Lost (And Found) In Space
the apocrypha interview with locations manager Moe Bardach
By Kitteridge
Locations manager Moe Bardach has been checking out apartments, businesses and back alleys for what he calls "Law & Order Classic" since September of 1992. Here's a look literally behind the scenes of location scouting both before ... and after ... 9/11.
Since you've been there since 1992 -- are things better, worse, different than 10 years ago when it comes to finding locations around New York?
One major thing is that's different with us -- we've always had a good reputation. When L&O started filming in 1990, there was very little going on in the city. There was an unofficial boycott from California because they thought everything was too expensive, and a lot of feature films stopped filming here for a while. Dick Wolf resisted that, and insisted that the show be filmed in New York, and he won the battle. Because it was so slow in NY, we got the best crew, because there wasn't much going on, and because it's a good quality show, everyone stayed. So one of the major differences now is it's gotten much busier again, especially television in NY. Years ago, some people had heard of Law & Order, in the beginning everyone always knew it was a good quality show, but I don't think NBC advertised it so well, so a lot of people didn't know about Law & Order in 1992. You'd say, "I'm with Law & Order, and they'd say, I know, L.A. Law!" And you'd explain it to them, and then some people would say I think I've seen that once or twice. But now, everybody knows what Law & Order is, and some people say it's our favorite show, or I don't watch TV, but I watch Law & Order. In New York, everyone knows Law & Order and respects it, so that opens a lot of doors as a location manager. We have a great reputation as a film series and a film crew, a non-violent, well-written show, all sorts of people really like it.
Is there a certain cachet to having your apartment or home used in L&O?
Absolutely, I find that to be the case. We don't have tremendous budgets, like movies tend to have higher budgets than we do, because we have to work 10 months of the year, we have multiple locations in a day, while a movie will stay several days at one location, we'll do several locations in one day. So what I think is what people like with our show is to say L&O filmed in my house or my townhouse or my apartment, and a lot of people have parties when the epsiode airs! These people who have these 7 million dollar townhouses will have us because they know we're careful and we have a great reputation about leaving places in pristine condition, the way we found them. We don't act like it's a set or a stage, we respect that we're a guest in someone's home. That attitude carries through to the crew, so we have fun with people. Some peple will say, "Can we stay and watch?" And we say absolutely, stay and watch and experience it, and if you have kids, have them watch also, because they can get a great experience out of it. So we'll do that and we've heard that people will throw this big dinner party with 20, 25 people over and then they'll air Law & Order at 10:00 and they'll see their place on TV, even if it's only on for 30 seconds.
What challenges are there in location scouting in New York?
I told you in 1990 it was extremely slow and the industry was hurting here in New York. The success of Law & Order and the fact that we were able to prove that it is feasable to film in NY, because you don't have to pay the city for permits or things like that, it turns out it's cheaper in a lot of ways to film in New York than in Los Angeles, when you have to pay for every street, and every corner and every location. Here, they give you the cops, you don't have to pay here. So when the word came back that way, it became very busy. What happens is when one is filming there's trucks and all sorts of equipment and what we'll do is the city will allow us to park our trucks and equipment on the street, and that means taking away from a neighborhood or a block. And when you do that, what happens is the good thing about Law & Order is we do multiple locations in a day, so we're never in a neighborhood for more than a day, in fact sometimes we're even there for half a day. So we don't affect the parking -- but a movie on the other hand might take up parking for a week on a block. So when it's really busy in town, we might show up on a certain block and there had been a movie there weeks earlier, and people didn't have their parking spaces for a week and we come along and they say, "You guys were just here!" So the actual logistics of parking vehicles has become more of a challenge, as it's gotten busier in the city.
Have you had to strenghten community relations?
We've always kept up strong community relations, we realize the value of that, we realize we have a responsiblity to do that. To inform people and check in with neighborhood associations and let them know we'll be there. I'd say it's even more important now because it has been so busy, but we've stepped it up a bit, but we've always been conscious of that. I don't know that everybody is. But that's something we've always taken very seriously, and we always address everybody's concerns with parking. We don't take anything excessive. But sometimes with a movie you'll just have so many different types of motor homes for the stars, and all these other things, they take up a lot more parking.
Locations-wise, how in a specific and general sense did 9/11 affect you all?
First of all, Law & Order being the show that takes place in a lot of court scenes, we do have an interior court setup here, but we rely on a lot of those exterior scenes whihc are a lot quicker to film of DAs going in and out of the courthouse, that give you a municipal feeling. We count on filming in a lot of those municipal buildings in lower Manhattan, and after September 11, first of all we stopped filming for a while, but once we started back in October, what happened is we really weren't allowed to film below Canal Street, the frozen zone. There was a reason for it, but it did affect us. We're still the same show, and we still need to have these exteriors, so our challenge was to find alternate locations around the city to pretend that we're downtown, staircases with columns and things like that. So we did find alternate locations in other areas to pretend we were downtown. It was a challenge, but we did that.
Has that lifted?
It has lifted, yes, and now we're starting to film down there again.
When did that start up again?
January, end of January, early February. Because then of course the neighborhoods down there -- it's more really now the so-called Ground Zero is now about a six block radius around Ground Zero that's still filled with all of the different vehicles that are moving the debris, but other than that it's sort of getting back to normal. In fact, we recently filmed down in a loft building near Duane and Hudson Street, and it turns out that people are very anxious down there now, and excited about having filming, because they're having tough times, and the businesses are having tough times down there. Whether we have our crew members going in there to have lunch, or we're paying a locations fee to film in somebody's store, or filming in someone's loft, we're now bringing back some normalcy to the area. So now that it is lifting, we're finding that people want us down there more than ever.
During the season just ended, there was a shot outside the courthouse that featured soldiers and barricades outside. Is that real or is that actors?
Those were actors. Again, we weren't downtown in the real place, so we went downtown to look at it and recreated it with actors. That was probably from October/November when we were pretending we were down at the courthouse. Obviously, 9/11 is a very serious thing that has happened to the city, so we've incorporated it into the program, and that's the way then. It's not that way now. There's tight security, more so than it was before, but the national guard is not there any more, and it has scaled back a little bit.
When you do film in that area now, are soldiers or army equipment in the way?
It's more subtle. They're around, but they're not out there, per se. They're placed mainly for the psychology of the whole system down there. They're not right in the middle any more. They're there, they're a presence, but you don't really see them unless you look for them. We would never in any way ask anybody to move out of a shot. They're sort of in the background. It's not like it was 2, 3 months ago.
Was it just dumb luck that you guys weren't down there on the day?
Yeah, it was. It was a bit of a coincidence, in a way. We're not there every day any how, but we certainly could have been.
Are there any real negatives about filming in the city? The community can get testy, but anything else?
I really don't think so. Now, I think it's at a point where, I've worked in other cities, it's the best city to film in because of the fact that the mayor's office and the police department all the way down, they see the revenue that it brings into the city, multi-billion dollar industry in the city, it's a top moneymaker for the city, which keeps peoples' taxes down, and for the most part everybody is extremely cooperative and bends over backwards for filming. So I don't see another negative aspect. I find after doing this job -- I've been doing locations since around 1986 -- so in my experience I'm still finding new and interesting locations to film. I don't want to put down any other cities, but if you're doing something for that long, 14, 15, 16, years, eventually doing it all year round you run out of new ideas in some cities. But in New York, especially in Manhattan, it's endless. There's more and more locations to be found every day. [They have 3 scouts permanently on the show, bringing things new every day in to him.] We're always invited back to locations, and do use some locations over again, but we do keep finding new locations.
You talk to other location managers -- do you think anybody's going to leave New York because of what happened?
I don't really think so. I think that there's been a problem of runaway production to Canada for a while, but other than that I don't think that 9/11 in the long term is going to affect the business. People still need -- if they want realism, they want a movie to show New York, they need to film here. They're not going to let 9/11 stop them. Sure, temporarily, a few months, maybe even the first year, there might be some projects that are reconsidered or put on hold, but I don't think it's going to last. I think it's already starting to get busier again. My opinion, and I speak to a lot of people, is in commercials, television and film, already it's starting to pick up. 

whaddya think?