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Faking a Subway Token Booth?


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#1 Joe Jakes

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Posted 08 January 2009 - 04:19 PM

Hey all I will be directing a short video that has a scene between a subway booth attendant and two actors. Any suggestions for faking this because I can't shoot in the NY subway without a giant insurance policy or two. This is a student film, so I have no money for that. Thanks for any advice.
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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 08 January 2009 - 06:42 PM

You should be able to build a booth from quite cheap (perhaps reclaimed) materials quite easily and place it in a similar setting. It's something whoever is working as your art director should be able to do without any bother.
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#3 Ira Ratner

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Posted 08 January 2009 - 09:10 PM

Breaking the law:

You yourself should just act like a tourist, and have your talent walk up to the booth to buy a token, ask for information, etc.--and get your footage of all this, plus him/her walking away. (I'm assuming you'll be working with available light.) Shoot like a maniac at various distances, don't take your finger off that trigger, various points of view, angles of view, etc. And keep the clerk either out of frame, blocked, or impossible to distinguish in the shot.

You'll be able to do this for like 60 seconds, 2 minutes at that end of the station, so now do the same thing at the other end of the station (if that station has two entries), or get on the train and do it again at the next stop. And the next. And the next. We're not talking about a lot of work here--this will only take you an hour or so.

Now you got your stock footage, and the REAL interplay between the two actors can be done on a simple set, hardly even a set at ALL. A tight shot of the clerk with a bulletin board or other props behind him and a microphone in front of him is all you need. (I'm assuming those booth clerks still have those mikes. Ex-New Yorker here.) And the talent outside the booth is also shot real tight. He/she is just seen leaning on a counter with the back end of the mike coming into frame.

In other words, the actual exchange between the actors doesn't have to visibly appear to actually be in a subway. You just have to use other footage to support that premise.

Do it right and no one will ever notice--but lighting is key when you do the set shoot (you want it to kind of match), as is sound, so you want to record a few minutes of uninterrupted subway background noise, and mix your dialogue with that.

As a matter of fact, if you DID shoot this all at an actual location in real time, it could be real headache because of all the ambient/background sound (people and TRAINS!!!) that would sound all chopped up when you edited it later.

It's kind of hard to guess when those trains are going to screech into the station, or to lose that noise in post later.

Edited by Ira Ratner, 08 January 2009 - 09:13 PM.

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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 09 January 2009 - 09:35 AM

Yes, once you've got your set up shot(s) is surprising how easily you can fool an audience.

On a short I made, we filmed a scene on a moving walkway at an airport, the problem was that we weren't allowed to shoot with the camera on the actual walkway. We shot the static establishing shot at the end of the walkway and then put the actor on a doorway dolly together with the camera and pushed them along a parallel similar corridor (they weren't excactly the same).

In the final film it looks like we were shooting on the walkway moving with the actor, even I'm convinced and I know it's not true.

Edited by Brian Drysdale, 09 January 2009 - 09:36 AM.

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#5 timHealy

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Posted 09 January 2009 - 12:36 PM

If this is a student film you should be able to do a film shoot with the schools insurance policy. I took some classes at NYU and was able to do that though they didn't let you do certain things like using a film prop hand gun and have actors driving cars.

Then I would talk to the MTA. They have a couple of people catering to the film business.

They have closed a lot token booths lately and maybe they have one you can use at some obscure station.

Then they also have the Subway Museum in Brooklyn which may have something you can use.

Also there have been plenty of movies that have had subway scenes without the help of the MTA. If you keep it short and sweet and do it in the middle of the night you may get away with it.

Any of these option may have restrictions that may make building your own worthwhile.

Best

Tim
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#6 Ira Ratner

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Posted 09 January 2009 - 08:37 PM

How do you build a stainless steel token booth? And replicate the rest of a subway station? That would look REALLY fake.

The Subway Museum idea is great, except the problem is once you get legal and official, they always say no or make it a PITA. Same deal with contacting the MTA.

It's a student film, for God's sake, and the worst that can happen is they'll tell you to stop.

BUT, and this is a BIG but and I just realized it:

Having moved to Florida from New York 15 years ago, I have no idea about the SECURITY paranoia (rightly so) that now permeates the system. So if you want to shoot the establishing shots clandestinely and you look Arab, forget it.

If you don't, at least wear a Yalmaka (Jewish skull cap).

HAH!!!!!!!!!!
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#7 Walter Graff

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Posted 09 January 2009 - 09:29 PM

If you are affiliated with a school, you can shoot limited scenes on a platform at times designated and stops designated as long as your school has the proper paper work. Just so folks know here is the general requirements for professional shooting:

To get permission to shoot the MTA needs a letter of intent, script, and storyboard for your project. They ask that you give four to six weeks of leadtime if you are filming on a train or two to four weeks notice if you are filming on a platform.

Insurance wise, you need a $2mil general liability policy, a $2mil railroad protective insurance policy, and proof that you have workman's comp.

If shooting on a platform you must abide by the same rules as anyone else. If shooting on the tracks everyone in your group, crew and actors must take an eight-hour track class to learn the rules of being on a track. There are many ways to kill yourself on the tracks form electrocution, to getting hit by a train. I can tell you from experience that often you can not tell which way a train is coming, only that there is one coming. And on quad tracks local and express, the noise and confusion for trains can be deafening to the point of utter confusion, sometimes with two trains traveling one way and a third coming from the other.

And you will be required to pay a fee depending on how many subway personal help you on a production.

You call the Office of film and special Events at 646-353-5853 to set something up or ask questions.

I work often with the video unit of the MTA doing disaster simulations and training videos and suggest that you abide by the law. You can have your equipment confiscated. And in the right situation you can be arrested under new laws. The police and MTA employees take matters very seriously and ignorance is not an excuse from the law. There are more undercover police in a subway than you could imagine (sometimes four or five per train) so enevitably you wil get caught since the police are well visible and the MTA has a program of keeping MTA staff visable too.
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#8 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 10 January 2009 - 04:54 AM

How do you build a stainless steel token booth? And replicate the rest of a subway station? That would look REALLY fake.


You don't build a stainless steel token booth, you just make something that looks like one on film. By careful planning, you only show parts by finding backgrounds that look similar in shot, you don't even try to show an entire subway station. A shallow DOF would help blur things.

The museum idea sounds like it's worth a phone call, the worst that will happen is they'll say no.
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#9 Ira Ratner

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Posted 10 January 2009 - 11:21 AM

Walter:

Best NY subway movie ever made?

Even though it's a matter of opinion, I'm sure you'll nail it.
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#10 Jim Hyslop

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Posted 10 January 2009 - 03:21 PM

Walter:

Best NY subway movie ever made?

Even though it's a matter of opinion, I'm sure you'll nail it.

I'm not Walter (obviously :-) and I don't know that many NY subway movies, but I really liked "The Taking of Pelham 123".

--
Jim
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#11 Ira Ratner

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Posted 10 January 2009 - 05:14 PM

Give the man a cigar!!!

The reason it was so good was that it was 100% realistic. Watching it, it even SMELLED like a real NY subway.

The great story didn't hurt either.
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#12 timHealy

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Posted 10 January 2009 - 06:51 PM

but I really liked "The Taking of Pelham 123".


wait until you see the new one by Tony Scott.

Tim
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#13 Walter Graff

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Posted 10 January 2009 - 07:00 PM

wait until you see the new one by Tony Scott.

Tim



Hope it's not as bad as the first attempt at a remake. And when are they going ot change the name to The taking of the 4,5, and 6 which is what the train is really called.
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#14 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 11 January 2009 - 03:16 AM

Change the scene to a bus stop, a gypsy cab, a train station counter or cut it. You have to ask yourself, How important is this scene and can it be done another way. See, you're in school, so ONE lesson you SHOULD learn while you're there, is you're NEVER going to get everything you want to make a film so you MAY have to find other ways to make the film work. I'm not trying to convince you to change your vision, but this is always an important thing to consider, is this going to be more trouble than it's worth and do I really NEED it to make the film work? Now if you're James Cameron and you've had success after success, you can do Titanic and BUILD the entire ship so you can sink it, but even on THAT film, he almost quit because he wasn't getting everything he wanted and I GUARANTEE when he worked with Rodger Corman, he did a LOT of compromising on his vision to fit within the budgets Rodger gave him to work with and was promoted 3 time in a matter of months. I'm just trying to get you to ask yourself HONESTLY , do we NEED the toll booth ( not just the toll booth but other situations that WILL come up like this) scene or can it be done another way. If not, then you may have to build one, (though this whole exercise may be a moot point because Walter seems to know what he's talking about and you probably will get permission) but it's always smart to plan for alternatives just in case which is why production schedules have "rain days" B)
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#15 Joe Jakes

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Posted 16 January 2009 - 01:50 PM

Hey thanks for all the great replies. I am working with the writer on other options for this scene. But it basically involves putting many pennies in the tray for a fare(although I am aware this is no longer accurate) and also involves interaction with the two actors and the MTA employee.

My thoughts are to shoot the actors in station framing out most of the booth, shooting a cutaway of pennies going into the metal tray(at a separate location. And grabbing a piece of plastic, cutting a hole and faking the silver microphone. Putting the actor portraying the MTA worker behind it. Then putting a piece of green screen material behind the actor and dropping in a 'background plate'.

Also, I will likely call MTA, but I don't believe we meet their insurance requirements.

Any thoughts on the above process?

Thanks!
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#16 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 17 January 2009 - 03:27 AM

That might work on a bus or taxi. I'd have to know the jest of the scene, but it sounds like they're trying to scam the fare and talking to the MTA guy to distract him so he doesn't notice. If this is the case, it could be easily changed to a bus fare box (I actually did this when I was 17 but I got caught and tossed off the bus :D ) OR a taxi just using a fast talk bill changing scam (do you have change for a 20....).

If you are going green screen, you'll need the background plate and the tray footage which may be a pain to get. It will probably work OK but I think changing the scene and using actual location footage would probably end up working better, but that's just me. B)
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#17 Joe Jakes

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 12:04 PM

Hey everyone-

Just thought I'd share a quick still or two of the booth and us on the subway. Thanks again for all the great advice.

Attached Images

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  • penny.jpg

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#18 Jim Keller

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 12:36 PM

Hey everyone-

Just thought I'd share a quick still or two of the booth and us on the subway. Thanks again for all the great advice.


Very nicely done. Congratulations!
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