Lights! Camera! Action on New York’s Streets Again!
Lights! Camera! Action on New York’s Streets Again!
Ashley Psirogianes, a 26-year-old who works in fashion marketing, is a big “Sex and the City” fan. “I’ve been watching it a lot during lockdown,” she said. “I rewatched all the old episodes.”
So on a Tuesday morning in July, during an ordinary coffee run to Starbucks, she was surprised, thrilled even, to run into the cast and crew making the reboot. The team of hundreds of people were taking over Crosby Street in between Prince and Spring.
No one was allowed on the street unless they lived there or had business dealings that day. A crowd had gathered to catch a glimpse of Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, and Sarah Jessica Parker, and speculate over what was happening in the scene (Miranda’s hair is blonde! Was Charlotte not wearing her wedding ring?)
“I just walked around the corner, and there they were,” Ms. Psirogianes said. “I got a peek of them right before they went to lunch.”
As someone who lived a few blocks away, she was excited to have such valuable intel to share. “My group chats were all blowing up,” she said. “A bunch of my friends work in the area, so everyone was trying to walk by, trying to get a glimpse of them.”
But it also made her feel like SoHo and New York City, more broadly, was back in action. “It’s really cool they are starting things like this again,” she said.
Well into the second year of the pandemic, New York City streets are once again alive with the buzz of movie and television filmings. In 2019, the film and television industry supported approximately 185,000 jobs, $18.1 billion in wages, and $81.6 billion in total economic output in the city, according to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. Last year, however, all film permits were suspended on March 21 and did not resume until July 1. This year, in April and May alone, there were around 360 projects. In 2020, there were a total of 732 film and television projects shot in the city, a significant decrease from the 2,214 projects in 2019. Even with the recent return of activity, the Mayor’s office does not anticipate this year’s number to match 2019 levels.
Film crews take over streets and city corners for days at a time, crowding the spaces with trailers and trucks and limiting cars from parking and pedestrians from walking. While some residents who live in the area complain about the hubbub or lack of parking spaces, many others delight in living in a movie set for a short time. Some lucky New Yorkers are asked to be extras or are paid by the production crews to do small, helpful tasks like keeping a particular light on or off in their apartment.
The pandemic has either made living on the street where a filming is taking place a delight or a terrifying experience. Some people panic at the sights of large crews descending on their block. Others find it exhilarating to be part of this action after such a quiet year.
Back at the end of March, plays, concerts, and other performances were still banned in New York City. But Kate Walter, 72, an author and retired college professor, appreciated the live entertainment just outside her door.
The cast and crew of the Amazon television series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” about a Jewish housewife in the late 1950s who becomes a stand-up comedian, was filming season four on the streets of the West Village where she lives.
They were using the courtyard of Ms. Walker’s apartment building, on Bethune between Washington Street and West Street, for hair and makeup. For several days she watched actors going in and out of trailers, the women getting decked out in pencil skirts and pearls, and the men in vintage suits and fedoras. “It was so funny because they were all wearing these ’50s outfits with masks,” she said.
They filmed scenes in Abingdon Square, two blocks away, and nearby streets were filled with classic cars and vintage city buses. “Everyone was just hanging out and gushing over these old cars,” said Ms. Walter. “All the neighbors were there trying to catch glimpses of what they were filming.”
For Ms. Walter living in the middle of the action provided much needed fun. “At that point things were still closed down,” she said. “This was free entertainment on the street. It made me feel like New York City was alive again and coming back.”
Some New Yorkers have made a little money from the experience.
“I am one of the lucky ones,” said Nicholas Platt-Hepworth, 35, who works in finance. He lives on Commerce Street, on a quiet, picturesque corner of the West Village. This summer his street has been taken over by “A Journal for Jordan,” a movie based on a memoir written by Dana Canedy, a former New York Times journalist, and directed by Denzel Washington and starring Michael B. Jordan and Chante Adams. Then, almost as soon as they left, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” team, which has been filming outdoors throughout the spring and summer, showed up to film in the same place.
Because the sets are so large and intrusive, producers knock on his door ahead of shootings and introduce themselves. “Denzel’s guy was so nice,” Mr. Platt-Hepworth said. “We are still in touch. We’re trying to meet up for coffee.” He was paid $1,000 for the movie and $500 for the television show to keep the lights on in his apartment until 2 a.m. to help out camera crews, who needed more light to film at night.
It was exhilarating to live in the middle of the sets for a few days. He and his neighbors made cocktails to watch the action on the sidewalk. He met many of the actors, including Mr. Jordan. He also learned more than he wanted to about how movies are made. “The one thing it has taught me is I can never work in film,” he said. “They spend hours filming one minute. Most of the time everyone is standing around waiting.”
Still, the activity gets tiring, and he’s always ready for the crews to pack up and go home. “Do I ever miss 300 people crowding into my street?” he said. “Absolutely not.” But, he added, “At least I get paid. Other people have to deal with it and get nothing.”
While bigger films draw onlookers, which could be good for local businesses, they also shut down entire city streets and blocks for hours or days at a time. Companies operating within the secure zone can suffer, said Chris McCormack, the head concierge for the Crosby Street Hotel. The hotel’s street was closed down briefly in July during the filming for “Sex and the City.”
“There are always guests wanting to know what is happening, and it’s a bit of a thrill, but for most, it’s a fleeting annoyance,” he said. “Just getting back to the hotel can be hard. They start telling me their car took an hour to get around the corner.”
Often movie and television shoots can feel like they popped up out of nowhere. About two days before the date listed on a film crew’s permit, signs will go up on light poles and trees announcing something is coming and parking will be restricted. Crew members swoop in with cones to block off space as soon as a parked car pulls out. Parking often gets gobbled up for several blocks, most of it for trailers full of equipment.
People who live in the neighborhood generally won’t know exactly when the filming is going to start or where it will take place, because production companies don’t always use all the time or space allotted on the permit. They aren’t usually sure until a security guard stops them from walking down their street because a live shot is taking place.
People in search of a celebrity sighting are sometimes frustrated. Oftentimes extras show up hours before the main stars. Even if the entire cast is present, there is so much security and so much equipment and personnel, it’s not always possible to see them. “You wait there and think you are going to see them, but before you know it 20 minutes has passed,” Ms. Psirogianes said. “You start asking yourself, ‘What am I waiting for?’”
For some New Yorkers seeing film and movie screenings on the street has been a part of their daily lives. They were as upset to not see production trucks lining their streets during the pandemic as they were to see their favorite bar or restaurant closed.
Prepandemic, Zach Groth, 29, who works in marketing for wine and spirits, saw “Blacklist,” an NBC drama about a criminal mastermind, filming on his street near Cooper Square at least once a month. “As I ran to the N, Q, R train every morning I always thought to myself that I am probably in the background,” he said. “I used to watch the show not because I liked it, but because I was looking for myself. I would rewind it all the time to make sure.” He was so familiar with the crews’ operations and where the catered food stations were set up that he knew what they were eating for every meal.
He will never forget the day he saw the first trailer return. “Seeing filming go from 100 percent to zero overnight, it really made me feel the gravity of New York City being shut down,” he said. “When it came back I was like we are going to get through this. People are going to find a way to make this work.”
The pandemic has made other New Yorkers weary of crowds, and film crews have had to find ways to appease jittery residents.
In April, “Only Murders in the Building,” a Hulu murder mystery series with Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez, was filming in the courtyard of an iconic apartment building on West 86th Street.
“The first day the crew and cast did not wear masks in the courtyard, and I went ballistic,” said Meryl Gordon, a New York University professor and biographer who has lived in the building since 1983. “I was screaming so loud that I briefly shut it down. ”
The production crew came back and decided to appease residents by including them in the action. They offered to pay $465 to those who wanted to be extras for a day.
Rebecca Horn, 34, who works as a celebrity booker and had moved in with her parents during the pandemic, took them up on the offer. Unlike many of her older neighbors, the filming had not bothered her. “It definitely made being stuck in your apartment more interesting,” she said. “After being alone for so long, it was nice to have so many people gathered around like photographers and the crew. I would watch them from my window or go outside and watch from the courtyard.”
When she was an extra — “I don’t think I can tell you what it is because it will give it away, but I will say everyone in the cast was in my scene,” she said — her parents invited her brother and his family over for dinner so they could all watch her from the window. She also made friends with another extra, a woman her age who also lives in the building, but who she hadn’t met before the shoot.
This city is supposed to be fun and exciting,” she said. “Things like this are a huge part of living in New York City.”
Megan Broussard, 34, who lives on 25th and Madison and works as a television producer, would agree.
In early July a show called “Ghost” was filming, and there were blanket release forms posted on her block saying anyone who walked past a certain point on the street might appear in a shot.
Every morning she walked her dog to Madison Square Park, excited by the prospect that her mundane activity could be captured on film. “Could me picking up my dog’s poop end up in the background of a romantic kissing scene?” she said. “Isn’t this why we live in New York City?”