“Stop the car”.
I stopped my car and rolled down the window. “Yes officer?”
“The street is closed”, she said. “No cars allowed. They’re shooting a movie”.
“Yes ma’am, I know about the movie,” I said. “But I live here.”
“You live here?”
“Yes, ma’am , I live here.”
“On this street?”
“Yes, on this street”.
The officer was silent, eyeballed me a bit, and then took a quick glance at the shopping bag on the passenger seat. It was filled with cans of organic cat food for Monty, Punk, and the kittens. Organic, holistic cat food <— stop laughing!
“Ok, well people have been scamming me all day, you know? Saying they live on this street when they really don’t, just to get up close to the movie shoot. I send them through and the crew turns them away and makes them drive back up again. They’ve been scamming me!”
“Oh, I see.”
“It’s a damn nuisance.”
“Yes, well, people will do that.”
“So you really live on this street? No BS?”
“Yes, ma’am. No BS. That’s my house right there.” I pointed at my house.
“Yes, that house. The one with the potted pansies on the front stoop”.
One more glance at me, and she seemed convinced. I guess I have an honest face.
“Ok, move along then.”
“Thank you officer. You have a good day!”
A little excitement for the afternoon, right? Filmmakers have invaded our quiet little residential street. They trekked all the way out to northeast Queens for a shoot. Don’t we feel special! Actually it’s not that unusual. We’ve had film crews here before many times. Once you see the bright orange flyers stapled to the telephone poles, indicating “MOVIE SHOOT”, with dates, times, and “No Parking” admonishments, you know they’re coming. Trailers, equipment, guys with walkie-talkies. The “invasion”.
After I unpacked the deluxe cat food, I went outside where my neighbors were gathered in the street, watching the filming. I chatted up a very nice, very burly crew guy and got the scoop. The movie is called “Rabbit Hole”, and it stars Nicole Kidman. My neighbor Phil said he saw her earlier and that she’s “really tall”. I missed it, of course, because I was out buying cat food. But it’s no big deal. Now if it was Christian Bale, on the other hand, that would be a whole different story. I’d never leave the neighborhood! I’d put on slutty short shorts and Wonderbra-induced cleavage, stroll around the block like a tramp, make eye contact with him and then shout, “What the fuck are you doing??!!!!! Trashing my scene?!!! OOOOHHH GOOOOOD FOR YOOOOUUUUUU!!!!, you FUCK!!” You all heard that audio tape I assume? What can I say, rants make me hot.
Filmmaking in New York has a long, impressive history. We are, in my opinion, the unparalleled movie location. The list of movies – great movies – that have been shot in New York is a mile long. From “Sweet Smell of Success” to “Rosemary’s Baby” to “Serpico” to “Annie Hall” to “Do the Right Thing”, it just goes on and on and on.
So I had fun hanging out with the neighbors. But watching movie shoots isn’t always as exciting as it sounds. We got to hear the director yell “Action!”, and see a huge camera on wheels roll backwards about eight feet, and then “Cut!”. Some scene with a guy getting into a car, I don’t know. I got bored. I asked the burly crew guy if I was allowed to go for a run in a park. “Yeah, ” he said. “We’re not using the park, just the street.” Cool. So I went back inside, changed into my running shorts, and with my iPod in hand, jogged right past the crew, past the equipment, past the lights, and ran off into the sunset. Like your typical New Yorker, oblivious to the “glamour” of cinema and eternally unimpressed. Man we’re jaded.
I have no idea what “Rabbit Hole” is about. But I do know that there is a big difference between just shooting a film in New York and shooting a film in New York that is about New York, in drama, psychology, speech, and attitude – those films where the city itself is a character of its own, alongside the actors. If I had to choose a film that embodies the madness, volatility, and the gritty style in which films used to be shot here, the choice is easy.
1975, director Sidney Lumet, lead actor Al Pacino, and the streets of Brooklyn, this is “Dog Day Afternoon”. The scene is a heated confrontation between a hapless, hostage-holding bank robber and the cops. THIS is how you shoot on location in New York: