Ashley Psirogianes, a 26-year-old who works in fashion marketing, is a huge “Sex and the City” fan. “I’ve looked at it a lot during the lockdown,” she said. “I re-watched all the old episodes.”
So on a Tuesday morning in July, during a regular coffee race to Starbucks, she was surprised, even excited, to encounter the cast and crew making the reboot. The team of hundreds of people took over Crosby Street between Prince and Spring.
No one was allowed out on the street unless they lived there or were doing business that day. A crowd had gathered to glimpse Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, and Sarah Jessica Parker and speculate about what happened in the scene (Miranda’s hair is blonde! Didn’t Charlotte wear her wedding ring?)
“I was just turning the corner, and there they were,” said Mrs. Psirogianes. “I took a look at them right before they had lunch.”
As someone who lived a few blocks away, she was excited to share such valuable information. “My group chats were all exploding,” she said. “A bunch of my friends work in the area, so everyone tried to walk by to catch a glimpse of them.”
But it also made her feel like SoHo and New York City, more broadly, were back in action. “It’s really cool that they’re starting this kind of thing again,” she said.
Well into the second year of the pandemic, the streets of New York City are once again alive with the buzz of film and television movies. In 2019, the film and television industry supported about 185,000 jobs, $18.1 billion in wages and $81.6 billion in total economic output in the city, according to the Mayor’s Office for Media and Entertainment. Last year, however, all film licenses were suspended on March 21 and were not resumed until July 1. This year there were about 360 projects in April and May alone. In 2020, a total of 732 film and television projects were shot in the city, a significant drop from the 2,214 projects in 2019. Even with the recent return of activity, the mayor’s office does not expect the number to match this year. the level of 2019.
Film crews take over streets and corners of the city for days, crowding trailer and truck spaces, and blocking cars from parking and pedestrians from walking. While some residents living in the area complain about the noise or lack of parking, many others love living in a movie set for short periods of time. Some lucky New Yorkers are asked to be extras or are paid by the production crews to perform small, useful tasks, such as turning a certain light on or off in their apartment.
The pandemic has made life on the street where a recording takes place a joy or a terrifying experience. Some people panic at the sight of large crews descending on their block. Others find it exciting to be a part of this action after such a quiet year.
At the end of March, plays, concerts and other performances were still banned in New York City. But Kate Walter, 72, an author and retired college professor, appreciated the live entertainment right outside her door.
The cast and crew of the Amazon television series ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’, about a Jewish housewife turned stand-up comedian in the late 1950s, was filming season four on the streets of the West Village, where she lives.
They used the courtyard of Mrs. Walker’s apartment building, in Bethune between Washington Street and West Street, for hair and makeup. For days she watched actors go in and out of trailers, the women dressed in pencil skirts and pearls, and the men in vintage suits and fedoras. “It was so funny because they were all wearing these 50s outfits with masks,” she said.
They filmed scenes in Abingdon Square, two blocks away, and the nearby streets were lined with classic cars and vintage city buses. “Everyone was just hanging out and gushing about these old cars,” said Ms. Walter. “All the neighbors were trying to get a glimpse of what they were filming.”
For Mrs. Walter, life in the middle of the action provided much-needed fun. “At that time, things were still closed,” she says. “This was free entertainment on the street. It made me feel like New York City was alive and coming back.”
Some New Yorkers have made some money from the experience.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” said Nicholas Platt-Hepworth, 35, who works in finance. He lives on Commerce Street, in a quiet, picturesque corner of the West Village. This summer, his street has been taken over by “A Journal for Jordan,” a film based on a memoir written by Dana Canedy, a former NewsMadura reporter, and directed by Denzel Washington and starring Michael B. Jordan and Chante. Adams. Then, almost as soon as they left, the team of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, who filmed outside all spring and summer, appeared in the same place to film.
Because the sets are so large and intrusive, producers knock on his door prior to shooting and introduce themselves. “Denzel’s husband was so nice,” said Mr. Platt-Hepworth. “We are still in touch. We try to meet for coffee.” He was paid $1,000 for the film and $500 for the television show to keep the lights in his apartment on until 2 a.m. to help camera crews, who needed more light to film at night.
It was exciting to live in the middle of the sets for a few days. He and his neighbors made cocktails to watch the action on the sidewalk. He met many of the actors, including Mr. Jordan. He also learned more than he wanted to about how movies are made. “The only thing it taught me is that I can never work in film,” he said. “They spend hours filming a minute. Usually everyone is waiting.”
Still, the activity gets tiring and he is always ready for the crew to pack up and go home. “Do I ever miss 300 people pouring into my street?” he said. “Absolutely not.” But, he added: “At least I’m getting paid. Other people have to deal with it and get nothing.”
While bigger movies draw spectators, which could be good for local businesses, they also closed entire city streets and blocks for hours or days at a time. Businesses operating within the secure zone could suffer, said Chris McCormack, the chief concierge at the Crosby Street Hotel. The hotel’s street was briefly closed in July during the shooting of ‘Sex and the City’.
“There are always guys who want to know what’s happening, and it’s a little exciting, but for most it’s a fleeting annoyance,” he said. “Going back to the hotel alone can be difficult. They start telling me their car took an hour to get around the corner.”
Often, film and television footage can feel like they just popped up out of nowhere. About two days before the date on a film crew’s permit, signs will go up on light poles and trees announcing that something is coming and parking will be restricted. Crew members dive in with cones to close off space as soon as a parked car pulls away. Parking is often gobbled up for several blocks, most of it for trailers full of equipment.
People who live in the area generally don’t know exactly when the shooting will start or where it will take place, because production companies don’t always use all the time or space that is stated on the permit. They usually don’t know for sure until a guard stops them from walking down their street because a live recording is taking place.
People looking for a celebrity sighting are sometimes frustrated. Often, extras appear hours before the main stars. Even when the entire cast is there, there’s so much security and so much equipment and staff, it’s not always possible to see them. “You wait there and think you’re going to see them, but before you know it 20 minutes have passed,” said Ms. Psirogianes. “You start to ask yourself, ‘What am I waiting for?'”
For some New Yorkers, seeing movies and screenings on the street is part of their daily lives. They were just so upset not to see production trucks on their streets during the pandemic when they saw their favorite bar or restaurant closed.
Prepandemic, Zach Groth, 29, who works in wine and liquor marketing, saw “Blacklist,” an NBC drama about a criminal mastermind, filmed at least once a month on his street near Cooper Square. “As I ran for the N, Q, R train every morning, I always thought to myself I was probably in the background,” he said. “I used to watch the show not because I liked it, but because I was looking for myself. I’d rewind it all the time just to be sure.” He was so familiar with the crew’s activities and where the catering stations were set up, that he knew what they were eating at each meal.
He will never forget the day he saw the first trailer return. “Watching the filming go from 100 percent to zero overnight, I really felt the gravity of New York City shut down,” he said. “When it came back, I thought, we’ll get through this. People are going to find a way to make this work.”
The pandemic has left other New Yorkers tired of crowds, and film crews had to find ways to appease nervous residents.
In April, “Only Murders in the Building,” a Hulu murder mystery series starring Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez, was filmed in the courtyard of an iconic West 86th Street apartment building.
“The first day the crew and cast didn’t wear masks in the courtyard, I went ballistic,” said Meryl Gordon, a professor and biographer at New York University who has lived in the building since 1983. “I screamed so loud I shut it down for a moment.”
The production crew returned and decided to appease the residents by involving them in the action. They offered to pay $465 to those who wanted to be extras for a day.
Rebecca Horn, 34, who works as a celebrity booker and moved in with her parents during the pandemic, took up the offer. Unlike many of her older neighbors, she was not bothered by the filming. “It definitely made being stuck in your apartment more interesting,” she said. “After being alone for so long, it was nice to have so many people around, such as photographers and the crew. I would watch them from my window or go outside and watch from the courtyard.”
When she was an extra – “I don’t think I can tell you what it is, because it will give it away, but I will say everyone in the cast was in my scene,” she said – her parents invited her brother and his family came to dinner so they could all watch her from the window. She also befriended another extra, a woman her age who also lives in the building, but whom she hadn’t met before the shoot.
This city should be fun and exciting,” she said. “Things like this are a big part of life in New York City.”
Megan Broussard, 34, lives on 25th and Madison and works as a television producer, would agree.
In early July, a show called “Ghost” was filming, and there were general release forms on her block stating that anyone who walked past a certain point on the street could appear in a shot.
Every morning she walked her dog to Madison Square Park, excited at the prospect of her everyday activity being captured on film. “Could I pick up my dog’s poop in the background of a romantic kiss scene?” she said. “Isn’t this why we live in New York City?”
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