Stand Clear of the Closing Doors & 10 Other Tips for Filming on the NYC Subway

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Written by Gianmarco Soresi & Lindsay-Elizabeth Hand

Where can you share a home with a homeless person, a Wall Street banker, and an entire dance crew? If you don’t know, you’re not a real New Yorker.

The New York City Subway is the meting pot (particularly in August when the A/C is broken). 

Universals are rare in this increasingly divided world, but if there’s one thing we all have in common, one enemy in common perhaps, it’s the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, better known as the god***n, motherf*****g MTA.

And when the authors of this article hear universals, we think views, shares, and retweets. 

Because we’re struggling filmmakers, which is why our work has covered the whole spectrum of guerrilla filming in our city’s underground concrete jungle, from sketches to web series…to more sketches. 

But it’s not only that, of course. The Subway is one of the coolest film sets you can work on; the sights, the sounds, the smells, huge moving set pieces— it’s a metropolitan petri dish teeming with life (bacterial and otherwise).

We’ve filmed a lot on the Subway. A LOT. 

Like, you could put it all together and make a deeply incoherent movie-lot. Fine, we’ll give you a list, not to hawk our wares but to prove we’re qualified: Showtime! Showtime!, MTA Shames NYC, The Struggles of Getting Laid in NYC, MTA Jesus parts 1 & 2, and Riding the D with Dr. Seeds. We practically have a PHD in this shit. 

So whether you’re a poor filmmaker, a cheap producer, or just curious how the hell we filmed The MTA has an Existential Crisis, we’d like to share what we’ve learned on our quests to make you laugh.

But first we should mention…there are apparently there are these things called “permits," which give you “permission” to film on the subway. We know this because the MTA’s official website has an outdated page about acquiring one. And while Jennifer Lopez’s Maid in Manhattan may have obtained permission before filming, Black Swan did not, so let’s follow the lead of the Oscar winner, shall we? 

Plus, there’s no way any of us can afford that shit (to cover our own asses, let us be clear that neither author of this piece or Darren Aronofsky take any responsibility for the trouble you’re not likely to get in should you follow our advice)!


PLAN THAT SHIT

shaybe_honeyglazed #nycbelike

If your cast and crew is going on and off the train, map out the shoot to a T. Come up with a crystal clear shot list, know which subway stops get reception in case you need to keep in touch, have extra metro cards, water bottles (it can get hawt), extra mic tape (hawt = sweaty), and make sure everyone is game for what is sure to be a wild ride.


PLAN B

spoilednyc 😩😩😩


While we’ve never been thrown out of a station, we always have a backup station nearby in mind should anything go wrong. As you know from your morning commutes, all sorts of stuff can go haywire. Be ready to think on the fly and adjust according to your circumstances. Let your vision be as flexible as the time it takes to get to Queens on the weekend.


USE YOUR CAST AND CREW

spoilednyc monday. 🐍😳🚇😳🐍 (@ben4unyc)


No, not as cast/crew, but as lookouts for anyone approaching! Be ready to pretend you’re just a film crew traveling to a set you are allowed to use. When on an actual train, you can also use bodies to block windows from prying eyes. 

While a bigger cast is obviously a bigger hassle, it also lets you stake out some serious real estate, preventing commuters from mistakenly thinking your film set is for transportation purposes.


WHAT?!

be.free.man The accuracy lmao. #MTA #MTAStruggles


In case you’ve ever tried concentrating on something other than Candy Crush, you’ll know the Subway is LOUD. We recommend a lav and a boom mic. 

However, a boom is the most un-hide-able piece of film equipment and we’ve heard stories of it being confiscated (because of all those assaults by boom mic you hear about).


EARLY BIRD GETS THE SHOT

spoilednyc it's SHOWTIME! 🐭🧀🚉🐭


Most creatives are creatives so they don’t have to wake up for a 9-to-5 but everything is exponentially easier if you start filming early. Late is an option too, however, that will mean less train frequency.


ZERO SECOND RULE

spoilednyc GENIUS. 😂😂😂😂😂😂 #reserved (@nyc_wtf)


We’re not 100% sure this is 100% true, but as long as you have nothing on the ground (i.e. a tripod) you can’t get in trouble. I mean, you’re allowed to record stuff or IS THIS SOME KIND OF POLICE STATE, OFFICER?


DON’T BE A DICK 

sea_de_fleur 😡Struggle this morning....geesh #mtastruggles #morningride


Don’t say that to a police officer or an MTA employee, they’re just doing their jobs. However, in all our encounters with either, when we were polite, deferential and maybe bribed them with Craft Service, we were left alone.


EMPTY INSIDE

_michaelhuang hungover from #4thofjuly #longweekend #mtastruggles #nyc


If you need an empty car, start at the end of a subway line. Not only will you be able to paint on a blank canvas, you’ll have some extra time to set up while the parked train waits for another to arrive.


NEW YORKERS DON’T GIVE A DAMN

spoilednyc 😂😂😂😂 (@stuckinthe90s_)

Remember that first time you saw a film crew filming Law & Order: SVU or Girls or whatnot and thought, “Wow! I wonder if Tom Hanks is here?” Remember the second time? “GOD*****T, I HAVE SHIT TO DO I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR GOD***N MOVIE!” 

Don’t expect anyone to respect that fact you’re filming. No one will be quiet for room tone, no one will avoid walking in front of the camera, many will look right in the lens and flick you off. Follow our other tips to either stake an area that is people-less, film super early or late, or just get ready to do a lot of takes.


AVOID THE THIRD RAIL: AVOID. THE. THIRD. RAIL.

spoilednyc SMH... 🙄🙄🙄🙄 (@subwaycreatures)


Wow, you read all that? Well, in return, let us share one final very specific secret: HOW TO FILM A SCENE THAT APPEARS TO TAKE PLACE IN A “STUCK” TRAIN. For The MTA has an Existential Crisis, we had to give the appearance that all the actors were on a train that was stuck between stops. 

While we could have easily ridden around NYC and eventually been delayed (thanks MTA), that would not have been conducive to multiple takes. 

SO, instead, we went to the end of the 7 Line, where one train was always waiting for the other to arrive, and had our cast move back and forth between the parked trains (filming from an angle that didn’t show the open-doors side). 

Our magical editor Andy Zou then combined shots from either side to give the illusion of a single closed car. If you look carefully I’m sure you can even see the advertisements change when the camera if focused on the right or left.

Film safe and if you have any questions feel free to write us at TheMatzaPizza@gmail.com and shout out to one of our favorite Subway pieces we had nothing to do with, a tap dance masterpiece: Q Train Connection!

Gianmarco Soresi and Lindsay-Elizabeth Hand are the creator and producer of Matza Pizza, the sketch comedy series that bore Showtime! Showtime! Subscribe to the YouTube channel and like the Facebook page

 
Got a hot tip or correction? Drop us a line at tips@spoilednyc.com
[Feature Image Courtesy Phactual.com]
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