By Bella Zafer
Learn tips and tricks from cinematic pros and discover what it is like to go on the set of a major motion picture as Bella Zafer describes her experience on the New York City set of “The Irishman”, directed by Martin Scorsese.
One crisp, fall weekend this past November, I ventured out to the Big Apple to witness a groundbreaking film project in the works as we speak. The esteemed American director, Martin Scorsese, is peaking at 75 years old to direct “The Irishman”, his final masterpiece. In addition to the fact that this is Scorsese’s last film, this film is particularly notable because it is the first time Netflix has fully produced a movie and is the first Netflix movie to make its debut in theatres.
My uncle, Kip Myers, is the locations manager for “The Irishman,” as well as my personal mentor for all things film related. His job entails finding ideal locations to shoot the film’s scenes, negotiating the fees and terms of these locations, and managing the location while shooting. On a film like “The Irishman,” this job is crucial to the execution of the film seeing as a large portion of the massive budget - which exceeds $100,000,000 - has gone directly towards transforming over 160 New York City locations into 1970s panoramas.
The extensive budget of this film and its prestigious director have allowed the locations department of “The Irishman” to close off highly populated intersections whilst transforming them into various other cities and decades. Myers could not stress enough how rare some of the filming opportunities they have been granted are. “I love working on projects that are bigger than life — and that's how this feels,” says Myers.
Standing in the cold for five and a half hours may not sound exciting or memorable to most, but I can tell you personally that it most certainly is on the set of “The Irishman.” On set, one can see vintage cars, classic neon restaurant signs, police cars, walkie-talkies, and moody pedestrians. While on one of these late night sets, I gained a greater respect for actors as I watched them in their 70s attire of short dresses and thin blazers, shivering for hours in the windy 40 degree New York weather. They repeat the same small scenes over and over before achieving a perfection that exceeds the expectations of most within the industry. Myers describes the tedious process, saying, “I keep referring to this job as a marathon, not a sprint.”
Scorsese concludes his career by adding “The Irishman” to his already immaculate résumé, which includes other iconic gangster movies like “Goodfellas,” “The Departed,” and “Mean Streets.” In “The Irishman,” the stars of the movie, including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, recreate the story of the murder of Italian-American Mafia member, Jimmy Hoffa. When talking with Myers he explained that Scorsese “is a cinephile who is constantly (daily) watching movies. So, he has this insane knowledge of scenes and how to place actors and what works.”
Through Scorsese’s careful attention to detail I also came to recognize the incredible precision that can be seen at the highest level of film production. For example, Myers says that the cast and crew could not film on a specific street because it was two feet wider than the real street they were trying to depict. There are also many minescule production tricks that are used when creating a film. For example, water was sprayed on the streets to reflect the artificial moonlight in order to improve the shot.
While every industry has its attractive features, each also has its hidden drawbacks that one may not know without having first-hand experience. My family friend, Alex Borys is a former locations manager and current production consultant for a major commercial property owner in New York City. He describes the sometimes excruciating hours, commenting that, “to be in production you have to be okay with being married to your job for as long as that show is. It’s 24/7 and you have to love it.” Although Borys left the locations department of film production, he says, “if you ask me if I miss it I’d say most certainly.” Borys is a premium example of the never-ending jobs in the film industry. Myers emphasizes the notion that if you are at all interested in the film industry there is most definitely a path for you, saying, “When I first started I honestly had no idea that the Locations Department even existed.”
There are many reasons I am interested in entering film production myself, but Myers captures my intrigue best when he says, “I love that everyday is different — like completely different — different location, different weather, different subject matter. I love that we are creating a ‘thing’ that will hopefully inspire or at least entertain people for many many years.” “The Irishman” will no doubt be a cinematic paragon that will be studied for years, and I hope to work on a project like this in the future.
“The Irishman” is scheduled to debut in theatres in the winter of 2019. Although this date seems far away, this is just the reality of creating a historic film. Maybe next time you are watching a movie, you can think of all the moving pieces, background strategies, and critical thinking that it takes to create a product worth your time and careful attention. Who knows, you might even decide that’s how you want to spend the rest of your own career.
This article was revised at 3:00 P.M. on January 27, 2018. An earlier version incorrectly attributed a work.