From the windows of my SoHo office, I look at the Gunther Building across the street, one of the finest cast-iron buildings in New York City. Mr. Gunther, a furrier, used the six-story building as a factory, showroom, business office, and warehouse.
An apartment on the second floor of the building has nine huge windows looking onto Broome and Greene Streets. Twice a year, the family vacates the apartment and it becomes a movie set. All the furniture is moved out and the place is newly painted and decorated.
This past May, for the entire month, the apartment underwent such a transformation with the filming of "The Last First Kiss," a romantic comedy starring Will Smith and Eva Mendes due out next year.
Orange plastic traffic cones line the streets, reserving parking spaces for the arriving fleet of film-company vehicles. There are trucks filled with lights, costumes, props, and tools, and mobile dressing rooms for the stars. Miles of cable extend along sidewalks. Sounds of sawing and hammering, as carpenters perform time-honored tasks, add to the zest of the 19th-century SoHo cobblestone streets.
A long, white serpentine hose, carrying cold air from an air-conditioning unit on a truck, winds its way along the Broome Street sidewalk and up the side of the Gunther Building to the second floor. Its purpose: to keep the actors cool under the hot movie lights.
Level with my second-floor windows, only feet away, is a scissor-lift vehicle with two huge HMI lights on its platform. (Halide metal iodide lights mimic daylight.) Much of the day, the operator sleeps in an improvised hammock on the platform. By midafternoon he has swung into action, directing powerful lights onto the Gunther Building.
I receive a visit from Matthew, a location scout. The film company would like to position lights in my office to brighten the night shoot. As the director of a nonprofit organization, I welcome any new revenue source. Matthew and I negotiate a deal. I hand him a set of office keys.
The next day, Matthew takes me on a tour of the set, satisfying my long-held curiosity about the layout of my neighbor's apartment. I also learn about those mysterious people identified in credits at the end of films. The gaffer is the head electrician. Chief grip, the person in charge of setting up equipment and scenery. Best boy, who can be a girl, serves as an assistant to the head gaffer or chief grip. Craft services are the people who provide snacks to the crew, day and night. They are not to be confused with meal-providing caterers.
I speak to Matthew several times about finding me a role in films. Surely, there must be a place in cinema for a middle-aged, white, Anglo-Saxon male.
Matthew says he will get back to me.
Though without a role, I wander the streets taken over by the film crew. I look sufficiently involved to invite questions from passersby about the production. I respond to their queries with authority.
Each morning following an evening shoot, I find a check for the agreed amount on my desk. On the final day, there is a check and the office keys. Within hours of completion, the film and production crews are gone and the set dismantled.
The apartment is being repainted in anticipation of the owner's return.
The neighborhood returns to its normal rhythm until the next film shoot.