin Hoffman, Brad Pitt, et al. It would be difficult to recreate that neighborhood (in that neighborhood) at the historic moment the film was meant to be set (a few years ago)-so the filmmakers shot many of the scenes outside a Bodega (deli) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. An intelligent choice. The filmmakers were after realism and they achieved it, although I don't remember the name of that particular film; they succeeded in convincing the viewer that a corner of Williamsburg was Hell's Kitchen (Clinton).
In Spike Jonz's wonderful Being John Malkovich, NYC was portrayed exceptionally. It was fantasy, yet the only incongruity had to do with traffic patterns. Characters exiting Mr. Malkovich's consciousness dropped out of the sky on a steep slope by the NJ Turnpike and were picked up in a waiting car by John Cusack. Inconceivably, only 15 minutes prior (according to the narrative) Cusack had been in the financial district in his office, where the entrance to Mr. Malkovich's mind was hidden. This, of course, even on a good traffic day, if Mr. Cusack's half-sized office floor had been in a building northwest of Trinity Church, (and probably not, part of the plot was it being a 19th Century shipping building, more likely on William, Pearl, Wall, or Broad), traversing the Holland Tunnel in that time and moving what looked to be a good bit past the Pulaski Skyway could not be accomplished. Leaving the building and retrieving his car (out of the lot on Pearl possibly?) would take up much of that time. Often the participants were eager to travel back to the financial district for another turn as Malkovich, which would mean they would be forced to maintain their level of excitement about being Mr. Malkovich for quite a while. This may be pushing things too far.
6) The next suggestion relates to the previous in several ways, but is listed separately for purposes of coherence. A Nicholas Cage action/thriller I saw recently (late at night in an alcoholic stupor) included several exterior shots of cars moving rapidly through NYC. One place in particular I recognized, because I've been there often, is truthfully where cars can move rapidly: the FDR exit at the minimally-trafficked eastern end of Delancey street. Another scene, the climax of the film where Mr. Cage brutally murders the villain, seemed to have been shot at the backstage area of the then abandoned and condemned outdoor/public theater in East River Park, (I recognized some of the handsome graffiti). It was made to seem an abandoned shack somewhere possibly in the outer boroughs, or New Jersey.
The outdoor theater is an amazing space, where Joseph Papp first produced Shakespeare-in-the-Park. It was crumbling and fenced-off, but easily accessible (now rebuilt anew-thank you $$$). The neighborhood kids played inside it often in the evenings. Once, during Summer, when yachts and cruisers were speeding by on the East River, a child had mounted the tall, concrete structure and standing, leaned forward over the fence shouting, "I'm the king of the world!" at the passers-by on the big boats, who waved appreciatively. The children in succession shouted many colorful things at the ship's passengers.
My suggestion is perhaps $$$ could post signs around town when a certain corner or space (such as the once condemned public theatre) is being used in a film. Children young and old would appreciate it.
Areas of town could be alpha-numerically coded, with production companies providing those related alpha-numerical lists after their final edit. Using the Nicholas Cage movie as an example, a sign (which needn't be large or electric, a flyer such as those posted when rat poison saturates an area would suffice) would say something similar to "(F-168)Here's the spot you'll see the car driven by a stunt actor standing in for Nicholas Cage, turn to chase the killers in his upcoming thriller!" (for Delancey at Mangin Street) or "(H-41) Nick Cage may bludgeon the pornographer to death or will he follow the law? Find out in theatres everywhere Friday!" Something similar to that, sponsored by $$$. As new technologies (robots, holograms, etc.) become available, the signs could be improved (possibly with candy), and still be an inexpensive way to enhance the $$$.
Another sign, perhaps a permanent bronze plaque, should be placed at one of my favorite exterior shots for the perpetually syndicated show Seinfeld. Not Tom's Diner, (although people love to point and take pictures there) but a beautiful historic landmark--the domed, Russian Orthodox Cathedral near the dog-run at McCarren Park. Kramer (an East coast double for Kramer, not the actor Michael Richards) races to keep a novitiate in the Latvian Orthodox sisterhood from quitting the church (she's fallen in love with him). Kramer-like, he runs very funny and crazy, right up to the ancient, giant doors and stumbles inside.