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How to Sneak Onto A New York Film Set!

Congratulations Oscar winners! I love Meryl Streep! I think of her as a New York movie star.  In one of my previous lives, I manned the velvet rope at a party where she was expected; you think you’ll be prepared. But she looked me in the eye, smiled and was incredibly modest and beautiful.  That’s when I fell in love.  I would have let her in even if she wasn’t on the list.

She won her last Oscar in 1982 for Sophie’s Choice, which was filmed in beautiful Victorian Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, right around the corner from Levys’ HQ, where in 2006 the film The Savages was filmed, with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney (below). Whenever I can, I bring visitors past both houses.

As exciting as it is to see where favorite movies were filmed, I think it’s more fun – and easier – to see a movie or TV show being shot. It all comes down to knowing what to look for and where to look. While you’re strolling around NYC you have a pretty good chance of passing by dozens of these flyers taped to a lamp post. 

The bright color and the logo at the top right (for Film, Theater and Broadcasting) are the giveaways. Look for the“Production Name” scribbled on the form, and then enter that name into imdb.com to learn that, in this particular case, “Magnus Rex” is the code name (yes, CODE NAME!!) for the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.

Sweet. Now you know when the movie/TV is being filmed. But where exactly are they shooting? In a restaurant mid-block? In the park? Unless you happen to stumble across the extremely obvious signs pointing to “Set,” you’ll have to do some legwork. “Holding” signs means that’s where actors wait for their turn in front of the camera.

But if you don’t see those signs, then look for trucks with this logo:

Or this logo, which is the Pennsylvania company that provides equipment for film shoots:

The trucks will look like this:

And the actual film shoot may look as dull as this (HBO’s Boardwalk Empire filming inside a building down my block):

 

If it’s a big shoot you probably have to walk past blocks worth of  trucks for wardrobe and lighting and cameras and catering and makeup etc. And then you may find a police car in your way.

Wait a minute, that’s the GOTHAM Police Department. Now you’re really close!!

But just as you get right up to the action, there’s probably someone with a walkie-talkie telling you to “please keep moving.” That’s a PA, or Production Assistant, one of the least appreciated jobs in film. Their entire job is to stand there and repeat that all day.

So be polite and be observant – there’s probably a place they’ll let you stand and watch as long as you pay attention to the rules (like not taking photos) or as long as the crowd doesn’t get too big, or block traffic, etc. That’s your goal. To be as little trouble to the PAs as possible. It’s rare when they have time to chat or are willing to give you the inside scoop about what scene is being filmed or when; who’s expected on the set that day; when the actors are going to come out of their trailer, In the case of Dark Knight Rises, security was tight and nobody was saying anything.

However, I did get to see some cool props. This must be a Bat-Something, right?

Sometimes you walk around and all you get is confused.  Tower Heist re-filmed the Macy’s parade about a week after Thanksgiving.

Sometimes you can get close to the shoot and it’s totally obvious. Yep, that’s a Muppet!

While I will sneak a shot of a Sesame Street character, I generally have a rule about paparazzi photos of humans.


I don’t stalk.

First of all, it’s a very un-New York thing to do.  I think celebrities like the way they’re normally treated in NYC — as human beings with a job and a private life.  When NYC is the set for a movie, it can be a little different, especially if you’re Kim Cattrall filming Sex and the City II (see above).  But I’ve walked past dozens of big stars and nobody blinks an eye.  Sure, we’ll talk about it for weeks afterwards, but in the moment, we like to play it cool.

However, if you do happen to be a mega-fan of one of the stars on-set, hang around, be friendly with the PA and wait. When your hero comes by, be polite, pay attention to their busy schedule, ask for a quick picture and treat them like a fellow human being.

Now, if you’re coming to New York City and this has you psyched to see some film or TV production in action and you want to cheat a little, check out one of my favorite websites: http://www.onlocationvacations.com. It’s an awesomely accurate film & TV production calendar website that we guides use to find shooting locations, as quickly as a few days in advance.

While film productions come and go on a regular basis, television is more long-term. Here’s some of the shows that are NYC regulars:

Law and Order SVU
Damages
Boardwalk Empire
Blue Bloods
Smash
30 Rock
The Good Wife
Gossip Girl
Unforgettable
The Corrections
Person of Interest

Have fun scouting!

By Jonathan Turer (holding the Oscar for Best Tour Guide in a Short Tour)

About Jturer
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Comments

  1. I canot wait for Part II, “How to get Discovred on a Movie Set”
    Seriously though, great article, true stuff that makes NYC,…. NYC and I am sure most natives do not know this stuff.

  2. David Abbey says:

    Timely article. I just saw a sign for “person of Interest” filming under the 7 Train near Court Sq. ..seems like LIC and Astoria get used a fair Amt. of time for TV shoots.

  3. Michael Miscione says:

    This reminds me of an interview I once saw of a professional party crasher. He was asked to share the most surefire ploy he’s ever used to get past the gatekeepers of an off-limits party. He said, “Wear a chef’s uniform, carry a live lobster, and act like you’re in a hurry. Works every time.”

  4. I also was nearby to FiDi shootings of Magnus Rex but got no photos of the Gotham PD. Jonathan, I tweet those ‘No Parking’ signs, with the hashtag #moviesign, a term from Mystery Science Theater 3000.
    Stan

  5. Thelmo Cordones says:

    Thanks for sharing! :-)

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