It’s 9 on a Friday night and Comedy Central is trying to maneuver tourist crowds in Times Square to get the perfect shot. The network hasn’t dragged out high-tech video equipment, rather the 16-year-old star of its latest series, "The Other Two," is filming himself on an iPhone.
"It’s fun. It’s hectic, but it’s very authentic," says Charlie Gruet, the cinematographer of the series that’s taken over the Thursday night slot previously held by "Broad City." "Filming on location in New York City is just a whole different workflow and process than a normal production."
"The Other Two" — which pokes fun at two broke millennials apartment hopping while their teenage brother ChaseDreams finds viral fame in the entertainment industry thanks to a cheesy pop single — is the latest major network series to incorporate the city streets as a key character.
In its premiere season, the series has already brought its leading characters Brooke (Heléne Yorke), Cary (Drew Tarver) and Chase (Chase Walker) to the heart of Times Square, Rockefeller Center, the Brooklyn Bridge and inside lavish SoHo apartments, and venues like the Queens Museum of the Moving Image.
Filming on location in the city, no matter how challenging, is worth it to Gruet, who says he strives for "100 percent authenticity" whenever possible.
"For [Chase] to be in the real Times Square, actually filming a selfie video himself, it works to have those people in the background wondering who he is and what’s going on," he adds.
The cinematographer, having previously worked on "Saturday Night Live" and "High Maintenance," is no stranger to filming in the city’s busiest of spots. He heads to an area of Times Square designated for filming, which puts glowing billboards behind Walker in his selfie shot.
The series mocks the influence of social media on today’s entertainment industry, mirroring a Justin Bieber-style success story for its leading teen who sings about falling in love at recess. Of course, some of his big moves need to be live streamed.
So, Gruet finds himself in midtown crafting a unique scene that’s shot entirely by the actor himself.
"Sure, we could have used a GoPro or digital camera to appear like a selfie, but I always found that lacks a little authenticity," he says.
Without the ability to preview the footage on large TV screens, Gruet and the team huddle around an iPhone after each selfie shot, watching and giving pointers for the next take.
"Obviously, there are a lot of challenges," he says. "Some spectators don’t understand they can’t just stand right next to him and see what’s going on. We’re trying to get the shot, but also trying to make sure it’s safe and you’re being respectful and considerate to the citizens of New York too. It’s a balance."
At 9 p.m., there’s just the right amount of people gathered in the area to make for an ideal backdrop. "It wasn’t like there were any late-night hooligans running around or anything, but it was still a challenge," Gruet says.
It’s a similar experience when filming on the Brooklyn Bridge, where space and time are extremely limited.
For such location shoots, only necessary personnel for the scene will join — and they’ll leave any nonessential, hefty equipment behind.
With a city filming permit in hand, the crew has set timespans where foot and bicycle traffic is diverted to safely accommodate the crew. "It’s not easy. It’s a long walk up, because we can’t bring all the trucks, and have little space to set up lights," he says. "We have to time it really well."