Volume 76, Number 24 | November 1 - 7, 2006

'Legends' explosions make neighbors edgy, not jiggy

By Lori Haught

Nighttime explosions, fires and extraordinarily bright lights have been keeping residents around Washington Square Park up for three weeks, and the police are doing nothing about it.

Mainly, because the perpetrators have a permit.

If you live in the Village near the square, you have probably noticed the camera crews, the ripped-out park benches and what a seeming inconvenience it's become to walk in or near Washington Square Park after sunset.

All the hoopla is being caused by the production of “I Am Legend,” based on a novel of the same name by Richard Matheson and a remake of the 1971 film “The Omega Man.”

The movie, starring Will Smith and slated for release in 2007, has caused quite a stir. Although it's still reportedly set in a plague-decimated Los Angeles, like the original, according to several movie Web sites, that hasn't stopped film crews from using New York City trademarks such as the Washington Square Arch and Herald Square as prominent backdrops in their shots.

Some Washington Square residents are up in arms, but the end is in sight. The productions action unit is set to wrap up the shooting on Saturday.

During a visit to the set on Mon. Oct. 30, it was clear what sort occasional inconveniences residents face. They range from the minor, as in not being able to walk down certain sidewalks near the park, to the medium, like having to use the back door to enter a couple of buildings, to the major, like fumes from the fiery explosions wafting into apartment windows all night from the pyrotechnics below.

“My dog got sick,” said Kim Hastreiter, a neighbor. “He's nervous about lightning and thunder, and they set off explosions every 20 minutes from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. one night. It shook the building.”

Hastreiter said that the first few days the filming was cute, and the first week was sort of exciting, but by the second week it was annoying and by the third she was angry.

“I haven't slept for three weeks,” she said. Hastreiter turned down the production company's offer to black out her windows with Duvetyn - an opaque fabric that will block the bright movie lights. Many residents have taken them up on it, but Hastreiter said it's not just the lights.

“They yell at you if you walk your dog on the sidewalk in front of your own building,” she said. “If this were outside of the mayor's house this wouldn't be happening.”

She said she calls the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting every day and vents, but no one ever does anything about the off-putting actions of the movie crew.

“I want to know how much they're getting paid,” she said, referring to the city's revenue from the film shoot.
Nothing, actually. When a movie production unit uses a public place, the city gets paid nothing, according to Julianne Cho, associate commissioner of communications and business development in the film office. However, Cho said, the business and employment opportunities a production brings to the city is worth the use of some public spaces.

Cho said “I Am Legend” is the largest and most logistically complex film ever shot in New York City.

“It is directly employing over 2,600 New Yorkers as production employees and actors,” Cho said of the Will Smith film. “These projects also contribute $5 billion to the local economy on an annual basis.”

It's not all roses for the production people either. The majority of the production assistants are college age, yet face the daunting task of dealing with complaints from a variety of people. Some people have even physically threatened the P.A.'s, according to one “Legend” production assistant who refused to give her name.

“We're not responsible for this, but they take it out on us,” she said.

Watching the way members of the community interacted with the P.A.'s on “lockdown” - the production people who block off foot and motor traffic - it was clear that some were a bit hostile.

At one point a man had a 5-minute argument with one young female P.A. about why he had to cross the street on the opposite side and then recross the opposite way to get to the corner he needed.

The film will be shooting at other locations around the city until February. Neighbors around the South St. Seaport recently complained about “I Am Legend” filming there too.

As of press time, no official representative from the film had issued a comment to The Villager.

However, most passersby were indifferent, gawking for a minute at the camera rig and watching the second unit get some uneventful pickup shots (shots that involve little to no action but work to connect a sequence in a production), then moving on. The night production of the second unit doesn't work with the “stars,” they are the “action” unit, shooting with mainly stunt doubles and extras.

Meanwhile, in the park, life went on. Several well-choreographed light-saber fights were taking place toward the center of the park, unrelated to the movie mayhem, music emanated from a boom box in the fountain and people lounged about on the stone ledges around the central plaza.

Other then the faux daylight and lighted tents around the park, it was hard to tell anything was even out of the norm. Then again, nothing was exploding on Monday night.

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