A behind-the-scenes look at how NYC sanctions filming stunts
Cut, cut, cut!
The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment that grants permission for film and TV crews to use public space considers a mountain of motley requests on a regular basis — everything from releasing 100 pigeons for a Coach commercial (denied) to using a real gun in “West Side Story” (approved with NYPD oversight).
The office regularly puts the kibosh on requests to shoot in “hotspots” or areas where community concerns related to construction, crowded streets or religious holidays prevent filming for select periods of time. Recent hotspots include parts of Chinatown in Manhattan and DUMBO in Brooklyn.
Through the state’s Freedom of Information Law, The Post obtained a month of emails from June 2019 between the office and locations scouts for both major Hollywood players like 20th Century Fox and wannabe producers from New York University.
Raymond Carroll, production coordinator with MOME, declined permission to release 20 different pigeons over five takes for a Coach ad on June 3– even though the crew had employed an “animal wrangler.”
On June 4 Alec Bates with “West Side Story” told Carroll that “one gun” would be a “big part of the story” where 14 actors “play around a deserted pier” and all other weapons would be fake and made out of rubber.
Carroll wrote that he needed a rundown of the weapons at the scene so “NYPD knows how many they’re supposed to be checking on site.”
For a short film titled “Mouthpiece,” MOME’s Caitlin Fink warned the crew in a June 7 email about a Harlem scene involving a dead body.
Fink told the crew they’d need “police assistance on-site for public safety” because “we don’t want passersby to think someone is really dead and/or injured and call the local precinct.”
Crew member Ashley George assured Fink that “Dead body is an actor.
“There will be fake blood that we’ll wash off the sidewalk when we wrap. And it’s nothing intense but more of a trickle from an alleged head wound.”
Also in early June, Fink’s colleague Celina Sze schooled a group of NYU students for their project “Deviated Septum,” warning that “All activity must take place on the sidewalk.”
“Your scene description should say ‘Girl running on sidewalk’ instead of ‘Girl running around street,” Sze wrote.
Then there was the request to film a monster in Queens, though not the kind you’d find in a horror flick.
Tim Goldberg, with the beloved children’s show “Sesame Street,” told Sze he planned to have “3 handheld puppets / two human actors / one 6ft puppet” talking to a group of Girl Scouts in Astoria Park on June. 6. The “6ft puppet” was, of course, Cookie Monster.
His colleague, Thomas Ahern, described the next shot. “Scene: Cookie monster arrives at cookie store, exits cab and walks into store.”
Fink, Sze and their colleagues regularly negotiate with crews so they can withdraw and rewrite proposals to fit city rules instead of rejecting their permits outright.
The mayor’s media office– which used to see just under 1,000 permits a month for the $60 billion industry– had just 230 in September. All film permits ceased from March 21 to June 30 during the coronavirus pandemic. Then crews of 10 of fewer were allowed at first only outside and then indoors at 50 percent capacity. Now crews of 100 or fewer can operate. Still the industry is struggling to rebound.
During the 2019 to 2020 season, 80 television shows filmed in the Big Apple.
“We’ve seen about 50 percent of our productions return,” MOME Commissioner Anne del Castillo said at a recent remote forum with Queens community members.
“The 50 percent is actually really strong” compared to other cities, she added.
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