Scouting NYC is a website run by an anonymous location scout in New York. The site explains: "My day is basically spent combing the streets for interesting and unique locations for feature films. In my travels, I often stumble across some pretty incredible sights, most of which are ignored every day by thousands of New Yorkers in too much of a rush to pay attention." Now anonyscout keeps a record of all the nooks the rest of us may not be seeing, and took some time off the beaten path to answer our questions about the job, the city and what the rest of us are missing.
How long have you been scouting locations in New York? I've been scouting for about 4 years now. It's a great way to see the workings of big budget filmmaking if you're a wannabe filmmaker like myself. On a typical film production, Locations is one of the first departments to be hired and last to be fired, so you're there from the very start to the bitter end.
Can you say what shows or movies you've worked on? There have been a lot - I've worked on films with Will Smith, Adam Sandler, Tobey Maguire, John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ben Stiller, Denzel Washington, lots of others.
What's the process after you find a location? Before anything else, find the owner. This can sometimes be harder than actually finding the location. People get very suspicious in New York when you start asking for the owner, because they assume you have a complaint, or you want to sue or something. It kills me, because we're just looking to pay them a lot of money for doing very little. Often, the owners aren't even in New York - I recently tracked down the owner of a random apartment in the Village, who turned out to be an "ice cream magnate" living in Arizona.
After we get a tentative "we'd consider filming" from the owner, we take the director on a scout to see the locations we've found. Once he chooses one (usually after seeing 20-40 possibilities), we make a deal, start prep work, and eventually go and shoot.
What's a typical day's work like? The Location Manager tells us what location we're looking for (a subway station/apartment/storefront/alley/high-rise/skyscraper/tenement/etc) and its purpose (where the main character lives/establishing shot/throw people off the roof/light the place on fire/etc.). After that, we're generally left to our own devices to find it. If you know New York well enough, the best places to look can be obvious. Other times, it comes down to simply going street by street looking for that perfect alleyway or fire escape.
What is the easiest scene to find a spot for? The easiest is when we have no choice but to film in a very specific location. A university? There's a finite number in New York City, and we basically just shoot them all and let the director decide. Central Park or a subway station? You call the city and ask what you can use.
Hardest? When we get something more vague like "a studio apartment that a 20-something would live in," that's more difficult. Most of the time, the director has no idea how small a typical 20-something studio apartment in Manhattan is, and it's a lot of guess-work trying to decipher what he's actually expecting. Then we go blindly knocking on doors trying to convince people we're from a legitimate film company, and not just conning our way into their homes to rob them. I've had the police called on me before.
What is your favorite location in New York? Anyplace I've never been before (if pressed for an actual place I'd like to spend a few hours this afternoon, I'd have to say the Natural History Museum - I never get tired of wandering the galleries and letting my imagination run wild).
Are there any secret places the regular New Yorker may not know about that you can share? There are secrets across the city, but most of them are only unknown only because people don't take the time to look. The rest, sadly, have to remain secret.
What is your favorite New York movie scene? The default answer is usually something from Annie Hall, Manhattan, or The Godfather, but I have to go with the end of Ghostbusters, when Winston Zeddemore, covered in marshmallow, throws up his hands and exclaims "I love this town!" Haven't we all had a moment like that before?
What's the most film/photogenic subway line? We're usually limited to a certain set of subway platforms to use, either way, way out in Brooklyn (usually the F train) or into the Bronx. For picturesque views of the city, some of those 4-Train stops just into the Bronx are great. One of my favorite runs as viewed from rooftops is the 7 line along Queens Blvd/Roosevelt Ave. And nothing beats the N Train's approach to Coney Island.
Please share an "only in New York" story. We were filming in a busy neighborhood overnight, and needed a store to keep its lights after it closed to maintain continuity. I went in and offered the owner a few hundred dollars for the trouble. Without blinking, he told me he'd do it for no less than $10,000.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? I would put more of an emphasis on preservation in the outer boroughs. There's a ton of amazing buildings and homes in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island that are dilapidated or being torn down and replaced by hideously boring condominiums, and I think people 20 or 30 years from now will look back in horror at what was lost.
Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York? Every time I consider it, I think about how much I'd be leaving behind. I think I'm trapped.
Do you have a favorite New York celebrity sighting or encounter? Getting asked to toss a football with a very, very well known actor. (Worst celebrity encounter: turning him down because I suck at throwing a football).
What's your current soundtrack to the city? Because scouting is a rather solitary profession, my iPod is packed with music to keep me entertained. I'm currently enjoying the latest by the Gaslight Anthem and The Hold Steady. Vampire Weekend and Electric Six are fun to listen to while out and about in New York...When I get sick of music, it's a toss-up between NPR and Howard Stern.
Best cheap eat in the city. Sonar Gaow, the cheapest Indian place on Curry Row - 328 East 6th Street btw. 1st and 2nd Ave. And it's BYOB!