This is a simple guide for aspiring independent filmmakers out there who have dreams of shooting that magical scene within New York City's beautiful subway system but who cannot afford the thousands of dollars required to get a permit to shoot legally within NYC's Subway system.
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Step 1: Writing You're Subway Scenes
When you are considering writing a scene that takes place in the subway remember to consider the logistics of the scene. Be as creative as possible, but consider the amount of dialogue you have in a scene and the amount of actors you may want in you're given scene and what kind of action they will be doing. I mention sound and actors because when shooting with no permits you will have limited time to shoot the scene. So consider the amount of dialogue you want because it may be difficult to capture due to the constant sound of trains passing through and passengers coming and going. Also consider what kind of actions the actors will be doing before hand because you may not have the time to get the chase scene you need.
Step 2: Story Boarding You're Scene
After you are happy with you're script and you're subway scenes start story boarding! For those new to filmmaking, story boarding is the process of drawing out you're scenes on paper by laying out each of the shots you plan to get. The story boards do not have to be elaborate, simple stick figure drawings will do the trick. This will save you time when you are shooting and will allow you to get the coverage you need. The more planning you do the better chance you have at shooting a great scene.
Step 3: Share You're Story Boards With You're Director of Photography
Next go over you're story boards with you're Director of Photography if you have one. I would recommend getting one if you can. It will put less pressure on you and will give you more time with you're actors during shooting.
Step 4: Rehearse With You're Actors
Rehearse with you're actors as much as possible before hand. Go over you're dialogue and blocking. Prepare you're actors so they will not need much direction if you need to move fast from the location.
Step 5: Equipment
Work with a limited number of equipment. You are just going to want to bring the essentials with you when you go into the subway. The essential gear you should have:
3. Mixer (only if needed)
4. Boom pole (only if needed)
5. Tripod (only if needed)
I would recommend using digital video, especially if you are planning to shoot in the subway. This will only afford you more time and better lighting conditions. There are plenty of high end inexpensive digital cameras for rent or purchase. Of course this will only save you money as well! When you consider the camera you are going to use to shoot in the subway try to pick something that will not draw too much attention. Something that can be easily put away and something you can easily run with. I would also recommend not to use a tripod if possible. When people notice gear like a tripod they begin to get suspicious.
Step 6: Crew
Use a skeleton crew! Which means the only crew that should be shooting in the subway is as follows:
2. Director of Photography
3. Sound person
4. Assistant Director or Production Assistant
The less people you have in you're group the less attention you will draw to you.
Step 7: Subway Location
Scout you're location! When shooting in the subway try to plan you're shoot day during the week and of course during the night. The subways will most likely be less crowded during the week nights. I would strongly recommend to shoot in the outer boroughs. Which means Brooklyn, the Bronx, or Queens. These boroughs have less a chance of being crowded. Make sure you look at you're locations first before shooting. Check the frequency of the trains running through and how many train lines run through the station. Make sure to check the police presence in the station and pick an area where you want to shoot. Be sure to look at how far the distance is from where you are shooting to the tellers booth.
Get familiar with the subway line you will be shooting on in case you are chased and have to move to another station. Have a backup station in mind in case of an emergency.
Step 8: Pep Talk
The night of the shoot make sure you feed you're crew and actors before you go into the subway. You don't want people working on an empty stomach. Be sure to have a pep talk before the shoot. Let you're actors and crew know that you don't have the permits you need and that if anything should happen that you will take all the blame and will be responsible for any fine that is given. Also work out a plan with you're crew and actors if you should get caught, work out a story that each of you will remember and will tell the cop. It can be anything from shooting a student film and you all were not aware that you needed permits. Or perhaps you can say you were testing out some equipment and you were not intending of shooting a film. Keep a student I.D. handy if you have one.
Be sure to purchase metro cards for everyone in case you're actors or crew do not have unlimited metro cards. Do this during the day and not just before you enter the subway with you're crew and actors. Be sure to place you're equipment in bags that will not attract attention.
I would recommend you be on the train by 10:30pm on you're way to the location. While on the train keep you're equipment concealed in you're bags. Remember there are plenty of plain clothes police that roam the trains.
Step 9: Game Time
Once you reach you're location have you're production assistant or assistant director scout the station. He or she should be making sure there is no police presence or transit workers around. Be sure to tell you're crew to keep the noise level down. As you're production assistant scouts the station get you're actors in place and begin rehearsing the scene immediately. Run a rehearsal of the scene for the actors, D.P., and sound person. Have you're production assistant or A.D. stationed at a distance so he can signal if he sees any police or transit workers. Once you're camera, sound, and actors are ready start shooting!
Remember to keep you're story boards handy if you have not memorized them by now. Once you start shooting make sure you get the coverage you need. There may not be time to get that money shot you want so just make sure you get you're coverage.
Step 10: Undercovers
If you're production assistant does spot a suspicious looking individual, there is a good chance he or she is a under cover cop. Don't panic! Act natural, pack up you're equipment and immediately board the next train or in extreme cases exit the subway station at the nearest exit. Move on to a few stations ahead or transfer to a different line. The cop who spotted you may radio ahead to the a cop stationed at the next station up thinking you will get off at the next stop to shoot. Once you reach you're new location scout it, and begin shooting immediately.
Step 11: Getting Busted
If you do get caught don't panic! Act natural, act confused. ask the cop what the problem is. Be respectful of their authority. Remember you are illegally shooting in the subway and the police do hold the right to fine you, confiscate you're equipment and possibly arrest you. When they ask you what is going on tell the cop you were simply testing some equipment out. When the cop asks to see a permit tell him you were not made aware that you needed one. Keep you're school I.D. handy if you decide to go the route of shooting a student project. Tell the cop you will be on you're way and quickly pack away you're equipment and board the next train.
Step 12: Wrapping
Transfer to another line and find a new location. Be sure to check on you're crew and actors at this point they will most likely be extremely tired and want to go home. Keep assuring them that the footage they are getting looks great. Motivate you're team! Once you reach you're new location repeat step 9. Once you wrap shooting get you're crew out of there. Be sure to make sure everyone has directions home.