How Do They Shoot So Many Movies in the Busy Streets of New York City?

How do they shoot movies in the busy streets of New York?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


Answer by Scott Danzig, Lived and worked in Manhattan for over 4 years, Independent Filmmaker

NYC is actually VERY film-friendly, even if you're an indie filmmaker with nothing but pocket lint. First, stating the obvious. If you're not using more than a tripod and otherwise hand-held equipment, you can film wherever you want in NYC as long as you let people through when they want to go through. If you get up early enough, you can actually get some decent footage in the can before people start walking through. You often want to be up very early anyway, because every filmmaker loves the "magic hour". No one except the rather unintrusive homeless are going to be around at 5-6am on a weekend. You can even get a scene with an empty Brooklyn Bridge if you're lucky.

But let's say you want to bring in your own extras, and you want to do some serious recording on a busy street. To use major equipment, such as dollies, or you claim "exclusive use" of an NYC street, normally, you need a $1 million dollar liability insurance policy (in my experience, a minimum of around $500) and then a $300 city permit application fee. If you're poor, you can apply for not only the permit fee to be waived, but also the insurance requirement.

You have to tell them exactly what you need for your production, and what you're going to do. One permit application can cover a laundry list of needs for an entire production. If you forget anything, you have to apply for a second permit though. After that, you're generally at the mercy of the film department for "what they're going to do for you". But think about it. I'm sure they treat Scorsese a little better than they would me, but officially, once I plunk down my application fee, I have just as much right to ask for that busy street to be closed off for my filming as anyone else.

I did that actually. I wanted a street in Long Island City, Queens, for my film. I didn't want any cars parked along it. I also wanted to film in a nearby park. Totally approved, and they throw in a traffic cop for free if you need him. We had a cop eating donuts in his car for half a day, and didn't actually use him. As for the "no cars"... well, as per requirements, we put up "no parking" signs the day before, so people would know not to park there.

I figured there would be a few stragglers, so I actually hired a "towing unit" to standby. The towing unit is expensive. Another $400 or so minimum I'm afraid. But man, we made good use of it. Absolutely no one paid attention to our signs. Probably should have had larger signs with brighter colors. The tow truck operator was shaking his head, saying it'd take him way too long to get rid of these cars. However, we put him to work anyway, and eventually he towed at least 20 cars! Don't worry, he actually finds them another legal spot. They don't get impounded. However, a lot of owners were no doubt shitting themselves, wondering where their cars went.

In the end, we got our footage, in a film, Sky Paradise, that was screened as part of the New Filmmakers NY Festival at The Anthology Film Archives, this red building here, at 2nd and 2nd in Manhattan, and later at The Philip K. Dick Film Festival in the Producers Club Theater!

And... here is the final film, Sky Paradise, in all its glory. The street scene in question starts at 3:26. No cars!

More questions on Quora: