MOVIE  SETS  AND  THE  CITY

NEW YORK CITY, June 6, 2005
 
(STAR) LIFE & STYLE By Millet M. Mananquil  -  Nicole Kidman wore a wig in The Interpreter. She’s one actress who’d rather wear a wig than wake up early to have her hair done.

And yes, The Interpreter was the first movie ever allowed for filming at the UN Headquarters in New York. The joke goes that UN people were so starstruck, they wouldn’t miss reporting for work with Nicole Kidman.

Friends, the comedy series about six friends who faced life and love in New York, was actually filmed mostly in Los Angeles. It’s the crew who actually flew to NY to capture outdoor scenes. The same is true for Will & Grace, as well as Seinfield, that quintessential New York City show.

These are but a few behind-the-scenes stories told to us during the Manhattan TV and Movie Tour which we chose from a long list of tours offered to the delegates by the Travel Association of America 2005 International Pow Wow in New York last month.

"Yes, New York is the most filmed city in the world. It’s a very vain city, we love seeing our city on film," smiles our bubbly tour guide Erika Villalba who describes herself as a wannabe star waiting for her big break.

"The world wakes up to New York," she says citing The Today Show at the NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center. Yes, we go to bed with New York as well, letting Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Conan O’Brien lull us to sleep, rather deprive us of a few more precious hours of bedtime.

"The movie industry began in the East, but was made glamorous in the West. New York City is really a beautiful place for a walk, though you might get mugged along the way," our tour guide laughs.

Okay, but if New York is so picture-pretty for films, why do those quintessential NYC shows have to be party filmed in Los Angeles?

"If Friends were to be shot entirely in NYC it would entail very expensive production values, starting from rental space alone. Rentals in NYC have zoomed up."

Truth is, many areas assume higher real estate values once celebrities choose these as their home. TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal Street, bordered by Broadway and West street) has been gentrified by settlers such as Robert De Niro and Isabella Rossellini. Now the neighborhood is known for some of NYC’s finest restos, including Nobu, Danube, Bouley and Chanterelle. The award-winning TriBeCa Grill is owned by De Niro himself and uber restaurateur Drew Nieporent. Our guide says TriBeCa has become the Hollywood of NYC.

"Actually, Friends is the most unrealistic TV show about New York life," our guide says. "First of all, Monica, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe and Joey seem to be never working. Either they’re hanging out in their apartments or having coffee at Central Perk.

"And how can Monica afford a humongous apartment?" Our guide gives a realistic answer to her own question: "Rent control laws in NYC, thank God!"

Televiewers get to see the facades of the Friends’ apartment buildings. But the interior shots are really done on the set in LA.

"Look at Seinfeld. Notice how Jerry’s apartment has earthquake cracks on the wall? Earthquakes are a very LA thing," she says.

But let’s go to scenes which are very New York.

Al’s Kitchen in Seinfeld, manned by the Soup Nazi ("No soup for you" if he does not like you) has become so famous it rakes in $20,000 worth of business a day!

Moondance Diner (where Monica of Friends and Mary Jane, the girlfriend of Spider-man worked) has become a familiar landmark in NYC.

Then there’s Magnolia Bakery, where the Sex and the City girls got their fave cupcakes. Now, people line up to get those celebrated cupcakes. We almost did, until we found out the goodies (from $1.25 for buns and $40 for cakes) were not too palatable for Pinoy budgets. Besides, these were too calorific!

Such lucky restos! There are 400 Starbucks in NYC and 350 McDonald’s in Manhattan, but filmmakers would rather let little places sizzle to stardom.

Someone has yet to make the fictitious Central Perk a real watering hole, though.

What about Serendipity (in the same movie title) and Rainbow Room (in Sleepless in Seattle). Are the resto owners still sleepless counting their profits?

Do five-star hotels like The Plaza Hotel (Almost Famous, Arthur, It Could Happen to You, Home Alone II) and Waldorf Astoria (Coming to America, Maid in Manhattan and Serendipity) earn more stars after being used in movies?

For sure, brands like Tiffany’s (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks (Sex and the City) have become fashion must-haves. And shops like Bloomingdales (Tootsie), Macy’s (Maid in Manhattan) and FAO Schwarz (Big and Home Alone II) became even bigger retailing institutions after starring in movies.

About 200 films are shot every year in New York, and the city is aching for more. Why?

"It makes sense to promote New York City," explains Katherine Oliver, commissioner for NYC’s Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting.

"Look at what Sex and the City did for Blahniks and Choos," Oliver adds. "We need to reinforce NYC as a great city. Its heyday was in the late ‘90s, a time when the Internet bubble burst, and then 9/11 happened. We realized we had to push the ‘Made in NY’ incentive program for filmmakers. While Los Angeles charges $200 for a film permit, our locations are free, and we give tax credits (10 percent refundable tax credit for NY State). We provide bus shelters, plus police officers per eight-hour shifts to provide protection."

Through the decades – from high visions of the Empire State Building (An Affair to Remember, twice made) to down-to-earth scenes in Central Park (Autumn in New York), movies made in New York City have shown viewers how the city has evolved and continues to evolve. The lights, camera and action focus not only on slices of drama and humor, but also history. It’s all being filmed in New York, and yes, we wanna be a part of it. Even if just as spectators.

Tours on movies and TV shows filmed in New York cost only between $10 and $30, and range from two hours to half a day. For inquiries on these and flights to New York, call Northwest Airlines at 726-2331.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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