Film fees are no mere tokens to subway

THE BALTIMORE SUN

They're shooting like crazy on New York's subways -- and the Transit Authority couldn't be happier.

The nation's film producers have fallen in love with the city's mass transit system, paying almost $1 million annually to feature its trains and stations in their cinematic fantasies. Just check the credits.

The IRT's Bowling Green station starred recently in "Batman Forever" and the entire system fills the silver screen this fall in "Money Train," a Columbia Pictures release starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson as bad transit cops.

"There has been constant interest in the subways over the years, but the recent growth has been consistent with the overall growth of the film industry in New York," said Jack Lusk, the Transit Authority senior vice president in charge of customer relations.

It is part of Mr. Lusk's job to keep Hollywood happy. His office has prepared a guide to movie and television production in the subways, and taken out ads in entertainment trade papers touting the allure of a New York underground location.

Ten feature films, eight commercials and four television shows or videos were filmed on the subway system in 1993, netting the TA $263,950. The number of feature films increased to 13 last year, with total income from all productions increasing to $837,695.

This year, the TA has already made $669,465 from "Money Train," a new Spike Lee film and commercials featuring Coca-Cola and the "Batman Forever" video game. Income from the future filming of "I'm Not Rappaport," "Sleepers" and "Erasure," along with television and commercial shoots, may bring this year's total to $1 million.

The Transit Authority does not profit from the fees; the money goes toward equipment maintenance and employee salaries required during a movie shoot.

The agency's objective is to encourage filming in New York, Mr. Lusk said.

"The fees vary," he said. "Back in 1991, we charged the producers of 'Glengarry Glen Ross' about $3,000. For the [1994] movie 'The Cowboy Way,' we charged several hundred thousand dollars because of their extensive use of the system.

"They used the tracks on the Manhattan Bridge. There was a lot of time and energy involved."

Last year TA officials, hoping to improve the subway's image, tried to ban the filming of violent scenes on their property.

Al Gallardo, then the agency's director of community relations, said that "we don't want to create this image that the subways are not safe."

"You don't want to have senseless violence -- shootings, bombings in the subway system," Mr. Gallardo said. "That affects ridership."

The TA backed down after talks with the mayor's and governor's film

offices, which reminded the authority of the income feature films bring to the city.

Besides, as Jeffrey Hayes, a producer of the television series "Law and Order" noted, "What else are you going to film there, a love story in the subway?"

Still, Mr. Lusk said: "We strive to avoid negative images. We don't want to see trains covered with graffiti in the movies because they aren't covered with graffiti anymore."

The TA tries to keep Hollywood's interaction with everyday subway riders to a minimum. They encourage night shoots, when the movie makers can use idle tracks at locations such as the Times Square shuttle station.

"At night we only run on two of the four tracks, so no service is disrupted," Mr. Lusk said.

Not every city subway scene is actually filmed in the subways. Columbia Pictures re-created a station in East Los Angeles -- at a cost of $4.5 million -- for "Money Train," although the opening scenes were filmed in Union Square.

Twentieth Century Fox built a fake subway tunnel in Goose Creek, S.C., for the movie "Die Hard With A Vengeance."

But you can't beat the authenticity of a real New York subway station, Mr. Lusk said.

And what's his favorite New York subway movie?

"There's a scene I really liked in "Crocodile' Dundee,'" he said. "But for an entire film, it's 'The French Connection.' That was great."

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