'Producers' brings backlot razzle dazzle to Steiner
NEW YORK — Steiner Studios, the new $118 million soundstage facility at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is currently hosting two high-profile pics in different stages of production: Universal’s “The Producers” and indie pic “Fur.”
Both films are set in 1958, meaning that the exterior of the sleek, modern steel-and-glass structure belies its interior, which now features jaw-dropping period sets, including a full re-creation of legendary Shubert Alley for “The Producers,” the bigscreen version of Mel Brooks’ hit B’way musical.
“This has been ideal for us,” says producer Jonathan Sanger, bellying up to the impeccably re-created Astor Bar, which sits along a dazzling streetscape. “We’ve had the opportunity to build Hollywood-style sets, which is somewhat unique in New York. We can work the way we’re used to working.”
Indeed, walking around at Steiner feels akin to being on a studio back lot.
As he leaves the bar and strolls through Shubert Alley, under a crane, past a Checker cab and through a newsstand, Sanger explains that director Susan Stroman envisioned sets modeled after “Singin’ in the Rain” and “the great musicals of the 1950s.”
Next door, Uma Thurman, who stars with Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and Will Ferrell, shoots a scene on a closed set.
Sanger walks to an adjacent stage, where the set for fictitious musical “Springtime for Hitler” is being assembled. As a spoof panorama of Nazi signage is hoisted into the air, Sanger explains that the musical’s “audience” was shot at the St. James theater, home to the legit staging of “The Producers.”
To accommodate its biggest film client so far, Steiner knocked down walls to make space for six simultaneous hair and makeup stations. Special chairs were shipped in at the last minute, per studio head and real estate impresario Doug Steiner.
Heading upstairs, Sanger passes a huge room full of tailors and wardrobe, with the (real) Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges visible through the windows. “We can fit you for Shubert Alley now,” cracks a crew member as Sanger passes her door.
Downstairs, stage operations veep Ric Wolf hurries past multiple platforms being set up for a dream sequence.
“The Los Angeles guys, when they come to New York and (find) a studio that works like the L.A. stages, want to stay in town,” says Wolf, who worked previously at Sony. “(In) a place like this you have control. You can shoot rain scenes in the parking lot, on the roof. Every inch of it is for production.”
One knock against New York soundstages has been a lack of parking, and Steiner’s got it in spades. On the 1,000-car lot, a fleet of 1970s vehicles is being assembled for a different production.
“Everyone freaks out about all this parking,” says Steiner. “They walk in and the crew members are ecstatic.”
Next door, on Stage 5, workers prep the set for “Fur,” a smaller-scale production that stars Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr. in the story of seminal 1960s shutterbug Diane Arbus.
In an upstairs office, “Fur’s” line producer Adam Brightman looks frazzled.
“We’re compressing 12 weeks into seven,” he explains, as the pic nabbed busy Kidman on short notice.
Director Steven Shainberg’s previous film, “Secretary,” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, was shot almost entirely on stages, as this production will be.
“Steve’s very classic and old fashioned in that sense,” says Brightman.
For outdoor locations, the crew will strive for a 1950s feel by shooting in nearby Williamsburg.
Just a year ago, Steiner was a hulking shell, but now the place buzzes with life, even as final touches are pending, including office space for Steiner himself and company president Jay Fine, and a café named for Steiner’s daughter Isabelle.
Back in “The Producers'” domain, Sanger bids a visitor goodbye, dons his headphones and hurries back to the set where Thurman is performing, to attend to his star.