Favorite Location Shoots

New York Times
When This Stranger Knocks, It’s Thrilling
March 15, 2013


Paul Kostick, a New Yorker by way of Colorado (where he studied acting and directing) and Seattle (where he began his career in 1992 working for Tom Hanks) has seen the inside of more of the city’s homes than most New Yorkers.

As a location scout, location manager and producer, Mr. Kostick, who lives in the East Village with his wife and two children, has spent nearly two decades checking out every possible locale, including countless houses and apartments, largely in the five boroughs, to see if they qualify for star turns in movies, television shows, commercials and videos.

Q How would you describe what you do?

A It’s like detective work. You’re always trying to find a one-of-a-kind place, one that no one has ever seen before. But the location also has to work from a technical point of view. And it has to please a lot of people – the client, the production designer, the art team and most of all the director.

Q How many locations in the city have you visited?

A Easily over 10,000 locations. For just one movie, you could be looking at several hundred locations over a solid month. You might see three places in an hour. I’ve probably taken 400,000 pictures. That’s just digital.

Q What strikes you about the places you’ve seen?

A I get to see the ways people live, so many extremes. I’ve seen SoHo lofts with a closet as big as some people’s apartments, and it’s just the shoe closet. I remember an apartment in the West Village so small the kids slept in the kitchen. What people will do to live in New York is amazing.

Q What are some of the most impressive things you’ve seen?

A I’ve seen places with museum collections on the walls – Rothkos and Basquiat paintings. I’ve seen some amazing triplexes in TriBeCa that would blow your mind. I remember a living room in Brooklyn that was filled with vintage Porsches.

Q The worst place?

A There was a place in Carroll Gardens before the neighborhood popped. When I talked to the owner on the phone, the guy was thrilled, said he couldn’t wait for me to pay a visit. When I arrived, there was three feet of garbage on the floor, plus this terrible odor. I politely took some pictures, and then the guy said, “So what do you think?” I said: “It’s great. I’ll let you know.” What else can you say?

Q What makes people want to have their home used as a film site?

A Nobody’s ever going to earn a living, but the money, which can range from $1,000 a day up to $40,000 a day for super-high end, can pay for a nice vacation or go to a kid’s college fund. But most people do it because it’s fun. It’s cool. They’re flattered to be chosen. Your home might be in the next “Law & Order” or Cheerios commercial.

Q And the downsides?

A Most people have no idea what’s involved. There are dozens of people in your home for 18 hours a day. It’s hugely disruptive, which is why people may decide to move out and stay in a hotel, which the production sometimes pays for. New York film crews generally try hard to take care of people’s homes, but floors get scratched, the silk wallpaper can accidentally get ripped. Once we got permission to knock down a wall to allow for certain camera angles. We rebuilt it, then after three weeks, we had to knock it down again.

Q People are sometimes amazed at how different their homes look on screen. Why?

A You may have incredible furniture and great taste. But the space has to work for the client’s or movie’s needs first – the plot, the character, the color palette. The art director says, “It’s great, but I want it blue.” So during the prep period, we get rid of some things we love but don’t work. We might remove all your furniture and bring in our own. We’ll ask if we can repaint the walls. We cover your appliances with stainless steel Contact Paper or replace the doors on your $10,000 fridge. We never just walk in and shoot.

Q How do you find locations?

A I always have my camera with me. I’m always looking, always taking notes. There are also location services, like Andrea Raisfeld Locations, Featured in Films or the Location Department. When we zero in on a neighborhood we want, sometimes we blanket an area with fliers. We talk to doormen. Maybe we get 40 callbacks. Seven places will work, and the director likes one. So you need a lot of choice.

Q What makes a home a good place to film?

A It has to do with the bones of a building, the layout, the flow. How can you place a camera in a space and make the space look interesting? How much depth can you see through a doorway? Prewar is always great. Those Classic 6’s on Riverside Drive and West End Avenue are perfect.

Q What makes a place not work?

A Walk-ups are nearly impossible. You’re carting up so much equipment – semis full of stuff, along with sometimes 60-plus people – the grip and lighting crew, the art department, and props, plus client and agency. If I chose a fourth-floor walk-up, the grips would hang me. Too much glass can be a deal-breaker, too, because you have to control the light. That’s sometimes a problem with lofts.

Q Do people object if you’re going to film a murder scene?

A Are you kidding? Everyone loves the idea of a bloody body in the lobby. With “Damages,” we often needed a place to dump a dead body. You’d think this would have turned people off, but no one ever batted an eye. For one job, I told a woman whose house we wanted to use, “There’s going to be a rape, a murder, a body thrown in the bushes to decompose.” And she said, “That sounds great.”

Q What is the hardest thing to find?

A Believe it or not, it’s kitchens. Everybody’s got one, but you can’t see them from the street. You have to get into the apartment because the front of the building isn’t going to give up any clues what’s inside. Then the kitchen has to be beautiful. And big.

Q What’s your best memory from working on “Sex and the City”?

A Filming the scene on East 92nd Street when Aidan proposes to Carrie. We were right under Woody Allen’s apartment, and all day long I saw his wife, Soon-Yi, looking down and watching us. With all the commotion, it’s like a circus, so I waved up and apologized for all the disruption. But she was very nice. “It’s fine,” she said. “I never get to go to film sets.” She watched the whole thing.

Q What makes you know that a movie has been shot in New York?

A The huge stacks of buildings extending all the way down an avenue. And the water towers.

Q Of all the locations where you’ve filmed, any memorable neighborhood stories?

A I especially remember a Christmas commercial for Acura with Bette Midler that we filmed in September in Douglaston, Queens. She was wearing one of her crazy Bette Midler outfits and singing carols, and we made fake snow all over the neighborhood, 90 percent of which was made of little pieces of paper. It was biodegradable, but it was still a mess. And I got to know the neighbors, who sat on their lawn chairs and drank hot chocolate while we were filming.

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