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Why Even Shoot in New York ? (Plus 7 NYC Film Locations You Must Scout)

July 5, 2024
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Content

  1. The Unique Allure of NYC Film Production
  2. Three Reasons Why To Film In New York
  3. Architectural Diversity: A Filmmaker’s Dream
  4. Iconic Landmarks: Instantly Recognizable Locations
  5. Authentic Backdrops: The Real New York
  6. Featured Locations for Filming in New York: Chrysler Building
  7. Times Square
  8. The Oculus
  9. The Vessel on Hudson Yards
  10. The Panorama Room: Roosevelt Island
  11. Prospect Park: The Purslane Boathouse

The Unique Allure of NYC Film Locations for Production

I have filmed in many cities around the world, including Los Angeles, Miami, Shanghai, Marrakech, Nairobi, London, and Dar es Salaam. They all lend their own particular beauty to the film footage you shoot there, each city has its unique character. Yet, there is no city like New York. Perhaps I am biased, for I am a man in love, and in love with New York, but when they built New York, they broke the mold. New York is a metropolis like no other, it is part Shanghai and part Lagos, it is London and Amsterdam and Accra and Bangkok, all at once. It is glimmering, shimmering skyscrapers and rat-infested sewers, not side by side, but at the same place and instant. New York is where they all come—the dons of high finance, painters, actors, and swindlers from all corners of the globe—to chase one goal: success. The world gathers at New York, each one with a dream,  all looking to tame the concrete jungle and carve out a small place for themselves. And in the maddening race for success, its inhabitants have built a city so dazzling, so cinematic, so energetic, it has to be experienced to be believed.

3 Reasons Why To Film In New York

New York’s appeal for film production lies in several unique aspects of its character and energy. For economy, I will restrict myself to three aspects of the city that arguably, make this an advertising producer’s dream.

Firstly, New York City builds come from a wide variety of architectural styles,  whether it be historic brownstones or iconic skyscrapers, modern high-rises or industrial warehouses, the city has got it all. This architectural diversity gives filmmakers the freedom to capture a range of settings without leaving the city.

Secondly, New York has some of the world’s most iconic landmarks such as Times Square, Central Park and Statue of Liberty. These have perhaps become a shorthand of modern wonders of the world, attracting millions of tourists to marvel at their beauty. Indeed, New York’s landmarks are instantly recognizable and lend your video, whether it be a TV commercial or a social media campaign, a sense of place and grandeur.

Thirdly, the city lends authenticity to film footage. New York’s raw and unpolished edges, combined with its grandeur and glamor, provide a realistic and authentic backdrop that is hard to replicate in a built studio environment. This authenticity resonates with audiences and adds depth to the storytelling. These elements combine to make New York a uniquely compelling and versatile location for film production, capable of conveying a wide range of moods, settings, and narratives. As one of the premier video production companies in New York City, we are lucky to have two things. Firstly, to have New York as the very canvas to tell our stories. Even as I write this, I am taken back – what a privilege! Secondly, to have clients, local and international, who are in love with the city as much as we are. We once had a brand shoot here from Bucharest, and the brief was only three words : Make it New York! Indeed.

Featured Locations for Filming in New York

When you think of New York City, the first thing that comes to mind may perhaps be Times Square – the neon lights, the maze of billboards, the zigs and zags of avenues and streets and tourists and malls and skyscrapers scratching the edges of heaven. Or perhaps it is the Empire Building, with the Statue of Liberty welcoming all and sundry to its shores. Or perhaps, the Hudson Yards. The glimmering, shimmering bronze, metal slab upon metal slab, cascading high into the sky, presenting such a beautiful backdrop for characters to emerge from, or walk into, and in just one frame, elevate your TV commercial into an iconic moment of TV advertising.

And indeed, New York City is all that. But wait – there’s more ! As I mentioned, New York City also has its surprises. In my 16 years of producing video content, TV commercials and social campaigns, I have scouted many of New York and I want to share a few of some of my most beloved locations. Some of these you perhaps already know, some may be new, some may be surprises. These are just a few samples of my favorite places to scout and shoot. Hopefully, they will become yours too.

Chrysler Building

When I think of New York City, I think of the Chrysler Building. It is in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, on 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. It is 1,046 ft tall, and in 1930, it was the tallest building in the world. Given its height, you may want to move a few avenues down to truly capture its grandeur. Someone wrote a review online that the closer you get to it the less of it you can see, and that is true. Personally, one of the most beautiful aspects of the building is its crown and spire made of panels of stainless steel. The Chrysler gleams silvery in the sunlight, and in the evening, it glows golden with lights. The Chrysler Building does not allow visitors to the spire, nor have I heard of shoots being done at that height. Visitors are allowed on the ground floor lobby, which is a beauty by itself. The lobby is a tourist destination, and visitors must keep moving in and out.

Do keep in mind that a few blocks away from the building are the vantage points to actually see the Chrysler spire. However, those surrounding areas are perhaps Manhattan’s busiest streets, especially in the early morning, with foot traffic of office workers going into the surrounding office buildings, lunch time mid-day traffic and early evening, when the workers leave for the day. Depending on your crew size, you may also have to be monitored by a police officer from the permit office.

Word of caution : avoid shots with smoke, water, drones ; the film permit office and the police officer will likely deny those requests. We were doing a shoot and our cinematographer wanted to recreate the famous steam bursts which usually sprout from the many holes in Manhattan, and we had the required rigs for the same. The police officer was not having it, and we finally had to modify the shot to stay within his instructions. If you are looking for video production companies in New York to help you with crews, location permits, please email us at production@sinematic.tv.

Times Square

Ah ! Good, old Times Square. Times Square is as iconic as iconic comes. Unlike the Chrysler, which is a very specific building, there is no particular building that defines Times Square. In its formal sense, Times Square is an area defined by the boundaries of West 42nd street, West 47th street, 7th Avenue, and Broadway.

Usually, Times Square attracts plenty of international advertisers who want to shoot here because of how iconically New York this part of the city is. The night never sets in on Times Square. The glitzy billboards and neon lights ensure that Times Square burns  forever bright. The billboards usually advertise beverages, tourist destinations, electronics, and Broadway shows like Mamma Mia!, The Lion King, Motown, Chicago, and Beetlejuice. The billboards provide a stunning backdrop for any New York-based campaign.

But, word of caution : there are some challenges to filming on Times Square. Firstly, the background has many other ads playing the campaigns of other brands. Have your  director of photography prepare to shoot shallow depth of field so the background is not in sharp focus and you get blur. Prep and embrace bokeh. Set aside a budget for clean-up in post. You will absolutely need to clean up something.

Secondly, you can’t block traffic. This is the most visited section of the city, with about 350,000 to 500,000 entering and leaving the area. Prepare your director to be flexible. Shooting here is ideal for a director that is willing to be flexible, roll with the punches, and perhaps even embrace chaos as part of the aesthetic. This is not for a director who comes in with a very hard, set mentality and who will only shoot what is in the storyboards – it won’t work. Foot traffic, billboards, police officers, weather, cars are part of the scenario, and none will stop still for you to get your shot, and police officers will not allow your shoot – no matter how big – to stop the flow of traffic, as that will be a safety hazard, given the large number of people and cars.

The Oculus

I personally have not produced a production that has filmed at or around The Oculus, though my colleague here at Sinematic is bidding on a project that is scheduled to film around it, and yes, I am jealous.  Because the Oculus is gorgeous. It is stylish, it is modern, it is eleganza. Indeed, the Oculus is a subway station, and inside it are shops, so it is part subway station, part mall. When you go in, you are able to shop at some high end brands as well as catch a train to parts of the city or to New Jersey. There are also some lovely shops in the lower area.

At first when I saw it, I thought it was terra cotta, or at least marble, for it has such a beautiful, eggshell finish to it. You almost want to caress it, if only to feel its texture. On further research it is made of steel, and it is symbolic of a hand releasing a dove. It is a commemoration of the 9/11 attack. The building is aligned with the sun’s solar angles so that for the periods of 8:46 am to 10:28 am  It is in alignment with the sun’s solar angles on each September 11, from 8:46 am, when the first plane struck, until 10:28 am, when the second tower collapsed. Its central skylight fits this alignment and washes the Oculus floor with a beam of light.

Words of caution : to film around the Oculus you’d absolutely need a film permit. Additionally, if your campaign features the Oculus prominently so that it may be argued that it is an essential part of the story, you would be well advised for clearance from the State authorities.

It is important to remember that architecture is recognized as art, and if featured prominently in your campaign, you’d have to get the rights for featuring that art, in the same exact way you’d need to clear a song before featuring it in your campaign.  In the case that you are able to get the permit and the right clearance, you’d also want to schedule your shoot very early in the morning, I’d say schedule to shoot by the first rays of the sun, because it will soon swarm with people. What campaigns would this architecture be best for ? Cars, certainly. A few seconds of a car turning a corner framed by The Oculus would make a lovely frame …. Large, global campaigns looking to establish the “New Yorkness” of a brand would definitely achieve their aim with a few seconds of featuring the building.

The Vessel on Hudson Yards

Most of the time when people want to shoot in Manhattan, they want to clearly establish the city in their campaigns, hence the Chrysler. The Vessel on Hudson Yards has not yet grown to the level of infamy of the Chrysler, and for good reason. The Vessel is only a few years old, the Chrysler has been here since the 30s, and it is imprinted in viewers’ minds from film, TV shows, photos etc.

The Vessel is indeed, a staircase-to-heaven structure in the shape of a honeycomb. It is made of copper, steel and glass. With reserved tickets, you are able to get on it and walk up to the top. Producers, I am sure you know this already : Your reserved tickets do not allow commercial filming on the structure; permits must be arranged separately. Truly speaking, I am not too crazy about The Vessel in a campaign, I am not going to lie. Partly because it doesn’t yet have the iconic “New York” status of the Chrysler, the Statue of Liberty, or even the Bull on Wall Street. Secondly, it is surrounded by “empty” park space, and personally, when I think New York City, I think, for better for worse, packed. New York is packed – with people, buildings, more people, more buildings. Empty open spaces are not really a major characteristic of the city. Another reason, and one certainly darker, is that several visitors have jumped to their demise at The Vessel, and it has been closed several times because of the dark shadow hanging over it. So there is that … the location has, in a very short amount of time, built a rather sad reputation. So I am not too keen on it …

At the time of writing, The Vessel is closed for renovations, and so before you pitch it to your clients, feel free to check in with us to call our contacts and make sure it is open for use. What types of campaigns do I see filming here ? Definitely auto. A few frames of the latest Mercedes zooming past it would be a very easy sell.

The area around it is always policed, so yes, you absolutely must have a permit, and doing a commercial shoot without and you will either get closed down, or receive a cease-and-desist when your campaign airs. Location. Location. Location. Permits. Permits. Permits.

The Panorama Room: Roosevelt Island

The way I came by the Panorama Room was actually not via a location scouting trip, though it may well have been, for when I did get there I took intricate notes fit for a location scout. The Panorama Room is actually no room at all, but a luxury restaurant atop the Graduate Hotel in Roosevelt Island. The first time I became familiar with the Graduate Hotels was when I was visiting Yale, New Haven. I was visiting for an alumni weekend, and I found that the New Haven Hotel was now the much improved Graduate Hotel. I also came to learn that the Graduate Hotel was now a chain of boutique-ish hotels around college towns in the US, and in March 2024 the chain was sold to Hilton Hotels. Years later, a friend called asking what I was doing for Valentine’s Day. After cursing in unison the person who had the guts to invent the holiday, I answered that I likely would be crunching some Excel sheet and book-keeping for a production we had just wrapped. She asked why we don’t do a Friendantine – whatever that is. But it sounded as good as any, and I was like, sure.

We jumped online to find the perfect place to sit and bemoan our singleness in New York, and voila, we landed on The Panorama Room. And it did not disappoint. The restaurant offers 360 degrees views of the city and the  Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge majestically runs on one panel of the restaurant. You feel like you can jump from the balcony of the restaurant and hang on to it, Superman style. From the other side of the restaurant you can see the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens across the waters. It is a visual drama, a feast for the eye and your lenses.

There are two downsides that I would anticipate in shooting here : firstly, this is not an empty studio, which is a blessing and a curse, depending. It is very much a restaurant, with a gold, deep magenta patina, so if you are shooting for a brand that has these colors as a ‘no’, then you are not in luck. You’d have to play within the built in environment.

Prospect Park : The Purslane Boathouse

Sigh. Where does one start with the Boathouse? The beauty, the grandeur, the creamy tiled stairs on the shores of the river, the lush creaminess of it all, as if the whole building was carved out of kerala marble and ivory …. Another sigh. Where does one even begin?

The Boathouse is inside Prospect Park, and it has a river that surrounds it, and the arched Lullwater Bridge in the background, creating drama just from the framing. The Lullwater Bridge is in cast iron, with a dark green finish, evoking rusted copper. It is framed on both sides by trees and green water runs underneath it. I have always wanted to place a runner on top of it and follow them with a Steadicam camera, and when the right campaign presents the opportunity, I surely will.

The Boathouse is usually used for weddings, and occasionally, for photo and film shoots. The Boathouse is a Beaux Arts style building, was built in 1905, and can accommodate a crew of up to 225. As a Beaux Art building, it contains many of the defining elements of the architectural style, including, but not limited to, highly decorative surfaces, dramatic columns and pediments. Inside, the Boathouse has domed roofs with very high ceilings. The textures on the roofs, the walls, and the floors are to die for, and they would add rich details and certainly elevate a client’s campaign. Jade, mahogany, and turquoise tile adorn the domed roofs, offering

If you are looking to film grandeur, elegance, I’d definitely give this location a chance. The added advantage to filming here is you are also in the Park, with plenty of other beautiful open spaces for filming.  In case you are able to get a permit for a drone shot, you’d be able to get some lovely shots with parts of Manhattan included.