Sure there are loads of articles that talk about top locations to film in NYC, and the five boroughs are filled with great locations depicted in many a classic movie. However, as nice as filming in Harlem, East Village or Tribeca can be (as per many a movie listed on articles such as http://www.nyfa.edu/students/resources/filmmaking-in-new-york.php), its not ideal from a DIY perspective. In fact filming in most parts of Manhattan is getting tougher by the day.
So here are 10 great scenic locations for filming in New York, for those that might not have a big budget and can’t afford to close off Times Square on a Thursday night or seal off Avenue B at 2am without wondering about who will stray onto the set.
Our DIY semi-guerilla Top 10 NYC film locations, in no special order.
1) Maspeth – Other than the Diner scene in Goodfellas, Maspeth isn’t exactly a top location for many, in fact one thing that is great about it is most people have no idea where it even is.
But in a midst of warehouses and cemeteries, perched atop a hill that gets great views of the city and some highways, many city street scenes can be cut here. Especially if you’re looking at shooting something with a retro feel, the few buildings and homes in the warehouse area can sure take you back a few years if you make sure to avoid the cellphone towers. And best of all, rarely will pedestrians or cars interrupt your scene.
2) Red Hook - Even if you live in Brooklyn, Red Hook can be a tough place to get to. That’s the best part. Great city views, open streets and old fashioned buildings have made this part of town start to become more popular for filming.
Unfortunately the big hollywood companies have started to see this too, for example the upcoming “Winter’s Tale” starring Russell Crowe, Will Smith, Jennifer Connolly and Colin Farrell was shot here in late 2012, despite it being one of the worst hit neighborhoods by Sandy not too long prior. In fact Sandy was the theme of the recent 2013 Red Hook film festival – http://www.redhookfilmfest.com/html/festival.html
3) Outer parts of Astoria – Astoria used to be known as “that Queens neighborhood”, people heard of but no one went to. That seems to have changed drastically in recent years and setting up a quick shot in Astoria is a lot harder these days. Unless you hit the edges, such as the western parts near Vernon Boulevard or above the Grand Central Parkway where a few empty blocks still rein.
4) Northern Greenpoint – I guess you could say similar about Brooklyns equivalent in Greenpoint, the home of the dreadful G train that never used to even have a person on it. Greenpoint has a more warehouse and empty lot feel, particularly in the northern parts of the area. And on the western side, you can get a good Manhattan backdrop.
5) East Williamsburg (north of Bushwick) – One of the last standing of the old warehouse neighborhoods (along with the one above) still in some ways, though many an overly priced loft conversion has invaded the hood. Still, this area is not too crowded… yet and there are many locations where transitions to and from outdoor building scenes can be pulled off quite well.
6) Various parts of Staten Island – A modern day timewarp! Full of historic houses and hard to find locations, there are a lot of visual opportunities here. Of course some of the more popular locations include Snug Harbor, http://www.snug-harbor.org/event-rental-2/ – home to many big name films and tv shows and likely not at a cheap price.
7) Long Island City - This might be falling off the list soon, as they have piled on a ton of new high rise apartment buildings in the area, which is a shame. However, a lot of them are still empty or under construction and make a decent urban backdrop if you pick the right spot. Plus it has another good city backdrop and there are still a few empty roads around the area. Works well for subway track backgrounds too as the area by the 7 overland and Queens plaza undergoes a clean up, as well as some still unbuilt areas near Hunters Point and Skillman Ave.
8 and 9) Pelham Bay Park & Flushing Meadow park – Moving away from neighborhoods, here are a couple of parks that are easier to pull off than say Central Park.
One thing worth mentioning is that permits for filming in New York City parks used to be free until Bloomberg’s administration changed things in 2010. The permit now costs $300 and is on a per movie basis. Note that the city said it would waive the initial fee if a low-budget production could demonstrate “unreasonable hardship.”
The form does require you get insurance and send a copy of the scene/script/etc
Info about the 2010 change – http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20100427/FREE/100429865
Somewhat contradicting the 2007 change:
But to be specific – it means you do not require a permit so long as you just have a camera and a tripod. However, the minute you want to bring lighting or dolly tracks or any other such equipment to the street or the park, you definitely need a permit.
That said, a bit of daytime work with limited resource in Flushing Meadow, which is always surprisingly empty but scenic on a sunny day, and you’ll be able to pull it off. The bigger the operation, the bigger the risk though.
10) Morningside Heights - It was tough to include any Manhattan locations for this, and frankly even this one has blown up in recent years, such as noted in articles like http://northattan.com/2011/12/16/video-hottest-spot-for-film-scouts-the-union-theological-seminary/ from a couple years ago.
The article itself has an interesting quote too: noting someone in the NYC film department as saying “Only for parking privileges, or a light generator or light stands do you need a permit. Even a lot of students film without permits. We cater to everyone.” And indeed there are a lot of scenic old city spots to film here.
And of course, you have to use your judgement. If you have a lot to risk, a lot of cast and equipment, you may want to get it written up properly. But like with any interior location, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Some places are a bit stuck up and even somewhat extortionate about letting you do a low-budget or no budget flick on the cheap, but at the same time, many places will be ok with it too.
Let us know how it goes. We’ll keep you posted on the same.