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Archives for February 2012

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 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: 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
Boardwalk Empire
Blue Bloods
30 Rock
The Good Wife
Gossip Girl
The Corrections
Person of Interest

Have fun scouting!

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

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Honest Abe and New York City

Honest Abe setting a new Bday FB profile pic.

There are many Presidents who have left their fair stamp on our great city. You can pay respects to Ulysses S. Grant at his magnificent mausoleum – Grant’s Tomb, the largest in the Western Hemisphere – in Riverside Park. You can visit the Old Police Headquarters on Grand street in Chinatown and see where Teddy Roosevelt got his penchant for purging the city of vice before he became President. Then take the B train to the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side, where a likeness of TR stands before the Museum his father helped form.

Our favorite Prez who spent time in New York City owes a tremendous debt to the bustle and bluster of NY, yet doesn’t have any major memorials to his likeness. Even the tremendous performing arts complex and neighborhood of Lincoln Center doesn’t have anything to do with the 16th President of the US. But when Abe came to visit, the city paid attention.

The legendary (if gawky & awkward) Matthew Brady photograph, c. Feb 1860

The weekend of February 27th, 1860 was a cold, blustery one. Lincoln, a relatively unknown politician for the national stage, had been invited by the New York Republican party to give a speech in Cooper Institute’s Great Hall (now the ground-floor library of Cooper Union.) In the days leading up to his impassioned, hour-long speech, Lincoln made his way throughout New York. He went for a stroll along Broadway, stopped by Matthew Brady’s photograph studio on the corner of Bleecker and B’way, even took a ferry to Brooklyn Heights to listen to the fiery abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher rail against slavery. (Later on, Lincoln would call Beecher “the most famous man in America.”)

Following the speech, rumor states that Lincoln had a drink at McSorely’s, NY’s oldest saloon, open continually since 1854. Although we don’t know if this tidbit is true, its nice to consider Honest Abe, unable to decide between the light or the dark lager (the only two beers McSorely’s offers,) choosing one of each, in the spirit of his nation and the right of men of all colors to live equal lives!

Abraham Lincoln checking his Wiki entry & fixing any errors. Why else you think they call him Honest?!

The speech made Abraham Lincoln a star. He might’ve been funny looking, even ugly as some of the 1,500 attendees of the speech whispered in the gallery. But his intellectual approach towards the Founding Fathers’ framing of the Constitution, and his Right Makes Might speech at Cooper Institute, brought this brilliant American to the forefront of politics and changing the course of our history and future. Abe himself said “Brady and the Cooper Institute made me President.”

Happy Birthday Abe!

By Matt Levy
Jonah/Lincoln Photographs by Walker Esner

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Love Hurts: Sex, Romance & Murder for V-Day NYC

Love (really really) hurts.

While most Valentine’s Day stories feature love and romance, we know that all love stories are not so lovely. Here are some historical New York love stories that, instead of arriving at the altar, ended at the morgue.

The (murdered) lady of the parlor house, Helen Jewett

Helen Jewett was a gorgeous young prostitute in 1830’s New York.  Prostitution was widespread at that time, especially in the Five Points neighborhood, where randy young men could have their choice of brothels. Helen, after starting her career in Portland, Maine then Boston, came to New York in the 1830s and found gainful employment in a more upscale house of prostitution, known as a parlor house at 41 Thomas street within the Five Points (today’s Chinatown.)

A popular image from the time, Robinson escaping Jewett's room

On the evening of April 10, 1836, Helen Jewett’s partially clothed and mostly burned body was discovered in her bedroom, within her den of iniquity. The coroner determined that she had been murdered with a “sharp object, possibly a hatchet.” A young client of her parlor house, 19 yr old Richard Robinson was quickly arrested and tried for her murder. Despite witnesses and ample evidence, a jury took just 30 minutes to acquit Robinson of the most sensational sex crime of the early 19th Century.  Love hurts.

With a moustache like that, its no wonder the ladies couldn't resist him!

Stanford White was one of the leading architects and bon vivants of Gilded Age New York. A partner in the famed Beaux Arts firm of McKim, Mead and White, White’s work is all over New York: the Washington Square Arch, Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square, The Century Club on 5th Ave & 61st St, and the Capitale Restaurant in the former Bowery Savings Bank at Bowery and Grand Street.

The beautiful, sexy & (very) young Evelyn Nesbit

He was a connoissuer of fine wines, gourmet food and young women. Very young women. He would have his teenaged mistresses display their charms for White’s cronies in “various states of undress,” most famously portrayed as the Girl in the Red Velvet Swing in White’s bachelor apartment near Madison Square. One of White’s mistresses was a beautiful young showgirl named Evelyn Nesbit. When Nesbit grew too old for White’s tastes, (debatable, but many historians put her at 17,) he dumped her and she married Harry K. Thaw, a mentally unstable millionaire from Pittsburg.

The Sex Crime of the Century! Thaw kills White in Garden Palace!

On their honeymoon in Europe, Nesbit explained to her husband that she was no longer “pure and unsullied,” and accused White of raping her. Thaw became enraged by the idea of his virginal young wife having been sullied by an older man, and hatched a plan. On June 25th, 1906, at a gala party in the rooftop garden of White’s own Madison Square Gardens at Madison Ave and 26th St, in front of the creme de la creme of NY society, Thaw approached White and murdered him with a single gunshot to the head. Thaw fled to Canada. He was promptly extradited back to NY for trial; Thaw was acquited of murder, based on his defense that the thought of White ravishing his young bride drove him to commit the crime. Love really hurts.

What a lovely young couple, Sid & Nancy

Sid Vicious and his bandmate Johnny Rotten were among the very first of the punk rockers; their band the Sex Pistols defined the early years of this anarchic strain of rock and roll. Yet even punks need love, and Vicious found affection with his beautiful but emotionally troubled girlfriend Nancy Spungen, a groupie and stripper who pursued a number of punkers before snarring Sid.

Sid and Nancy moved into New York’s famed Chelsea Hotel in 1978; the Sex Pistols had broken up and Sid was attempting to resuscitate his musical career. Sid and Nancy were dedicated drug abusers, favoring heroin, cocaine and barbiturates, which made their relationship often violent. Sid’s friends quickly coined her “Nauseating Nancy” due of her frequent out-of-control public behavior.

On October 12, 1978, her body was found in Room 100 at the Chelsea hotel with a deep stab wound in her abdomen. Sid was quicky arrested. He confessed. “I stabbed her but I didn’t mean to kill her. I loved her but she treated me like s**t.” Despite his confession, Sid was far too stoned on heroin to remember anything about the night in question, and conspiracy theorists rumored that Nancy was murdered by drug dealers, some fingers pointing to 1970s glam figure Rockets Redglare. Four months after being released from Rikers Island, Sid OD’d on heroin. His mother claimed she found a  a note from Sid that said, “We had a death pact and I have to keep up my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby in my leather jacket, jeans, motorcycle boots, goodbye.” Nancy was buried in a Jewish cemetary near Philadelphia and Sid’s mom claims that she scattered his ashes on her grave. Love sure does hurt.

By Mark Levy

(Postscript: the leading pic is from the 2006 centennial of the Stanford White assassination; so we hosted a Assassination Impersonation Celebration, in Madison Square Park outside the location where White was murdered, starring Gideon as White, Heather Troy as Nesbit and Matt as Thaw.)


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Questions and Answers: The 5th Annual Panorama Challenge

For those who want to reminisce about all the fun they had at the Queens Museum, here are all the questions and answers from The 5th Annual Panorama Challenge.  Remember the first rule: NO QUIBBLING!


1.    Not Emeril, but Opera.  For 150 years in Brooklyn.
BAM/Brooklyn Academy of Music

2.    You might be bowled over to discover what’s in the basement of this elegant museum. Name the collection and for an extra point explain the surprise locked away downstairs.
Frick Collection
bowling alley

3.    “Elvis has left the building” took on new meaning in 1958, when he left this building and sailed for Germany on the USS Randall.
Brooklyn Army Terminal

4.    Since the release of the 1987 single, Run-D.M.C. officially celebrates Christmas in this neighborhood.

The next three questions follow a pattern:

5.        Dog Day Afternoon was filmed 3 blocks away from this historic 1838 cemetery. Name the burial ground. Bonus: Correct punctuation gets you an extra point
Green-Wood Cemetery

6.    The film Cruising was set in this neighborhood, after Oreo and before Apple.
Meatpacking District

7.    The movie Panic in Needle Park was set in this Upper West Side ‘square’ now named for an Italian known for Rigoletto and Aida.  What is the park’s current name?
Verdi Square

8.    What do those three movies have in common?
Al Pacino

9.    In January the ‘Notorious’ B.I.C. was born in a hospital named for this neighborhood.
What is the neighborhood?  Bonus: Who is B.I.C.?
Lenox Hill
Blue Ivy Carter (daughter of Jay-Z and Beyonce)

10.    The oldest church in the Bronx is also the final resting place for the colonial family that gives this neighborhood its name.  What is the neighborhood and for an extra point, name the church.
St Ann’s (St. Ann’s Church of Morrisania)

11.    This Museum in midtown
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller

12.    This Church overlooking the Hudson
John D Rockefeller Jr.

13.    This bank tower across from the Fed
David Rockefeller

14.    This building on Broadway, across from the Bull
John D Rockefeller Sr.

15.    ‘God willing and the creek don’t rise:’  During Hurricane Irene, this creek rose and flooded this railyard, the MTA’s biggest and maybe the world’s biggest. What is the name the creek and the railyard share?
Coney Island (Creek/Yards)

16.    Between Van Cortland Park and the Hudson River are three prominent private schools.  For one point each name the schools in this area.
Ethical Culture/Fieldston
Riverdale Country School
Horace Mann

17.    Andrew J. Barberi was a Staten Island football legend. Name this high school where he played and coached.  Bonus: what’s big, orange and named for the coach?
Staten Island Ferry

18.    When US Steel to created this ‘one’ of a kind sculpture, they added three ‘out of this world’ elements to the globe.  Name the work in question and for one bonus point each, name the symbolism of each ring around the planet.
First Cosmonaut/Yuri Gagarin/Russian in space
First Astronaut/American in space/John Glenn
First communications satellite in space/Telstar

19.    Located in this neighborhood is a housing project named for a Yankee fan who works over 200 miles away.  Her job involves sitting on a bench with two other women and six men.  Name the neighborhood and for an extra point name the woman.
Sonia Sotomayor

20.    The Poppenhusen Institute offered America’s first free kindergarten in this scholarly neighborhood.
College Point

21.    Sovereign span: This neighborhood is named for Manhattan’s first connection to the mainland.

The next three questions follow a theme:

22.    Rudolph Valentino and Leon Trotsky came to this neighborhood to be stars.  Name the neighborhood and the film studio that called it home.
Bonus: Rudy, Theo and Vanessa were here in the 80s thanks to what sitcom?
The Cosby Show

23.    Liz Lemon makes her living here.
30 Rockefeller Plaza (or 30 Rock)

24.    When this street was expanded in 1899 the Puck Building decided to split – not leave, but cut itself nearly in half.  Name the street and for an extra point name the sitcom that used the Puck building as a setting.
Lafayette Street
Will & Grace

25.    What is the theme of the last three questions?
NBC television shows/NBC sitcoms

26.    This is the foul mouth of an industrial canal.
Gowanus Bay

27.    Name this parkway, designed by Olmstead &Vaux, and for a bonus, name the prominent Jewish organization who has their global headquarters at #770.
Eastern Parkway
(Chabad) Lubavitch

28.    The Statue has been on this island for 125 years, but it hasn’t always been named for her.  What was it called when she arrived?
Bedloe’s Island

29.    Lady Liberty is the star of the show and the pedestal is her stage.  Which French-trained American architect designed it?
Richard Morris Hunt

30.    The military hates to be upstaged.  What is the name of the star below Liberty’s pedestal?
Fort Wood

31.    This park has been a slam dunk for everyone from Dr. J to Kobe.
(Holcombe) Rucker (Park)

32.    We could on and on with a long meandering description of this section of Central Park or we could just ask you to name it.
The Ramble

33.    We’ve waited 100 years for our ship to come in.  In the meantime we’ve taken up golf.  Where are we and which ship are we waiting for?
Chelsea Piers

34.    This sculpture park was named in honor of a Greek philosopher, appropriate since NY’s best known Greek neighborhood is nearby.  For one point give the name of the park, for another point name the neighborhood.
Socrates Sculpture Park

The next four questions follow a theme:

35.    The name sounds as unpleasant as the old garbage dump washing into this body of water:
Dead Horse Bay

36.    This cove doesn’t sound that much better.  It doesn’t smell so great either, especially when the fishermen are cleaning their catches.
Sheepshead Bay

37.    This park sounds a little more pleasant.  Just stay away when the wind is blowing in from the sewage plant across the street.  Both the park and the sewage plant share a name, what is it?
Owl’s Head Park.

38.    This neighborhood is nice, if you don’t mind this massive facility – home to Big Allis – at the water’s edge.   The neighborhood and the facility share the same name.  What is it?
For one bonus point, what’s the big deal about Big Allis?
Biggest electrical generator in the world when built, biggest in the city today, one million kilowatts of power.

39.    What do the last four answers have in common?
Animal names

40.    This section of the ‘Belt’ is quite “leafy’ and is named to honor the Scandanavians of nearby Bay Ridge.  Who is the ‘Drive’ named for?
Leif Ericson

41.    They’re the words every realtor wants to say: “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”  This time it really worked.  What famous cinematic property, here, (Todt Hill) sold last year?
Don (Vito) Corleone’s home

42.    To the Jewish gangsters of Murder Inc this neighborhood was their stomping ground. Their stabbing, shooting and strangling ground too.

43.    Governor Cuomo has just announced plans -which some might call un-conventional- to transform this space.  What is it called now and for an extra point, what does the Governor want to add?
Aqueduct (Racetrack)
Americas largest convention center (or convention center)

44.    Rhapsody in Blue premiered across from this patch of green.  What is the park?
Bonus: What is the name of the building where the work was first heard?
Bryant Park
Aeolian Hall

45.    Moses parted the Red Sea but our Moses, Robert, joined these two islands.  Name each and for a bonus point underline the island where Moses’ HQ was located.
Wards Island
Randalls Island

46.    A bridge by any other name would still get you to Queens…. this bridge has three.  One point for each name
59th Street
Ed Koch

47.    Occupy Wall Street got one thing wrong.  But naming themselves for this park three blocks away just wouldn’t have sounded the same.
Zuccotti Park

48.    Visit this cemetery to find out if “little flowers’ grow on this mayors gravesite.
Name the burial ground and for an extra point, name the mayor
Woodlawn (Cemetery)
(Fiorello) LaGuardia

49.    This bridge was built in 23 months to be ready for this 1939 event.  Name the bridge and for a extra point, name the event.
Bronx-Whitestone Bridge
Worlds Fair

50.    Once a cozy home for worn out sailors, now a cultural center
(Sailors) Snug Harbor

By Quizmaster Jonathan Turer

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5th Annual Panorama Challenge Final Scores!

Here’s the breakdown on scoring from Friday night’s 5th Annual Panorama Challenge:

Best Possible Score on Quiz: 76
Best Possible Essay Points: 15

Max Total Points: 91

40 Teams Began… 38 Teams Finished

Scores are the quiz score + essay points added after.

Welcome to My Bridge: 65+9: 74
5 Boro Thoroughs: 73
Committee on Manifest Errors: 66+5: 71

Queensian Inquisition: 66
Real NY Tours: 65
Magnets: 63
Automate This: 63
Board of Estimates: 62
1964 Worlds Unfairs: 62
Pomonok You Out: 55+7: 62
Old Yorkers: 61
Rufus King and the Pinkneys: 60
Gowfinger Gowanus: 56
Early Birds: 55
Oyster Bars: 54
The Coatracks: 53
Team Roebling: 53
Overpaid Babysitters: 53
Boro Boys: 51
Tammany Hall Stars: 50+5: 55
Major’s Deegan: 50
High Occupancy Victors: 46+4: 50
Playa Hot Sichuan Supper Club: 49
Prime Meridians: 48
Tag Along: 48
Due to an Earlier Incident: 48
Unispherics: 47
Fiorello’s Koch: 47
River Crossers: 46
Occupy Panorama: 43+3: 46
Not Romneys: 45
Outerbridge Crossing Guard: 42+3:45
Queens Dream Team: 44
Trustees: 42
How Do I get Home from Queens: 40
Sandhogs: 34
Brooklyn Tip Tops: 31

The Collect: did not finish
Dead Rabbits: did not finish

By Quizmaster Jonathan Turer

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