By Deren Getz as told to Jaimie Epstien – November 13, 2005 – NYTimes.com
from ALSAM Location Scout Deren Getz -
Do you remember that restaurant scene in “Quiz Show,” where John Turturo is told to take the dive? It took me weeks to find that place. And it wasn’t even a restaurant. It was the old Grolier Club, between Madison and Park – you’ve got to think creatively. That’s my job. That’s what a location scout does. The director gives me a script or a storyboard, and I search for the settings that will make his vision happen. I’ve been in the business for 25 years, done production work, been a location scout since 1991. The job’s still the same as it was, but since 9/11, the game has changed a bit.
For example, it used to be that you could just poke around buildings, walk in, punch a button in the elevator, get out on any floor. You could get onto any roof. I remember one time I was climbing up a stanchion at Rockefeller Center to get a clear shot of Fifth Avenue for a commercial when this security guard tries to stop me. I tell him that it’s a public space, I have every right to be there, to go get a cop if he wants to. By the time he comes back with a cop, I’ve taken my picture. I know the rules.
Of course, security is much tighter now. The bridges are basically off limits, and sensitive areas are even more sensitive. And I guess since the Patriot Act, just taking pictures on the street, which is what I do a lot of, might be interpreted as surveillance and therefore might seem suspicious.
A year or two ago, I was scouting for NBC’s fall promos in Midtown near Grand Central and the Chrysler Building. I get paid by the day, so I have to work fast: I walk up and down the street I have in mind, and I shoot semi-panoramic, clicking every 30 or 45 degrees – I get the whole block in, like, three shots, and move on. Anyway, I shoot for maybe three minutes and I’m done, when building-security guys stop me and ask what I am doing. I tell them, but they want my ID. Figuring that it will be quicker to make the guys happy than to tell them they are out of bounds, I give it to them. I don’t remember if I had a scouting permit. I often don’t because permits are hard to get, not because of 9/11 but because they were being abused, so I tend not to bother. The supervisor takes my ID upstairs and comes back 10 minutes later with it, and I figure that’s it.
About two weeks later, I was meeting with the folks who were shooting the NBC promos. We’re at the Noho Star having lunch, when I get a call from the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
They want to know where I am. I tell them. They want to know if they can stop by. I say, Sure, if you’re here in a half-hour, because we’ve already ordered. Fifteen minutes later, like in a scene in a movie, an unmarked Taurus pulls up outside and in walk these two guys. I get up to meet them and take them back to the table and introduce them around. One’s wearing an ill-fitting suit, and he looks like Dennis Franz from “NYPD Blue” – I think he had a mustache but maybe not. The other one looks like a surfer dude – he’s got blond hair and is wearing a pink polo shirt. I say to them, “You look like a cop, but you look like a movie star.” I was putting it on a bit for my clients, giving them a good show.
So they’re regular guys, but they do the cop thing, ask if I mind stepping away from the table, and as I do, the NBC folks joke, “He’s not with us!” The agents and I walk to a table at the back of the restaurant. They want to know why I was taking pictures in Midtown. (How was I supposed to know that part of some government agency had moved near Grand Central?)
I tell them I was scouting locations, and I ask if they want to see the photos; I’ve got my computer with me. So I boot it up and show them the block they were interested in and some other blocks. They end up thanking me for my time and leaving their cards.
I didn’t take it very seriously. I mean, it took them two weeks to follow up, so how important a lead could I have been? It seemed funny at the time. It was surreal. But I told our local association about it – it’s called Alsam (the Association of Location Scouts and Managers) – and found out that other scouts had complained as well. And not long after that, some of our members met with the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting. So now the Port Authority, different agencies, area police departments, they all have our names – every agency except Homeland Security, for some reason. And we have laminated ID’s with photos: totally legit.
It makes me laugh when I think that in the old days, a buddy and I made fake ID tags when we were scouting for “Law and Order.” If someone got belligerent with us, we’d flash them. They were a joke: we just took pictures of each other and cut them out and pasted them onto card stock – totally homemade. They looked pretty good, I guess, but they’d never work now.