70 years ago in The Villager

By Jessica Mintz

Volume 73, Number 24 | October 15 – 21, 2003

Residents and businesses reel off complaints about film shoots

On-location film shoots in the Village have long lost their luster. It’s a feeling that has even found its way to Broadway: In the musical “Rent,” a cynical star sings, “Maybe it’s not the moon at all? I hear that Spike Lee’s shooting down the street.”

The next line in the song? “Bah humbug.” It might not be Spike Lee this time, but with at least eight movies shooting in the city this month, not to mention countless commercials and television episodes, it isn’t surprising that Village residents are feeling a bit bah-humbug themselves.

“It’s spun out of control,” said David Gruber, president of the Carmine St. Block Association, who rattled off a list of 14 shoots that he said had occurred the last two weeks in the Village, with four on Carmine St. alone.

“When they’re talking about film shooting in New York, they’re talking about Manhattan… and the Village gets the brunt of Manhattan,” said Gruber. “I’ve lived here my entire adult life. Never have I seen so many film shoots in this part of the Village as we have recently.”

Take, for example, the story of Ruth Kuzub, proprietor of Silversmith on W. 4th St., who spent a day last week fighting fumes from a generator-powered trailer parked outside.

“A huge trailer and another two trucks were parked between Jones and Barrow, and right in front of the store, a motor diesel engine ran for 12 hours,” said Kuzub. “It wasn’t just listening to that — it also screwed business on the street. Every storefront on that street was upset.”

She and other business owners on the block called 311 to complain, but she

didn’t know if there was any follow-up. “We just feel powerless. That’s abusive.”

Permits to shoot in New York City are free, according to Julianne Cho, the director of publicity at the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. That’s meant to entice entertainment production companies to keep contributing $5 billion annually to the city’s economy, in the form of amenities like hotel and car rental, catering and food, hardware and lumber, as well as people they hire locally.

“M.O.F.T.B. works to balance the interests of the hosting neighborhood with those of the production in each instance,” said Cho. “To that end, each production posts signage in the neighborhoods and buildings of affected communities. … Signage and notifications include shoot dates, times, production company details and contact information.”

But when signs were posted for “Taxi NYC,” an upcoming film starring Queen Latifah, Gruber couldn’t find any contact information, or even the right date for the shoot. And often, said Gruber, the signs go up at the same time the crews commandeer the area.

There are other regulations that Gruber’s seen violated recently, like one that prohibits crew members from parking their private cars in areas reserved for the shoot, or another that requires crews to clean up the street when they wrap up filming. Gruber also noticed crews shooting during recent Jewish holidays, when alternate-side parking is suspended, resulting in even more locals having to pay to park their cars in nearby garages.

Kuzub’s is just one of many businesses struggling to make a buck when a camera crew sets up shop and cordons off the block.

“When you have intensity in the Village of 10, 12, 14 shoots in a three-week period, it becomes really disruptive, not only to quality of life, but to the actual business community, which is far more important than film economy,” said Gruber. “When film people come, they do whatever they want, irrespective of how they harm local businesses.… It’s like sticking pins into the community.”

According to Kuzub, sometimes the crew will compensate business owners for disrupting the day’s trade, but not last week. “Maybe they made money, but I certainly didn’t,” she said.

Gruber also said that sometimes the location manager would team up with the block association to mitigate problems with residents and business owners like Kuzub, but lately, that’s often not the case.

“They have been horrifically bad about making contributions,” Gruber said. “It’s not that we’re saying you can violate the regulations by making a contribution, but the underlying idea is, the block associations put money into improving the block,” and when a location scout comes looking for a quaint spot in the Village, it’s often there thanks to the work of the nonprofit block associations, said Gruber.

Still, he and other Village activists are hopeful that the situation can be remedied. Gruber is also a member of Greenwich Village Block Associations, and is on a film office task force that is talking to the M.O.F.T.B. about improving the permit regulations.

“The task force is having an ongoing dialogue with the [mayor’s] film office to try in some way to structure some kind of program that addresses some of these issues,” said Gruber. “The film office has shown its willingness to discuss this with us. We are hoping to successfully come out with something that speaks both to community and business needs, as well as the needs of the film industry.”

Neighbors like Kuzub don’t wish the industry ill, or even wish that the shoots would stop altogether.

“I love having movies made here, but there’s got to be something else that they can do to make motors quiet, or use areas as far as possible from businesses,” said Kuzub. Ideally, she said, trailers would “park somewhere that they’re not going to bother residences, and pollute the air with fumes from diesel.”

“Even minimal requirements are not being adhered to,” said Gruber. “This has gotten out of hand.”

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