They torched cars and set fires throughout the park and around our building in 50 mile-per-hour winds. And, yes, the fire spread to unprotected areas.
It may sound like a scene from a war zone, but that's actually a local resident's description of a movie shoot that occurred recently in and around Washington Square Park. New York City has been an immensely popular movie location since American cinema began. The city lends just the right note of gritty reality or dreamy escapism to any movie's backdrop. However, real people reside in the buildings moviegoers see in street scenes—and these residents often have wildly different views on what it's like to have film crews at their front door.
Point and Shoot?
The crews shooting films, TV shows, commercials and music videos on the streets of New York City can't just miraculously appear outside an apartment building or in a lobby somewhere and "steal a shot"—student filmmakers and crafty indie directors are the only ones who can get away with that. Production companies are required to move through the proper bureaucratic channels and obtain the official permits that allow them to use the cityscape as a location for their fictional doings. In 2006, there was a record number of shooting days by the film industry in New York City locations (34,718 vs. 31,570 in 2005). Shooting days have more than doubled since 1993.
The governmental body that issues these permits is the New York City Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting (MOFTB), an organization whose name adorns the credits of all mainstream productions shot in the five boroughs. According to Julianne Cho, associate commissioner of the office, "The Mayor's Office provides permits to shoot on city-owned locations, including streets. "We do not, however, provide permits to film producers to shoot on private property."
The process of acquiring a permit to shoot in the street outside a co-op or condo building is standardized. The permit is "free of charge" to the producer, and details are spelled out on the MOFTB's website (www.nyc.gov/ film). However, in order to obtain one, the producer must present an original certificate of insurance indicating the city as "additional insured" for "at least one million dollars…for each instance of the claim."