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Invasion of the Film Crews
A few months ago, my boss, a recent transplant to the city, arrived at work and announced, with great excitement, “They’re filming something right outside!”
“Mm-hmm,” I said. Somehow my explicit noninterest encouraged him to continue: “Ben Stiller is there; it’s pretty cool!”
It’s not that I have anything against Ben Stiller, really, but quite honestly I don’t care.
I guess that the first couple of times you see film crews in the city, it is exciting. But you know what? I hate it when they move in.
I work part time in a restaurant that is right by Columbus Circle. Whatever they were filming outside, they were at it for weeks, complete with faux hot dog stands, overturned vans in the street, people dressed as F.B.I. agents, gunshots, everything you could possibly ask for in a truly great New York film. And did I mention Ben Stiller?
They came every day without fail, with their enormous trailers, bountiful snack stations, cameras, cords, generators, no-parking signs, security guards and, of course — my personal favorite — those headset-wearing, walkie-talkie-bearing sidewalk enforcers. Entire streets were blocked off for days.
Imagine, there you are, trying to navigate through the crowds that have arrived seemingly out of nowhere, trying to get to work, to class, to the gym, or wherever. All of a sudden, one of these headset-adorned overlords steps right into the middle of everything and coolly announces: “You’ll have to wait, people. We’re filming here.” Oh, really? You’re filming here? I’m so sorry I got in the way. Actually, I was just trying to walk somewhere, you know, like on the sidewalk?
If you live in New York City, you know that the sidewalk is valuable real estate. We tend to walk the same routes every day, we know where we need to go, and we know how long it takes to get there. Pedestrian traffic may look like chaos, but it is actually rather carefully choreographed. When construction work renders a part of the sidewalk unwalkable or unsafe, an adjacent section of the street is usually made available. But when film crews deem a street or sidewalk unusable for ordinary pedestrians, no alternative route is provided. Instead, you are stopped in your tracks by self-appointed, self-important traffic cops who seem blissfully unaware that you may, heaven forbid, have someplace to go during their precious hours of movie-making.
Special effects are really great these days. Can’t you just make it look like New York City?
Nora Carr lives in Jackson Heights, Queens, and is a graduate student in history and literature at New York University.
We Come in Peace. And We Bring Jobs.
There’s a tendency to dislike film crews in New York City. I get it. I do. We clog up traffic, secure too many parking spaces with our bloated campers and make too much noise with idling generators and idle chatter. All before 6 o’clock in the morning.
What I don’t understand is why people hate us. Like really, really hate us. Last summer, a production assistant was assaulted by a pedestrian, and I was not at all surprised. Over the years, in different jobs and neighborhoods, eggs and water balloons have been hurled at me. Smartly dressed business people have called me “human garbage” and similar dirty names. Garbage and dirt. I sense a trend, but I do shower on occasion, despite my 100-hour workweeks.
Most of us working on a film set or television program are darned proud to be in your neighborhoods. We love to frequent your restaurants, and your particular street is sometimes a tender memory for us. When I walk through the West Village, I am reminded of “Sex and the City” and the friends I made on that set. When I walk through Hell’s Kitchen, I recall the 5A (filmese for a.m.) van pickups for “The Sopranos” set in New Jersey. The Upper West Side? The set for a Sarah Michelle Gellar flick, where I learned I wasn’t pregnant, after all. Not all memories are good ones, but they are still a part of our lives.
Not that there aren’t friendly, interested people who are thrilled to see their street up on the big screen. It’s just that the ones who hate us — they really hate us.
Come work in our shoes for a day. You are welcome to start your day at 4A and return home at 10P. Some of us eat lunch standing up, even in the snow, because equipment needs watching. Want to have breakfast with your family? That’s not going to happen. Want to watch the World Series? Sure. Maybe next season. Our socks are damp and we need better rain gear. Always. Don’t forget the sunscreen, either.
We love our profession. We love our great city. We love making neighborhoods happy. We love you for having us.
What we don’t love is the misinterpretation of our power. Most of us are middle-income bracket and middle-management members of respected unions. We are not Hollywood honchos, and we don’t make the millions that are paid for by ever-rising movie ticket prices. We are the lighters, the props people, the dressers, the chefs and the security people who help make New York City one of the prettiest uncredited cast members of any film shot here.
Our productions create jobs. We park in municipal lots. And, unlike the names hurled our way, we are not “the movie monsters.” We just help create them for your viewing pleasure.
Betsy Friedman-Palmieri lives in Marine Park, Brooklyn, and has worked on production crews for films and television shows since 1996.