When I was a starry-eyed young idiot, fresh off the boat from lovely San Diego California and thrown into the big bad maw of New York City, I was enchanted by the possibility of celebrity sightings. There I’d be, strolling in Central Park, and so would a famous actor! I’d be waltzing down Fifth Avenue, and there’s a movie trailer! Can’t wait to tell my friends back home about the thrill of seeing “on location” for CSI.
After a mere 3 decades living in NYC, I’m singing a different tune. Now, the mere sight of a movie trailer has me cursing under my breath and giving the evil eye to those poor fools in the catering truck. Seeing celebrities strolling through Central Park is about as much fun as seeing an old lady feeding a flock of sky-rats next to the “don’t feed the pigeons” sign. At least the celebrities don’t crap in public as often.
The thrill of seeing something actually being filmed in New York City is an experience limited to the first few months of your new life as a new New Yorker. After you’ve lived here a while, you’ll hate it as much as I do. Everyone in New York knows an actor. Some are working, some aren’t; some have actually been in theater or film productions, and some are wannabees.
Oh, you’ll meet them. One fine day, you’ll be minding your own business on the D train, you’ll look up, and there’s your pal staring out of an ad for some candy-ass app for the “gig economy” (hi Jonathan!) Or you’ll be watching “DOOMSDAY: Earth Asteroid Strike” and say “hey, that narrator sounds familiar! Isn’t that Lily’s Dad?” (Hi Harry!). Or you’ll be watching CSI and you’ll see almost everyone in the whole neighborhood who ever acted (Hi Reyna! Hi Robin!) Infomercials? Hi entire family from 4B! You get the point.
We New Yorkers hate movie sets so much that we’ve spawned our own urban legend. Did you hear the one about the bodega owner who was so incensed at the hours the street was closed, thereby losing him business, that he purchased a coach’s whistle and a hand bell,and walked around the set ruining the sound takes? It’s probably not true — at least I couldn’t verify it after 5 whole minutes of googling. But those 5 minutes with a famous search engine easily turned up what every New Yorker already knows: someone’s getting get paid.
The people who don’t get paid are annoyed.
Mark me down as annoyed. Here’s why.
Film Crews disrupt your neighborhood. Forget the no-parking signs and the car towing. I don’t have a car so I don’t care. But I DO care that the sidewalks are closed, autograph seekers and extras clog the sidewalks and block entrances to neighborhood shops. In extreme cases, Zabar’s is closed for hours at a time, so there goes my smoked fish.
Film crews break things you like. They also add things you don’t. When You’ve Got Mail was being filmed in my original native habitat, the Upper West Side, the crews tied lovely plastic autumn leaves on each and every tree on my street. Why? Because in real life, it was early March, but for Meg and Tom it was Fall. So the leaves got tied on. Since this is New York City, every kid on the block spent all their after school time trying to climb up a tree to snag a plastic leaf. This meant the production company had to hire security to protect plastic leaves for 3 days for an entire block. No lie. This is why movie tickets cost $20. I won’t tell you about the painted cardboard wrought-iron fence that was tied onto the perfectly serviceable ACTUAL wrought-iron fence because that looked better for the 1.2 seconds it was on screen.
It’s not necessarily fun to hang out with actors. Actors come in a few flavors, like everything else in life. First off, we get the schmacters, as in actor-schmactor. They’re usually the ones bringing my martini on a tray at the local watering hole. Some of them do hit the big time, so tip well or the comedians will talk about you on stage later. Then, there are the professional Television Stars. They won’t talk to you unless you are also a Star. This is mostly because they are overstimulated by an adoring public. My friend Clever George compares them to a store cat that has so many people trying to pet it all day long that they burn out fast. It’s overwhelming. It’s too much. After a while, they either snap or hide.
Last, but not least, some of them are just naturally assholes.
Celebrity worship is not a pretty sight. Here’s a story. Someone in my acquaintanceship got talked into going, against his will, to Medieval Times. Used to be a thing. Anyway, he and his girlfriend ended up in a busload of tourists from, let’s say, Akron. They were touring New York City, and this was on the itinerary just before they went to “Phantom of the Opera”. Now, children, on that self-same tour bus was the meteorologist from WTVP – Action News! Part of why Medieval Times is so fun is that you get to go onstage in pairs and answer stupid questions. My coworker watched as a random person was pulled onstage along with action-news-exclamation-point’s weatherman. Random Person suddenly realized she was on stage with a STAR. A real, live celebrity. She proceeded to faint, shriek, cover her face with her hands, and flail about for all the world as if she had tickets to an Ariana Grande concert. Is this becoming behavior when one is introduced to the local weatherman by a medieval yeoman? I think not. It’s not even becoming behavior when introduced to Ariana herself.
The crew has an attitude. They are better than you because they have a job bringing 2 grams of organic popcorn to the talent. They have a permit from the city that says they can shut down the sidewalk so you have to go around. They have expressions on their face as though the sight of ordinary New Yorkers walking from the subway to their place of employment is at once alarming and slightly distasteful. They are twelve years old.
By all means, enjoy all those movies filmed on location in New York City. Look for me in the street shots – I’ll be the one blowing the coach’s whistle and ringing a bell.