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Transit strike affects NYC film, TV industry

Ride-sharing, other options help aid productions
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

A crippling bus and subway strike forced millions of people to stream into Manhattan on foot or in packed cars Tuesday, causing headaches for film producers on tight schedules. Live TV productions in New York, however, were mostly unaffected.

About 30,000 New York City transit workers left their posts earlier in the day, paralyzing the nation’s largest public transportation system. Without a resolution between workers and union leaders, the strike could extend to Christmas.

One of the few high-profile films shooting on location in Manhattan is “El Cantante,” an independently financed biopic of legendary salsa music singer Hector Lavoe, starring Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez.

As director Leon Ichaso filmed Lavoe’s onstage marriage proposal to Lopez’s character inside the Webster Hall nightclub on East 11th Street, several members of the production estimated that only about half of the 300-plus staffers (many of them extras) showed up for the early-morning call by midday.

The production has only one day left of filming before taking a holiday break, resuming New York production on Jan. 3 and then moving to Puerto Rico on Jan. 18.

Everybody in the pool!
The crew of Revolution Studios’ Beatles-based musical “Across the Universe,” filming at Brooklyn’s Steiner Studios, found expected inconveniences for actors and dancers coming in from Manhattan to be the least of their problems.

Their van pickup points leaving Manhattan went smoothly, but “it was a nightmare for crew members from New Jersey, Westchester, Rockland County and other areas,” co-producer Richard Baratta said.

“The George Washington Bridge, normally a 35-minute drive, ended up taking two hours,” with many crew members carpooling in at 5:30 a.m. for the 7:30 a.m. call,” he said. “It was a nightmare coming in for many people.”

The Queens-based set of the Weinstein Co. thriller “Awake” experienced about a one-hour delay because everyone was driving to Kaufman Astoria Studios via carpools and vans from Manhattan to the Triboro Bridge.

Once it was discovered that there was an outbound lane open on the Queensboro Bridge -- which is close to the set -- the drivers were informed, and that helped considerably, “Awake” co-producer Amy Kaufman said.

“We had a 9 a.m. call, and by 10 a.m., everyone was here. So far, so good,” she said.

“Usually you have actors in separate cars, but this time, everyone traveled with everyone,” Kaufman said, including such ride-sharing stars as Hayden Christensen, Terrence Howard and Fisher Stevens.

The production had to cancel a planned B-unit production shoot in Manhattan, featuring driving shots across the Brooklyn Bridge and on Seventh Avenue. “I don’t think we’d be able to get the permits,” Kaufman said. “Our last day is Thursday, so we’ll have to figure out another time to do that.”

Morning shows get early startLive TV productions experienced a relatively calmer day. The networks’ morning shows and live talk shows, all of which originate from midtown Manhattan, reported few problems and said that strategies put into motion Monday kept production going smoothly.

“We had a plan,” said Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC’s “Today.” “Everybody was here, all accounted for.”

And the New York setting gave viewers from throughout the country a bird’s-eye view of the transit strike, which was only a few hours old when the shows went on the air.

“Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America” and CBS’ “The Early Show” reported no problems amid a Manhattan where no vehicles with fewer than four people inside were allowed on the streets between 5-11 a.m. Untold thousands, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge on their way to work.

All three morning shows made the transit shutdown’s effect on New York the lead story in the news-heavy slot between 7-7:25 a.m. NBC’s Lester Holt caught up with Bloomberg on the Brooklyn Bridge, and “GMA” co-hosts Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer opened the show from the subway entrance at Broadway and West 43rd Street near its Times Square location.

Things went smoothly for “Early Show” thanks in part to the early start it got. Some employees, including executive producer Michael Bass and co-anchors Hannah Storm and Rene Syler, got an hour-earlier wake-up. Others were encouraged to stay the night at hotels if they were unsure about arriving on time.

No problems were reported with getting morning-show guests to and from the studios, each show said. Bass said that if the strike continues to wreak havoc on transit, “Early’s” plan is to pick guests up early or put them up in a hotel the night before.