Ruining the Shot: Would You Walk Through a Production Filming on the Street?

The Amazing Spider-Man II in Union Square. (via ShootTheBlueJays)

The Amazing Spider-Man II in Union Square. (via ShootBlueJays)

Some New York residents feel that the number of movies and TV shows being shot in the city is reaching a critical mass. Basically every neighborhood in Brooklyn has complained about shooting schedules that majorly inconvenience their lives (and livelihoods) by forcing them to stay indoors, remove their vehicles from the street and, most annoyingly, detour from their destination because some guy with a clipboard and an oversized sense of his own authority is saying, “THOU SHALT NOT PASS.”

On Tuesday, we were furious to discover that half of Union Square had been shut down for what appeared to be a live filming of Chris Angel: Mindfreak, but, we were later informed, was a scene from The Amazing Spider-Man II. (Why the giant smoke machines and fake lightning HAD to be shot in Union Square, we have no idea.)

But though they might speak from a place of authority, do production assistants actually have the right to physically bar you from walking down the street and into a shot?

To begin with, is not legal for productions to block an entire sidewalk from pedestrians, no matter how irately someone is trying to stop you. (On Tuesday, an unfortunate group of P.A.s was almost forced to create a human chain to keep people out.) They might act–very rudely, in some cases–like you aren’t permitted to pass, in which case you should always ask to speak to the location manager (whose name and number should be listed on those signs warning about filming in the neighborhood). If you’re being treated disrespectfully, the Mayor’s Office recommends that you immediately call their Office of Film, Theatre, and Television:

If a problem remains, contact the OFTB immediately by dialing 212-489-6710, so that the problem can be rectified while the project is still in production. You can also contact the NYPD Movie/TV Unit at 212-239-2521. Do not wait until after the shoot. The OFTB will take appropriate action right away.

HOWEVER: Some high-end productions do employ the NYPD to keep crazy people from coming up to the talent during filming (or afterward), which makes the legality of the whole situation sort of muddled.

Whether or not its legal to actually walk through a shot is unclear, however. The response The Observer received from the mayor’s office left a lot of room for interpretation:

[S]afety is a production’s first concern, therefore it’s appropriate for a production that has received a film permit to request that passers-by take an alternate route or wait for a short while during filming…Just like someone wouldn’t walk through an active construction site, it’s safest not to walk through a film set since you don’t know what work is being done. Safety is the number one concern for all involved.

So: inadvisable. But not, we can extrapolate from this response, illegal.
According to a source in the New York film production industry:

They call it “locking up” but a pedestrian never ever has to stop for a PA. Only a police officer if there is a pyro effect, car chase, gun play, ect.

And still unclear what authority the production has to tackle you to the ground if you’re trying to ruin their martini shot.

Of course, the perk of being a pissed-off New Yorker is if you kick up enough of a fuss, you can sometimes be cajoled into complacency by freebies, which is what canny productions have offered in the past: two summers ago, a production in Williamsburg offered fussy hipsters tickets to a local eatery in exchange for staying out of their way (a clever move, since movies and shows filmed in New York are supposed to be helping out local businesses). Or the open bar tab, paid for by HBO, for a birthday girl whose loud house party was ruining a street scene in Girls.

Then again, you won’t know for sure what you’ll be in for if you try to walk onto an active set, and we’re not going to be the ones going head to head with a gang of furious, nonunion production assistants working an eight-hour shooting schedule for breadcrumbs and free catering.

Recently, we heard of a man who staged a mini-protest and walked through a Spider-Man shot. His fate, however, is unknown. If you have had experience taking a stand against the film business blocking your way, let us know!