Why Scouting NY Is Coming To An End

Dear Scouting NY reader,

About a decade ago, I was hired to work on my first movie.

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Yep, that’s me on set in my very first job in locations, and though I look quite elated to be wearing that ridiculous hardhat, I was actually feeling extremely scared when this picture was taken, for one simple reason:

I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

I’d just graduated from college a few months back, and had been trying desperately ever since to get a job on a film production. As an aspiring director/screenwriter, all I wanted was to get some actual on-set work to understand how “real” movies were made. I scoured job boards and sent out resumes to every listing I could find – and didn’t hear back from a single one.

For a moment, there was a glimmer of hope. A friend helped me get a job working as the assistant to an ultra low budget director making an indie romantic comedy, for the impressive salary of $100 a week. Sadly, the production closed down after only a few weeks without a single day of shooting, and I was back to where I started. I thought I was sunk.

Then, one day, completely out of the blue, I got a call from someone I’d met briefly while working on the indie film. This person happened to recall that I was pretty good with tech stuff, and would I be interested in working on a movie he was helping to location manage, Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds?

up03Me attempting a cooler pose after the embarrassing hardhat photograph

I said yes before he could even describe the position…which turned out to be a rather unusual one.

Essentially, Tom Cruise had a stipulation in his contract that guaranteed him four hard internet lines and four hard phones lines in his trailer at every one of the dozens of shooting locations we were scheduled to visit up and down the East Coast, from upstate New York to West Virginia. I was to be solely responsible for making this happen, from logistics to installation to support.

I had no idea what I was doing.

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Luckily, I’m a quick learner when it comes to tech stuff, and it didn’t take long before the trunk of my car looked like it belonged to a seasoned telecom vet. For phone lines, I worked with Verizon to run lines from the nearest pole to where his camper would be parked. As for internet?

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Pictured above is the “Wireless Internet Trailer,” an enormous satellite dish on wheels some guy had built to miraculously provide internet anywhere you wanted it. As I heard frequently on set, this was to be the future of portable internet access.

It was designed to be idiot-proof. The teamsters would off-load it next to Tom’s camper. I’d then push the button, the dish would rise up, circle around until it got a signal, four lights would blink on, and we had internet. I’d run the hard lines to Tom’s trailer, then start planning the next location.

Except it never, ever worked. I would go on to spend many a freezing morning that winter huddling up in the cold as I waited for a fourth connect light that would never turn on.

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Though I was extremely grateful to finally be working on a film set, I was a bit disappointed to have wound up in Locations. All day, I’d watch other departments doing what seemed like very important tasks on set: camera guys changing lenses and pulling focus, grips throwing up stands at a moments notice, electricians running cable, sound guys holding booms, ADs barking orders…

As for locations guys? As far as I could tell, all they did was stand around with a stack of permits not doing much of anything.

One day early on, I mentioned to one of my locations co-workers that I was hoping to get into the camera department on my next job, saying that I thought it would help me to get a better of understanding of how movies were made. He looked at me like I had two heads.

“What do you have left to do today, Nick?” he asked.

“Not much, really,” I said. “The trailer is already hooked up. I need to call Verizon to double-check a few installations, but I’m mainly just standing by in case any of the lines go down.”

“OK. So. Go learn how movies get made.”

It took me a few seconds to understand what he was saying…but the moment I did is the moment I realized I’d found exactly the job I’d been looking for.

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The secret beauty of Locations is that the vast majority of our work is done in advance. From scouting and permitting, to contracts and payments, to securing camera positions and parking and dealing with community boards and finding catering spaces – nearly everything is taken care of in prep, which means that on the day of the shoot, as everyone else is scrambling like crazy to get that first scene, you get to simply stand there and watch.

And that is exactly what I did.

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Every day, for the rest of the shoot, I’d go out of my way to get my work done early, then hurry over to set to watch Spielberg and company at work. Observing from the sidelines at a respectful distance, I paid close attention to how each camera position and lighting set-up was chosen…

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…how actors were blocked, stunts staged, and locations dressed…

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It was like going to a film school taught by the best of the best – and I was getting paid to be there. Film crew people will tell you that nothing will ever compare to your first job; for me, War of the Worlds was magical.

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After the movie ended, I eagerly signed on to my next film as a Locations production assistant – essentially, the lowest position in the department. It’s probably one of the least glamorous jobs on set, and a typical day will have you hauling trash, plunging toilets, and putting up road signs for crew parking.

But as long as you did your work, you could use your downtime to do as you wanted. For me, that meant going to set and being a fly on the wall as I watched movie after movie get made first hand.

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As I worked my way up the locations ladder, I began to devote much of my free time to screenwriting. My goal had always been to direct my own feature, and while I didn’t have a dime to put toward such an endeavor, my friend Jack would always remind me that writing costs nothing. So I kept at it.

—–

I’ve been watching movies get made from the sidelines for quite a while now. And I think it’s finally time to put it all on the line.

Last year, my latest script started getting an extremely positive response, earning the attention of a manager. It quickly became apparent that if I want to make a serious attempt at this, I need to be in Los Angeles.

I didn’t want to leave. I owe everything to New York City. My wife and I have spent ten years building our lives here. Our families, friends, jobs – pretty much everything we know is centered in and around New York. And to give it all up for something as crazy as trying to become director/screenwriter?? It would have been so easy, so comfortable, so safe to stay, to just keep doing what we’d been doing for another decade, and another decade after that. The idea of leaping headfirst into the unknown felt…

…well, it felt a lot like that first day on set.

Which is why I’m going for it.

Thank you to everyone out there for supporting my work over the past seven years, and for coming along on this adventure with me. I hope I’ve made the greatest city in the world seem just a little bit more magical.

Finally, last but not least: yes, of course this is happening…

-SCOUT

If you enjoyed reading this post, would you consider making a donation to help me make my first movie? The goal is $50,000, and to date, 1,701 Scouting NY readers have donated $35,874! Just $5 or $10 can make a difference - AND you get this snazzy Scouting NY sticker/magnet as a Thank-You gift! Click here to donate today!

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125 comments

  1. Congrats to both of you on your new adventure. We’ll miss your keen eye and great stories back here, but I’m really looking forward to ScoutingLA. I’ve come to know Los Angeles pretty well and lot’s of quirky and interesting places to explore and document.

  2. Congrats & Good Luck, Nick!
    Have enjoyed Scouting NY for a long time and will miss it. Thanks for showing this born & bred (and still living here) New Yorker parts of the city i would have never seen!

  3. Hey, thanks so much for all the great posts over the years! Really looking forward to your perspective on the West Coast.
    Safe Travels!

    Dan

  4. Nice job! Thanks for your many informative posts over the years. I will miss reading your blog. Good luck with your next adventure.

  5. Yay for ScoutingLA.com! And congratulations on your career moving in a new direction. Thanks!
    -Dan

  6. WOW – this is sad, but great for you. I just returned from visiting my oldest son in San Francisco.
    Highly, highly recommend you visit when you can. North and south on the Pacific Coast Highway.
    Redwood forest etc. A special secret beach near Big Sur.
    Great that you’re taking your shot now. After decades of working my way through the locations dept.,
    I now enjoy scouting for others more than the stress of managing. Will buy the book and follow what ever you do. Good luck and when you’re a big time director, remember the hard work the locations dept. does.

  7. Oh wow….I can’t tell you how elated I was to find your website many years ago. I’d just come back from my first trip to NYC and was hooked. When I saw what you were writing about I knew I was going to read you every week, and I knew that I would bring a ‘must see’ list from your posts every time I went to the city. I am soo excited for you, to be young and ready to move on to another chapter in your life. But I am sad too that I will lose my connection to whats hidden in NYC. LA is, well, different. They tear down anything thats more than 30 years old (well not quite but you get my point) But something tells me you will make this work. Good luck to you. Know that you will be remembered by us NY fans or a very long time.

  8. Loved your posts, you really showed a unique perspective of new york. I still have plenty of places you mentioned to visit. Good luck in LA! Admire the bold move! 🙂

  9. Long time lurker/fan of your blog, but I finally feel like it’s my duty to post how much I’ve enjoyed your posts over the past 7 years. Best of luck in your future endeavours!

  10. Nick, first I say a hearty congratulations and good luck to you. Eight years ago i moved, kicking and screaming, to Los Angeles from New York. I’m not in the “industry” and this place didn’t make much sense to me then. I stalked my beautiful city from afar, and posted your blog to my favorites toolbar ahead of all the rest. You helped ease my homesickness, and helped keep me connected to the place that felt like home. New York is where I became me, and I couldn’t have missed it more. Eight years out, I have to say you are the only one of my regular NYC sites that I continue to read, and this is because home to me is now Los Angeles. I have often hoped to have a “scouting Los Angeles” site, and now we all will! I look forward to your discoveries and hope that you get to love this place as much as I have…it’s a special city, waiting to be unlocked. Again, my congratulations and a heart felt “thank you” for your years of excitement, sharing your love of New York and its history and secret spots with the rest of us. Thank you.

  11. Man, you broke my heart! I live in Charlotte, NC, and this was a great way to see the NY I grew up in….

    Thanks!

  12. Godspeed.

    I’ll miss your perspective on NYC. I’m not as familiar with LA, but I’m sure you’ll uncover some gems.

  13. Im devastated scoutingny is no more, New York is my second favourite city, behind Dublin 😉 I cant tell you how much ive enjoyed scouring the site for hours on end learning about such a fascinating city, BUT i certainly wish you all the best on your new venture and i look forward to whatever hidden gems you’re going to find for us on scouting LA. All the best

  14. Nick

    I sincerely wish you the very best of luck in your new venture. Your site has given me many hours of enjoyment. Thank you very much and I am sure we will be hearing from you in the future

    All The Best
    Richard Clarke

  15. Good luck , buena suerte !!!

  16. I was supposed to work locations on War of the Worlds, I had just worked locations with David Martin in Newark on “Sherrybaby”. Welcome to LA, let me know if you need an AD.

  17. Dear Nick,

    Sometimes we stop in a website for good reasons, this is the case, a fantastic website.
    Congratulations for your work.

    I just love it . . . .

    Best regards,

    Joao Gomes
    from China!

  18. Nick, due to my own life becoming considerably more hectic in the last year (long story), it’s been a while since I’ve been to the site. And so I’m only just seeing this news today.

    I’m so happy for you that it definitely tempers my profound sadness at your departure. This site has been a magical peek inside a town that I thought I knew inside out. It was even more fun learning about places I didn’t know than having the smug satisfaction of seeing you discover places I knew well. And I will always treasure introducing you to the house atop the Kiehl’s building on 13th Street!

    Just a few days ago, an acquaintance posted on Facebook some photos of his cousin’s house: which just happens to be the Bailey mansion in Harlem:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Bailey_House

    For the past six years, the cousin and his family have been painstakingly restoring it. And after I gasped in amazement at its beauty, my next thought was: “Has the Scout seen this?”

    You are always the first person I want to share such things with, despite our never having met.

    So let me wish you the very best of luck in LA, and I will line up to see your film when it’s released. I’ll try to check out ScoutingLA, too, and I’m sure I’ll be delighted, but it will never have the same frisson!

  19. It’s a shame to see Scouting NY reach a conclusion, but opportunities like these are like gold dust.

    We’d better see some stuff for the L.A. locations from Ghostbusters (not just the Biltmore 🙂 ). I bet if anyone can get inside Firestation 23 (Ghostbusters HQ), it’ll be you, Nick. 🙂

    Good luck in tinsel town. 🙂

  20. I’ve really enjoyed your site!

    Will the site stay up with what it has?

    Thank you!

  21. When I read this Nyc architecture tidbit on a food blog I follow, i became nostalgic for the old scouting ny. http://www.eatingintranslation.com/2015/12/bancroft-apartments.html

    Hope your move to the west coast has been a smooth one.

  22. Wonderful story. I stumbled upon your site when I would search for things such as “Chinatown prostitution,” as I was always trying to find more about the “secret” parts of New York. I wish you good luck on your journey to success in the film industry. This is a big bold step, and I believe you will make it in Hollywood! Acting is my dream. Perhaps one day we can work on a movie together!

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