- We asked five scouts about the New York spots that pop up again and again in movies and TV shows.
- The scouts break down what makes these eight spots prime filming locations.
- They explain all the factors Scouts consider when determining a location, from lighting to architecture.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Here is a transcript of the video:
Narrator: It’s a scene from “The Amazing Spider-Man”. This is from Marvel’s “Luke Cage”. And this is a scene from “Joker”. Notice something similar? They are all shot in the exact same location: the 12th Avenue underpass in Harlem.
Samson Jacobson: When you stand under Riverside Drive, I mean, it’s the classic New York abandoned place that everyone always wants.
Narrator: The underpass is known for its viaduct, an arched structure with a grandeur that attracts filmmakers.
Aaron Hurvitz: There’s a lot of play because it’s just a really visually captivating space. This gives this cascading overhang of the ironwork.
Narrator: This is just one of many New York City filming locations that you see popping up again and again in shows and movies. We spoke with five location scouts to find out why these spots are in such high demand.
If you look closely at prison scenes in a bunch of New York movies, you’ll see that they were all filmed at Arthur Kill Correctional Facility. This disused Staten Island jail has everything you could need for a prison or jail scene, from the barbed wire and guard tower out front to the real cells inside. It also comes with plenty of space, with 70 acres of land and those long hallways. It helps in choreographing action sequences.
Malaika Johnson: It’s that kind of setup, and there aren’t many of them, that lends itself to those very long, uninterrupted takes, like season three of “Daredevil.” 12 or 13 uncut minutes, just moving through the whole space, down the hallways, past the cells, to the front door.
Narrator: The location is surprisingly versatile.
Malaika: Multiple cellblocks can look like different prisons if you didn’t want to be in one.
Bruno Barros: There are sections that could work as a hospital, and that’s great because, let’s say you have to marry two locations together and those scenes don’t fill a full day. You can combine them in one day and film it there, for example.
Narrator: The establishment’s giant parking lot was even disguised as Afghanistan for “The Code”.
Dramatic mystery scenes, bad guy showdowns, and wild car stunts have all used this setting: the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a holdover from industrial New York. Brooklyn once had a busy industrial waterfront, but in recent decades high-rise apartment complexes and office buildings have moved in and transformed the former manufacturing hub into a much more residential one. That’s why scouts return again and again to this shipyard, where 70,000 people once worked before it closed in 1966. When it’s all stripped down, abandoned docks and towering warehouses can create an eerie look, just what shipyards are looking for. police shows.
Malaika: You want that, you know, really industrial or “Oh, no, somebody’s getting murdered on the docks at night!” Great place to go.
Narrator: Bodies have been dumped in this drydock during several shows. The amount of open space makes it possible to perform wild stunts, like when “Daredevil” blew up a boat at the docks.
Malaika: At the end of the first “John Wick” movie, there was a car chase, and then a car crashed into this dry dock. You know, I fell into it.
Narrator: Many filmmakers focus on the grit of the city, but some scenes call for a more buttoned-up New York setting, like this one that pops up again and again in scenes involving business or government meetings. Manhattan is full of office space, but many are located on extremely high floors, which means that the lighting is very dependent on the sky. Rather than relying on natural light from windows, filmmakers need to control the lighting.
Eric Papa: Then you can basically shoot it however you want and still make it look the same.
Narrator: But the higher the office spaces, the more difficult it is to light them. This is what makes this place special. It’s an office on the third floor of the Brooklyn Public Library with large windows through which crews can squeeze light, and since it’s on an accessible floor, they can do so without resorting to a big Condor elevator. . The desk also has a versatile mid-century design that can work across decades, from modern business dramas like “Billions” to period pieces like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Many of the most famous subway scenes are shot in a specific station: Hoyt-Schermerhorn. The reason why this place is so popular? Well, filming authentic subway scenes comes with huge challenges.
Samson: Sometimes you are at the mercy of the MTA, and things can change. This is what happened for “In the Heights”. They had to redirect their trash trains, and basically their trash trains had to go through our set.
Narrator: Crews are less likely to encounter these logistical problems if filming on tracks that are no longer in use, such as Hoyt-Schermerhorn. It’s a workstation, but with one platform disabled among three active. Samson: It’s a place where we know we can film during normal office hours.
Narrator: The signage can make it virtually any other subway station, like in this scene from “Coming to America.” When Lisa enters the station, it’s labeled as Van Wyck Boulevard, but if you look closely, you’ll see it’s actually Hoyt. The giveaway is these blue and yellow tiles with an L circled in the middle, remnants of what was once one of Brooklyn’s largest stores, Loeser’s, which stood where Hoyt stands today. Then when Lisa exits the train, the station is labeled Sutphin, but this was also filmed at Hoyt.
Do you recognize this bar? He’s appeared in everything from TV shows like “Gotham” to movies like “The Kitchen.” For scenes set in dive bars and dark back rooms, directors like Martin Scorsese often want the real deal. Brooklyn’s Irish Haven has retained its tiled floors and woodwork mostly unchanged since 1964, when it was a favorite place for ironworkers to relax after work. There is a pool table, dart board and jukebox.
Eric: He also has that great seasoned New York look. You don’t need to change too much when you go.
Narrator: The no-frills exterior and dimly lit interior are well-suited to gritty environments like Gotham, and the classic dive-in setting can stand in for other cities, too, not just New York. The bar and pool table are famous for those scenes from the Boston filming of “The Departed.”
When you see New York in a movie, you might see a scene like this or this: a dark, seedy alleyway filled with graffiti, shuttered apartment windows, and old fire escapes. But in reality, New York doesn’t really have any alleys, which means dozens of famous scenes were shot in that exact location to achieve that gritty look. One of the reasons so many scripts call for New York City scenes to be set in alleyways is, well, Hollywood.
Aaron: The writing of most projects takes place in Los Angeles.
Samson: When you go to LA, there are alleys everywhere.
Narrator: New York was designed according to the grid system, with little or no space for alleyways.
Aaron: Real estate is so valuable that we simply haven’t left room for it.
Samson: If they envision the back streets of LA, they probably won’t find them. But there are other types of smaller and narrower alleys.
Narrator: Like Cortlandt Alley, which might be the busiest filming location in all of Manhattan.
Eric: It’s an alley that gives you just about everything. It’s fire escapes, it’s graffiti.
Narrator: Most apartment windows have those large, decades-old shutters, which add to the alley aesthetic. Crews can put lights inside the windows of the apartments above.
Eric: I paid people in the same apartment buildings for lighting positions looking at the exact same places that, you know, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” also shot.
Narrator: The use of location goes beyond grainy scenes. Take this wholesome scene in “Annie,” which Eric worked on. The team used Cortlandt Alley to create a path for this chase sequence, adding trash and boxes as obstacles. Small nooks in the alley served as hiding places for dog trainers during filming.
Aaron: As Cortlandt Alley belongs to the city, it is cheaper to film there. As it is one of the few public walkways, it is used all the time.
Narrator: So much so that it is sometimes placed in what is called the “hot zone”.
Eric: In New York, when something’s been filmed too much and the locals aren’t happy with the impact it’s having, the mayor’s office puts something on the hot zone, and that means there’s kind of a moratorium on filming until they take it down there.
Narrator: Cortlandt Alley has remained more or less the same for decades, but in much of New York, things are constantly changing. Those steps in “Joker”? They were actually the director’s second choice. Todd Phillips originally requested this menacing staircase from “American Gangster.”
Aaron: And when I went to visit it, it had had a makeover. Brand new concrete, cute little trees. It had been pressure washed of all graffiti and sand.
Narrator: After visiting 25-30 different streets, Aaron found this one, which had exactly what they were looking for. It brought drama.
Aaron: In terms of the length and steepness of the stairs, which were a bit confined and narrow, it hit all the boxes, and it had this great view right from the top over the city which really worked for us too.
Narrator: The location became instantly iconic, showing that even though the face of the city is constantly changing, New York will always be a great place to shoot movies.