Hell’s Kitchen has had something of a checkered history with the TV and movie industry — back in 2015, Netflix was filming Daredevil and Jessica Jones mostly in Brooklyn, FFS! In a recent plot twist, a new Columbia Pictures movie called Brooklyn took over seven blocks of the neighborhood as film and TV production roars back to life in the Big Apple.
Hell’s Kitchen sightings of the Leonard Bernstein biopic Maestro, 90s throwback Yogurt, Queen Latifah crime procedural The Equalizer, and of course, the city’s televisual chronicler — Law and Order: SVU, go to prove that the West Side and New York at large are back as frequently bustling film sets after the quiet months of the early pandemic. According to a recent Variety report, filming across the five boroughs is at pre-pandemic levels, with approximately 80 TV series filming a year and 35 simultaneously in production on any given day.
Mickey Blank, a longtime content creator and Hell’s Kitchen local, is often first to the sidewalk scene. Buoyed by follower tips, Mickey focuses on keeping New Yorkers abreast of who’s filming on their street corner. “I’ve been doing New York City content creation for the past seven or eight years,” she said. “During the pandemic, I was one of very few content creators that kept sharing daily updates from New York. I was walking the street by myself, capturing everything. And then after the pandemic, so many people showed up in the city and everybody wanted to be a content creator. Everybody started doing what I was doing. I started capturing the film sets because I don’t want to do what everybody’s doing.”
She has snagged hundreds of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them shots, but the prime time for filming is the warm weather season and we’ll soon be approaching a dip until springtime. “You have like a month and a half to catch something, and then winter is more tricky,” added Mickey.
But while the regular sight of curbside trailers, scene-on-the street videos and “SET THIS WAY” signs have reassured New Yorkers that the TV and film industry is back in action, for production teams, previously unseen wrinkles mean that setting up shop in the city is anything but business as usual.
Sidewalk and street real estate, once easily marked for the taking with a few permitted “NO PARKING” signs, has a new nemesis — the outdoor dining shed. And while Mayor Eric Adams has not yet established a permanent plan for the al fresco structures, he has enthusiastically declared the program as “here to stay”, leaving film crews with large, sometimes unsightly workarounds blocking New York streetscapes.
COVID compliance, a long-term necessity for any production, eats up even the most generous of film budgets. The Marvelous Mrs Maisel creator Amy Sherman-Palladino told Variety that she estimated money spent on pandemic protocols added as much as 30 percent to the show’s budget, while other industry professionals pointed to additional rising costs of set and costume construction due to inflation.
Set security ranks as another top concern for industry personnel. While nosy onlookers and would-be “extras” are not a new phenomenon to New York-based shows, several production crews highlighted an increase in public intrusion on their sets. Producer Jonathan Filley told Variety that crew members have been attacked and production vehicles have been hit by passersby, a phenomenon he said had ticked up in the mental health crisis of the COVID lockdown.
Some bystander security incidents have turned deadly — this summer a crew member from NBC’s Law and Order: Organized Crime was shot and killed while saving a parking space on set in Brooklyn. The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) told Variety that they take “safety protocols on all productions very seriously. We always work closely with city agencies and local communities to ensure that cast and crew are working on safe sets in secure locations.”
While Mickey hasn’t witnessed bystander harassment on sets, she has changed her posting strategy to respect the security of production teams. “Even though they’re filming on the street and it’s a public place, I don’t post all of the details I receive to the entire community,” she said. Her account has over 130,000 followers. “I used to post more details, and hundreds of people showed up. This is for fun, and people should know about it, but I didn’t think about the perspective of the production, and I have a responsibility. I don’t want to be responsible for having so many people on set because of me.”
The Adams administration has established the 21-person Film and Television Production Industry Council to address COVID-era production issues. Kwame Amoaku, Deputy Commissioner of MOME’s film office said the board intends to tackle filming challenges with public input: “All of the pandemic changes that occurred — Open Streets, outdoor dining sheds, parking on both sides of the street in certain situations — definitely had an effect on the viability of production. There’ll be some public hearings on them soon.”
For now, in addition to filming on the streets, stoops and sidewalks of New York, production crews are as busy as ever at the city’s ever-growing indoor studio lots — Kaufman Astoria Studios, Steiner Studios, Silvercup Studios, York Studios, Broadway Stages, the new Netflix Studio Brooklyn and upcoming Robert De Niro-backed Wildflower Studios add thousands of square footage to the city’s movie-making moxie.
As for the West Side’s potential to become the next Silvercup? While Pier 94 remains a possible soundstage, the best place to catch Hollywood in Hell’s Kitchen is still by looking sharp on its streets.
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