A few years ago, I did some time as a production coordinator on an indie short feature film...
A few years ago, I did some time as a production coordinator on an indie short feature film. Over one Fourth of July weekend, in stifling heat, we laid siege to the director's apartment building. We commandeered the elevators and built false walls in the lobby and bribed the super to ignore the complaints of the other tenants when we worked late into the night. Finally, at eleven o'clock one evening, we were ready to shoot the film's climactic sequence, in which fire races through the building and forces our various fictional tenants, actors all, to flee into the street. The camera rolled. Our actors did exactly as they had been instructed ? "directed" would be a stretch here ? with one minor addition. They ad-libbed. Screams of "Fire!" were heard not only in the building but in the street. Someone on the next block called the fire department. We lucked out. Not only did we get sirens, we got flashing lights. The firefighters shouted insults at the producer for nearly 40 minutes, and the producer shouted back. No one apologized to the neighbors. When the fire engine left, we rolled camera again, just in case.
Since then, I've spent long hours worrying about the damage my karmic reserves suffered as a result of applying for, and being granted, a permit by the mayor's office to shoot a movie on Manhattan Island.
For instance, since making that film, I've moved to a pretty street in the West-West Village. There stands a trendy, picturesque bistro on one corner and the Hudson River only two blocks down. Film crews love my block. I am constantly (nearly once a month) being stopped on my street and asked to wait to cross to my building until some young PA with a walkie-talkie sees fit to release me.
I won't try to enumerate the number of times simple 30-block cab rides have turned into labyrinthine vehicular tours. As I wrote in the last issue of this magazine, film shoots remain the only phenomena that our popularly reviled mayor allows to affect the flow of traffic.
All this I've suffered in the New Yorkers semblance of silence, cursing to myself and complaining only to the first five or six people with whom I come into contact.
But a line has been crossed. Not long ago, riding in a cab with the windows rolled down, I got soaked by a water truck dousing Ninth Avenue in fake rain. "Scorsese movie," the cabbie said. I was not surprised to learn that "Scorsese" and "movie" had been added to the cabbie lexicon. These days, there are more film crews walking the streets than local pedestrians and cops.
Surely my own corrupted karma can't be to blame for all that.
After my dousing, I decided that something had to be done to reclaim the city for its inhabitants. The ire I formerly reserved for married tourists who wear matching clothes has been redirected at the people who sit inside the movie trailers parked all over town. It's not just my own interests I have at heart, but those of the larger population of this city.
For instance, consider the care Nora Ephron took to dress up the Upper West Side in "You've Got Mail." She built a produce market, cruelly taunting real New Yorker's with enormous fresh vegetables and fruits that she refused to let them buy (I know this because a friend was a PA on her film). He spent an entire afternoon turning people away. Upper West Side denizens, be warned: Ms. Ephron's the wrong neighbor to call upon should you need a cup of sugar.
And remember the street fair in which Tom Hanks frolicked with his young aunt and brother? Imagine how many real children passed by and then, denied entrance, spent the rest of the day wondering why they weren't invited to the party. Imagine how many real adults spent the rest of the day trying to get their real kids to stop crying.
But I have a much larger concern than that regarding the annoying disruptions of my daily routine, or those of my fellow New Yorkers. I am more worried about the long-term effect of the overwhelming number of movies being shot on our streets on the relationship between the local moviegoer and the movie he or she ultimately sees. I think that it is safe to say that most people go to the movies in order to spend a few hours imagining a life different than the one they lead. However, in New York, even this simple imaginative refuge is at risk, for there is nothing more disruptive of the suspension of disbelief than the moment when one person finds himself nudging another and loudly whispering into the dark, "I saw that scene being filmed."
So I'm begging that those of you working in the movie industry consider returning the production of your art and business to the sanctuary of the studio lots. I've joined the ranks of those who liked films better when they were confined there.