Here at Museyon, we’ve visited some great on-location destinations. But do you ever wonder how these places actually end up in the movies? We sure do. To find out we talked to Nick Carr, location scout extraordinaire, and the blogger behind Scouting NY. So Nick, what does a location scout really do?
Nick Carr: A location scout, their job is essentially to find the real-life versions of the locations that are imagined in a screenplay. Most of the time when a writer is writing about New York City, they do not live in New York City, they have this idea of what New York City it is, and what it has. And quite a lot of the time, what they have in their heads is not as abundant as what they think it is. So it’s our job to match up what the directors conceive with something that actually exists.
Museyon Guides: What’s the best part about scouting?
NC: Locations is one of the quickest ways that you can have a noticeable effect on a movie. You can make a difference. To be in the art department, where you’re doing props or you’re designing sets, that takes years and years of becoming established. To be an actor in a movie that’s a really tough thing. As a locations person, you are helping to form a very important artist part of the movie. You are finding the locations that are in the movie.
Now you might find 10 houses, and the director chooses which house ultimately goes in. But you are the one who finds those 10 houses. So what I’ve found is locations is a really, really great way to have some sort of impact – noticeable, visible impact – on a film, certainly almost quicker than any other way that you could get involved with it.
MG: Sweet gig. How’d you land it?
NC: I got started in it like most people do — a friend of a friend who got me into the business. My first film job came when I was 22 … I was working for a movie, ‘War of the Worlds’ as a locations PA.
After all the scouting is done for a film shoot, once the locations have been picked, the next step actually have to secure those locations, sign agreements, do contracts, do the whole bit and then actually be there on set to make sure the location goes off. So that’s when they hire this kid – the production assistant – to do all the grunt work. It could be anything from hauling trash out to plunging toilets to everything. Once you learn what making a movie is – after 4-5 months of this – you work your way up to actually scouting.
MG: What’s your favorite discovery you’ve found scouting New York?
NC: One of my favorites is at the corner of First Street and First Ave. If you look up on this building there’s a beach house that perched right on top of a four-story East Village apartment building. It’s great, it’s almost like a magic trick. You could grab anyone off the street and say, “Hey, have you ever seen this before.” And they will tell you, “No. Oh my gosh, I had no idea that was up there!” Literally thousands of people pass by it every day — this beach house — and they have no idea that it exists four stories up.
MG: Any location pet peeves?
NC: The one that always annoys me is when I get asked to find alleys, alleyways in New York City. Every screenwriter in Hollywood images that New York City is this city teeming with dank, dark alleys. The reality is that it’s an island; land is at a premium. The idea of just having this little eight-foot wide space to be used as some sort of weird backstreet is unheard of. I would say there’s about five or six alleys – and that’s being generous – in Manhattan, and they’ve all been shot to death. They’re in ‘Spiderman’ where the famous kiss takes place. Every movie they get repeated.
MG: What’s your favorite on-location scene in a movie?
NC: Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan‘ certainly captures the city in a way that really highlights everything about it. One of my favorite New York movies, that is a very, very iconic New York movie is ‘Ghostbusters‘. I love the film, but not only that, I love how it presents New York. That movie was probably my introduction to New York City.
MG: Another city you’d like to scout?
NC: I love scouting places that are not in Manhattan. I love scouting any of the other boroughs. You’d be surprised how infrequently we’re asked to go to the Bronx, or Brooklyn or Queens. I’ve been everywhere in Manhattan, and everywhere new is great.
MG: A lot of people complain about how quickly New York changes. You must see this on a day-to-day basis on the job…
NC: Manhattan’s Manhattan in the sense that most people realize the importance of historical properties in Manhattan. Everything is landmarked; it’s very difficult to change anything in Manhattan. But Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island … there are incredible properties in horrible states of decay that are really tragic. You go out to the Richmond Hill area of Queens and there are some beautiful Victorian mansions with the turret spires and the huge porches, oval windows, and they’re in really bad states of disrepair. In Brooklyn there is something called the Admiral’s Row – which is part of the Brooklyn Naval Yard. You drive down Flatbush Ave. and you see this line of mansions which used to be officers’ housing. These beautiful masnions that are literally about to fall down. And they will. And it’s tragic because they’re beautiful, they’re incredible and they will never exist again. And if it were Manhattan, they would be saved.
All photos: Nick Carr/Scouting NY