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On Location: New York City

On Location: New York City

Articles - Directing

Kevin Lee; Lori Lazar; Manish Acharya; Daniel Cooperbey

Chapter One: “He adored New York City. He idolized
it all out of proportion.” No, make that: “He… he romanticized
it all out of proportion.” Yeah. “To him, no matter what the season
was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and
pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.” Ah, let me start
this over. Chapter One: “He was too romantic about Manhattan,
as he was about everything else. He thrived on the hustle-bustle
of the crowds and the traffic. To him, New York meant beautiful
women and street-smart guys who seemed to know all the angles.”
Nah, corny; too corny for my taste. Let me try and make it more
profound. Chapter One: “He adored New York City. To him, it was
a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. The same lack
of individual integrity to cause so many people to take the easy
way out was rapidly turning the town of his dreams in…” It’s going
to be too preachy. I mean, let’s face it, I want to sell some
books here. Chapter One: “He adored New York City. Although to
him, it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture.
How hard it was to exist in a society desensitized by drugs, loud
music, television, crime, garbage…” Too angry. I don’t want
to be angry. Chapter One: “He was as tough and romantic as the
city he loved. Behind his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled
sexual power of a jungle cat.” I love this. “New York was his
town—and it always would be.”

—From Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979)

There are few moviemakers as indigenous—or iconic—to
New York City as Woody Allen, who has given moviegoers the world
over a taste for the
Big Apple. While his films offer seminal New York City moments—a
stroll through Central Park, a sunrise over the Brooklyn Bridge—they
are also imbued with the larger spirit of the city itself. But
Woody is hardly alone in his love affair with
most cinematic city. Here, three dozen NYC-based moviemakers share
with our readers the experience of living, working and creating
in the city that never sleeps.

I can mention the revival theaters and unbelievable
video stores (including the amazing New York Public Library video
collection), but what about the millions of unique people, random
encounters and street-level observations that set my mind reeling?
Who needs film school? New York is a film school in itself, if
you believe that film is life, and then some.
—Kevin Lee

Ben Coccio

Holly Denys

Irene Vodar

Living in New York City has enabled us to use it
as a character in itself, adding many different dimensions to
the filmmaking process. The diversity and uniqueness of the architecture
and landscape reflects upon the different shades of the city’s
personality and triggers palpable emotions within the audience.
—Lori Lazar, GreeneStreet Films,

People-watching. That is some of my best learning.
I can sit at a sidewalk cafe and learn more about people—individual
behavior, interaction and even secret gestures—than any
classroom will teach. Just watch. See if you can tell who has
his last dollars in his pocket or who is a multimillionaire. Ask
yourself why a couple is swinging a little boy between them as
they walk by smiling while the boy does not. Remember the collective
depression of the city after September 11th. This city is not
a city of bustling strangers. It’s a character study. A
study of life. A reminder that damn near anything you want to
put up there may be possible.
—Joseph Baldwin

All you need is popcorn, soda and a subway token.
NYC is a silver screen of issues/48/images and sounds, graffiti on black
ghetto walls, Picasso on white walls of the Guggenheim, expensive
hotels, cardboard houses, sirens screaming, people living—a
screenplay on every corner.
—Daniel Cooperbey, Director/Writer/Producer,

New York City is truth and rhythm.
—Lee Bennett Sobel, Filmmaker

If you were raised like I was in the suburbs and
in relative luxury, New York City is a crash course in how to
hustle. You learn quickly how to pull resources together and get
something going against all odds. The filmmaking community around
you and the resources at your disposal are all any independent
director needs to get a project from script to screen.
—Ben Coccio, Director/Co-founder Professor Bright
Films (Zero Day; 5:45 am),

NYC has the highest acting density (trained actors
per square mile) in the world. And because the supply outstrips
the demand, I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing
actors, enabling me to hone my craft in ways that are impossible
for a new director in any other city.
—Manish Acharya, Writer/Director (The Driver; Partner)

New York has been filmed so often its landscape
has grown as familiar as the body of an old lover. To get any
pleasure out of it now, I find myself searching for strange angles,
exotic colors, dark, unknown locations. Fortunately, this city
has a dirty mind, and encourages every perversion.
—Seth R. Grossman, Writer/Director,

Seth R. Grossman; Steve Rosenbaum; Seth D. Carmichae; Toño
Lopez; Vlamyr Vizcaya; Leslie Chain

New York City thrives on enforcing the 3 S’s:
starvation, sacrifice and struggle. While inspiring filmmakers
flock to the “city of dreams,” the Big Apple throws
in a heaping handful of nightmares. Once you hit rock bottom (and
you will), you bloody your hands climbing back up and, with each
grasp, you take a part of the city with you. It’s the ultimate
learning process to expand your growth as a moviemaker.
—Jimmy Im, Writer

Beyond all the professional outlets it provides,
New York City is the best place in the world for people-watching.
Every person in New York has a story to tell. If you really want
an education in acting, park your butt anywhere in the city, open
your eyes and observe.
—Holly Denys, Actress (As Good As It Gets; Killing Time),

Yesterday on the uptown 1, an elderly woman asked
me if I’d hold her dentures as she rummaged around in her
Mary Poppins-esque bag for some Poligrip. I politely declined.
There is not a city on this earth truer to itself and to the human
spirit than New York.
—Rachel Vine

The city is powerful and it evokes a mood. Riding
on a bus, looking out the window at rain-slicked streets reflecting
traffic lights, you hear jazz. You’re exposed to a lot of
great work, too. Not just films, but all the arts. It helps you
find your own voice.
—Moh Azima, Director (Trapped in Freedom),

For me this year was an awakening—both to
the strength and resiliency of the city I love, and to the wider
world that we must embrace and engage. I love New York—more
than ever. But I also love the world that New York represents:
diverse, ethnic, complex. A place that celebrates difference and
honors unique points of view.
—Steve Rosenbaum, President, CameraPlanet Pictures

On the N train, in Central Park or Sunset Park,
from the West Village to East Flushing, NYC is alive
and vibrant with thousands of stories to tell. The possibilities
are limitles. Film Forum, Lincoln Center, Greek Cultural Center,
Asia Society, IFP, AIVF are my classrooms—and only a subway
ride away.
—Risa Morimoto, Director/Producer (Moonlight
; 9066)

As a moviemaker, I find NYC to be the most cinematic
city in the world: form and Content in one place. Wherever you
look, there is meaning and a great place to aim your camera. Its
multiculturalism shapes your eyes, heart and sensitivity to tell
more touching and humane stories.
—Vlamyr Vizcaya, Writer/ Director (One Afternoon
in NY
; Lying in Bed)

As an independent film producer, I can’t imagine
being anywhere else making films. NYC has the most independent
thinking, creative talent and the hungriest, hardest-working crews
imaginable. I’ve made feature films here for $5,000 and
for $1.5 million. I even made a film here for $1.5 million in
barter. If I had gone to LA, I would be an assistant to an assistant
somewhere; here I run my own company and I make films—I
don’t just talk about making them. Sure we are taking huge
risks, but we get rewarded.
—Seth D. Carmichael, Producer (The Look; Brother To Brother),

Casimir Nozkowski

Francis Kuzler

I’m a production designer and a voyeur, continually
inspired by the details of everyday life that I observe by peering
through strangers’ windows. Walking the streets of New York
allows me to fuel my creativity in this manner. And only in New
York is walking the rule, not the exception.
—Judy Becker, Production Designer (Raising Victor
; Personal Velocity)

NYC is the perfect metaphor of cinema. When you
make a film you look for an energy, an emotion that is not in
the shots,
but between them. NYC has that energy. It’s not located
in a concrete place or group of people, but in the sum of them.
—Toño Lopez, Writer/Director (The Trail
of Water
; Maitines)

New York is a place, a purr-son (I can hear her
purr), a philosophy. You can give people from all over the world
the finger, your arm or a hand—maybe all three in the same
day—and the reaction will always be unforgettable.
—Leslie Chain, Filmmaker (Mart-Face),

Having lived lifelong in NYC & Long Island,
my work has been naturally infused with the NY psyche—a
grumbling, harmonious mix of diversity, survival and human abstraction
that derive from “big city” existence. The immense
city’s forms, lines and shadows have shaped my own visual
aesthetic; it has nurtured both my craft and my integrity as an
—Francis Kuzler, Writer/Producing Director (Last
Day in Utopia
; Tom and the Puppet),

The DAT bulges under George’s jacket. Matt
covers the camera when a police officer passes. We’re riding
the subway at midnight, shooting a scene NYC allows only its neophyte
filmmakers. Passengers riding the train ignore us. To be absorbed
into the city’s gray, glass and steel is its highest honor.
—Casimir Nozkowski, Writer/Director,

NYC is Mecca for the truly desirous—making
it alongside a million other wanting strangers. Any passing moment
could be history made, so you capture some and tell a few stories.
When you relax, the city helps you find your artistry and hone
a decent voice to share it.
—A.M. Lewis, Writer/Producer (UnDad; The
Classic Jazz
and Blues Entertainer Series),

A.M. Lewis; Jimmy Im; Pepper Negron; Lisa Goldring-Eastman;
Lucia Grillo; Kristina Marchitto; Risa Morimoto; Rick McKay

The Hollywood “dream factory” uses illusion,
youth and beauty to make films providing escape from our world;
while NYC filmmakers use reality, passion and art to show audiences
they are not alone in our world. A five-minute walk down a NYC
street provides more energy and inspiration than a year anywhere
else on our planet.
—Rick McKay, Producer/Director/Writer (Broadway:
The Golden Age
; The Birdcage),

If there’s one thing you’ll learn to
perfect in New York City, it’s the low angle shot. So much
about being in New York is about looking up—not only in
a visual sense, but also in terms of the filmmaking giants this
city has produced. So when we look up in New York City, we are
truly inspired.
—Buboo Kakati, Writer/Director

Everywhere I glance, it’s there: that inevitable
inspiration that everyone seeks. Here, it lives within that energy
that one senses just walking down a street. It’s the source
from which we thrive. It’s as though it seeps into our senses
and infiltrates our soul. It’s that magic one feels in NYC.
—Nancy Astrid Lindo, Set Designer

As an actor and writer, the curiosity in human behavior
is always brewing. New York City is a character landscape. When
I walk on the street, there are moments when I catch snippets
of language from strangers. I take a few steps and it is clear
how those few floating words are saturated with story. At every
angle, I view the perimeter of a frame created by the buildings
surrounding and in the periphery, the exposure to other artists.
—Kristina Marchitto, Actor/Writer,

As a Chinese American, New York’s Chinatown
is a place unlike any other part of town. There’s a special
unity among Chinatown denizens borne from suffering, desperation
and the desire to prosper. It’s the immigrants’ quiet
strength and struggles that I strive to capture in my screenplays
and films.
—Ernest Leong

The city is like an investigator’s lab which
gives you access to anything and everything. It’s the center
of things, a cushioned environment filled with other filmmakers,
people who “understand,” buildings that understand
and have been through it. It’s the subway I never take,
but I’m glad everyone else does. People aren’t afraid
to be themselves here, to make films as diverse as the city itself.
—Lisa Goldring-Eastman, Writer/Filmmaker/Post House
Manager, Beverly Films (I Spray Perfume),

Martin Edward; Greg Siers

The streets of NY are a school in multifarious ways:
attitude, survival, interaction with others; history, present,
future. I always think of that (yes, cliché but) inspirational
line from “New York, New York:” “If I can make
it here, I’ll make it anywhere…”
—Lucia Grillo, Writer/Director/Actor/Producer, Calabrisella
Films (A Pena do Pana/The Cost of Bread),

New York’s energy lives inside you for the
rest of your life. It gives my work an obvious yet unmistakable
edge that provides colors for my characters and words for my scripts.
Daily growth as an artist is inevitable. The stories are all around
you. Which one you will tell?
—Pepper Negron, Writer/Director/Producer/Artist
(High Hats; Master & Servants),

Faces, colors, lights show in my camera as NYC sweeps
me alongside its edged shapes in the midst of a varied crowd displaying
all human joy and tragedy; and so teaches me yet again that to
tell a story all I have to do is to live—eyes wide open.
—Sascha Just, Writer/Director/Producer

My path to NYC went through Moscow and Chicago.
NYC is a tough town, a challenge that a newcomer flings him/herself
into in order to find out if he’s fit to survive the competition.
The city trims your baby fat and teaches how to focus on your
dream through a series of self-moderating techniques.
—Irene Vodar, CG Animator,

Christopher McFarland

The strength of being a New York filmmaker is the
energy and the hustle of everyday life. It’s like taking
a lump of coal and applying pressure, it could either crush you
or turn you into a beautiful diamond.
—Tenolian Bell, Cinematographer

New York offers a healthy balance to the filmmaker;
it’s enough of an industry town that there are fantastic
filmmaking resources; but, unlike Los Angeles, you aren’t
constantly aware of the industry. I think it’s a creative
advantage when every conversation you have isn’t about the
movie business.
—Martin Edwards, Writer/Director (All the Wrong
; Love and Miniature Pumpkins),

New York’s density makes me a better filmmaker.
The cramped subways, the thin walls and the two-by-four bodegas
constantly force my eye and ear into others’ lives. I catch
three phrases and two looks—and before I know it, I’m
making up the beginnings and endings to these strangers’
—Betty Teng, Writer/Director (Maestro, Maestro)

I came here with nothing more then a filmography
of weddings and short videos of action figures devouring my little
sister’s head. When I got here, I was given very little
instruction at one of the nation’s top film schools—the
real lessons came from my environment. People I interacted with
taught me more in fve minutes then I’d learned in 20 years.
This vast landscape of diversity was a baptism by fire that any
creative individual is lucky to experience.
—Greg Siers, Writer/Producer/Director,

Every business is about relationship building, and
here you must court the city herself. It sounds anthropomorphic,
but it’s real, it’s organic and it’s essential.
Your needs, wants, strengths and faults—everything must
be objectified like an emotional chess match. And as with dating
and love, the more you risk…
—Christopher McFarland, Actor/Voice-Over Artist,

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