Community supports lensers in the city

Gotham film prod'n continues through beneficial give and take

While recent attacks in New York disrupted the heart of New York’s indie community (Miramax and Tribeca film center were temporarily closed and several other indie mainstays were similarly affected), it’s likely that actual production away from lower Manhattan will not be significantly affected.

The key to the success of Gotham’s tightly knit filmmaking community is the give and take between actors and crew as well as the fact that the city tends to be more welcoming to crews than, for example, most Los Angeles communities.

While Soho was already considered a Hot Zone, in film permit terms, due to congestion and traffic, (permits there are now likely to be even more limited for some time), in the last few years many filmmakers have gravitated to living and working in Brooklyn.

“There’s a huge community coming out of there, it’s like the East Village has shifted,” says Susan Leber, producer of “Margarita Happy Hour,” which showed at Sundance and Toronto. The production filmed in Park Slope and Williamsburg, taking advantage of locations already patronized by the filmmakers. The story of a group of young moms who gather at a cafe with their babies for happy hour was directed by Ilya Chaiken, and produced by Michael Ellenbogen and Susan Leber. It was shot on Super 16mm with a rock-bottom budget.

“Michael and Ilya both live in Park Slope,” says Leber. “The key location is the real restaurant where Ilya went in real life, called Elora’s.”

Brooklyn locations were also a key part of Peter Mattei’s “The End of Love,” a digital film produced by Open City’s digital division Blow Up, which focuses on nine characters.

Personal touch

“I talked personally to bar and restaurant owners in Williamsburg,” says Mattei, who thinks his personal contacts paved the way for smooth location shoots. “We really wanted to keep New York city as a character in the film.”

Shot for “under a million,” the crew had to be resourceful about where they shot. “We had written a scene on the subway, but we realized it wasn’t going to work,” says Mattei. So the filmmakers changed the location to a park, and filmed surreptitiously at 3 a.m. with just a camera and a duffel bag.

Despite the low budget, first-time feature director Mattei assembled a cast including Jill Hennessy, Steve Buscemi, Carol Kane and Michael Imperioli. In addition to the experienced cast, the crew includes d.p. Steve Kazmierski (“You Can Count on Me”) and production designer Susan Block (“Welcome to the Dollhouse”).

“We got good people to work for less,” says Mattei. “The New York attitude is to make good films you want to make.”

“We shot at the real Medicaid office on a Saturday night and we didn’t have to pay a dime,” recounts Leber. “The Mayor’s Office is generally pretty good,” she continues. “You just have to show you can get insurance and you can get parking permits and everything you need.”

Sally Roy, producer of “Pipe Dream,” which shot on 35mm on an “under-$5 million budget,” also found that city-supplied buildings added value to the production budget.

“The city lets you shoot the Huntington Hartford building for free,” says Roy, “We used their screening room and their office and kitchen.”

The romantic comedy revolves around a Brooklyn plumber who cooks up a scheme to meet women by making a fake movie and getting it financed. It was integral to the plot to shoot at Remi, where William Morris agents regularly lunch, and at Time Cafe.

“They were unbelievably cooperative,” says Roy, “It was really nice to be able to give the art department exactly what they wanted, it adds production value.”

Recycling sets

Another savings was made when the “Pipe Dream” producers were able to buy a tenement set left over from “Music of the Heart” at the Broadway Stages in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

“We shot over a week on the set that was their apartment. It made more sense to shoot on a stage than to lose time parking trucks on a real street,” Roy explains.

For “Pipe Dream,” Roy found it made sense to consolidate post to a few facilities. Dailies and cutting were done at Duart, while the video transfer was mastered to 24p high-def at the Tape House. They could then convert to PAL or NTSC, which helps streamline servicing for their foreign sales agent, Curb Entertainment.

Both “Margarita Happy Hour” and “The End of Love” posted at Spin Cycle, a facility owned by filmmaker Hal Hartley, who seems to be tied in some way to every other Gotham filmmaker.

Roy found shooting locally helped convince talent to come in on the project. “If you offer somebody a movie where they can see their kids every night, they are much happier,” she says.

“Mary Louise Parker really connected with the script. Martin Donovan worked very long hours and it made a huge difference to be home. You can get terrific people as day players. It’s such a value-added bonus.”

“It’s very supportive, it’s a small world,” echoes Leber. “All my film jobs have come from one person to another.

“It’s much more family-like, they get really close,” says Ellenbogen, “There is that give-back situation.”

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