Residents: Filming the apocalypse creates pandemonium


By Brooke Edwards

Emotions range from thrilled to furious and everything in between at the conversion of the Seaport Historic District into an apocalyptic war zone for the latest filming of “I am Legend” starring Will Smith.

The film crew is not new to Seaport, having already come to the neighborhood for several days back in mid-October.

They arrived this time on Sunday morning to set up their equipment and clear virtually every street in the area to make room for their trucks and trailers. Actual filming began Tuesday night and will continue weeknights until Jan. 30.

Many people were excited to see the magic of Hollywood unfold before their eyes and possibly catch a glimpse of Smith, as a small crowd of onlookers gathered during filming on Tuesday night. Two students from nearby Pace University had even ditched class to watch the excitement.

However, many Seaport residents are complaining about parking issues, disruptions to their lives through the “overwhelming” presence of the film crew, and the uncomfortable memories of 9/11 stirred by the nature of the production.

“Everyone is tired of our neighborhood being taken over,” said Michael Glynn, a Seaport resident. “The background for everyone here is September 11th and no one has fully recovered from that.”

“I am Legend” is based on the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson about the last man on earth following a vampire-like-plague that ravages the world.

This portion of the filming includes Army and Coast Guard helicopters that will continue to circle overhead each night, shining spotlights toward the Brooklyn Bridge. There are giant floodlights that will illuminate the Hudson from across the river and from Pier 17 at the Seaport Mall. Police and Coast Guard boats will stand guard in the water, creating a buffer zone around the filming area and directing mariners toward the Brooklyn shore to pass.

At the base of the bridge Tuesday night were military tanks and mock N.Y.P.D. and military personnel with riot gear ready. The bridge scene included 1,000 extras with suitcases in hand, waiting to stage an evacuation of Manhattan on a barge docked under the bridge.

Julianne Cho, associate commissioner for the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, wrote in an email on Tuesday, “The public should not be alarmed by activity beginning Tuesday evening in the vicinity of the Brooklyn Bridge… Scenes will be shot for the film ‘I am Legend’ beginning at 4 p.m. Tuesday, January 23…”

Though every sign and source told residents that filming would begin on Tuesday night, the problems began on Sunday morning for Glynn.

Glynn parked his car on Front St. last Saturday night, where he says there were no signs warning residents not to park, and came out Sunday morning to threats of being towed.

Glynn described “a dozen or more pretty intimidating, rough guys” who were stationed “like pit bulls at the end of each block.” Glynn said confrontations between residents and these “thugs” escalated into violence that morning, as one man got into a fistfight with film security.

After paying $30 a day Sunday and Monday to park in a lot blocks away, Glynn approached the film crew with his complaints Tuesday evening. He was then given a parking sticker and told he could park in one of the film’s lots for free.

Though he is grateful, Glynn is upset that residents were not offered access to the free parking before he wasted $60. “It could have been arranged ahead of time,” Glynn said. “It is just not well organized.”

Una Perkins, a Southbridge Towers resident and member of Community Board 1, said she did not know about the filming until floodlights filled her apartment on Monday night. “I didn’t even need to turn my lights on,” she said. She also heard helicopters that night, as she watched cars being towed out of the filming area from the balcony of her apartment.

There was mention of an offer to blackout windows in Perkins’ building, but she says, “That’s not enough. That is only a small part of the inconvenience.”

For Perkins, her main complaint is the trauma to residents as they hear the planned explosions and see the helicopters, tanks and bright lights. She said warning residents does not erase their concern.

“We have been through so much with 9/11 and that fear never goes away,” Perkins said. “What about the kids who don’t understand what’s going on?”

The film’s four blue beam lights across the East River also look somewhat similar to the Tribute in Lights that shine for each anniversary of Sept. 11.

In spite of statements to the contrary by both the mayor’s office and a publicist for “I am Legend,” rumors spread that the Brooklyn Bridge would be shut down for filming — and during rush hour, nonetheless.

Even extras for the film thought that the bridge would be closing Tuesday night. Ralph Walker, an aspiring actor from the Bronx, was on set for the evacuation scene. He said, “They told us that they were closing the bridge at six,” as he glanced at his watch. “So we are just waiting.”

Walker arrived at the Seaport at 1 p.m. on Tuesday and was told that he would be working until 5 a.m. the next morning.

Both on-site security for the film and N.Y.P.D. officers assigned to the area assured the public that the bridge would not be closing.

“That’s impossible,” one N.Y.P.D. officer said. “The bridge will not be closing.” He said that the Seaport road closures and crowds of Tuesday night were “the worst it’s gonna get.”

“Access to the bridge will be open at all times,” confirmed Cho from the Mayor’s office. “Scenes will be shot…on a barge south of the Brooklyn Bridge (not on the bridge).”

Local businesses did not appear to be suffering from the chaos going on outside their doors. Some shops and restaurants were benefiting from the additional crowds to the area, while others were unaffected.

Renee Lee manages SUteiSHI, an Asian restaurant that opened in December at the corner of Peck Slip and Front St. In spite of the view diners now have of huge white trailers out her front window, Lee said her customers have not been deterred by the filming.

“Business has not increased or decreased so far,” Lee said. She is optimistic and said, “It may be good in that people are noticing us and will hopefully come back as customers.”

Lee was also positive about the job the city did in informing local businesses about the filming.

“They prepared us very well,” Lee said. She was given notice last Wednesday about what to expect during filming, and was notified in December that she would have to park her car somewhere other than under the F.D.R. during these weeks.

Lee had even managed to catch a glimpse of Will Smith Tuesday afternoon and declared him “dashing.”

Fans and critics alike will have continued cause for discussion, as filming for “I am Legend” is scheduled in various locations throughout the city through mid-March.