Tag Archives: shooting

The Kings Theatre

Forty-six days before the infamous stock market crash of 1929, the Loew’s Kings Theatre on Flatbush Avenue first opened its doors.  An architectural triumph, the building was vast and palatial, extending diagonally over a series of lots.  A grand carpeted staircase led to the curiously designed mezzanine, which overlooked the extended rows of seating on the orchestra level. No expense was spared on the interior, which was showy and meticulously detailed: red velvet curtains draped in front of the screen, matching the plush red seats; chandeliers of etched glass hung over a mahogany-paneled lobby; richly embroidered draperies set off the elaborate wallpaper; even the ceilings were decorated with ornate molding. In the decades that followed, young unknown performers like Sylvester Stallone and Barbra Streisand would work in Kings Theatre as ushers.  The theater enjoyed almost forty good years of films and live revues, but eventually attendance began to decline and, in 1977, they shut their doors for good.

When Jon Kane stepped into the theater lobby on a grey spring morning in 2011, it was damp and black and desolate, colder indoors than it was out.  Folding tables of packaged snack foods and industrial facemasks sat forlornly against one wall.  An angry watchman approached him and said “Hey! Hey, you can’t come in here.”

Jon said, “I’m the director of the movie that’s shooting here and I’m late.” The watchman considered this before allowing him to pass.  “I met you yesterday! I can’t believe you don’t remember me,” said Jon, writing his name on a clipboard.

“Hey man,” went the watchman, “I’m not ambidextrous.”

Who is, these days?

The interior of the theater is crumbling by now, of course.  When they closed the building thirty-two years ago they locked it up just as it was.  Today the velvet curtains hang in shreds over the blank grey screen, and the damp carpets are peeling off the floors, leaving man-sized patches of bare concrete throughout the building.  In the mezzanine an empty filing cabinet rests, upside down, across the middle of three rows of seats.  One member of the opticnerve™ staff found yellowed workers’ permits from 1976 scattered across a backroom. In some places, the ceiling is falling down. The dusty concrete water fountain has been dry for over thirty years, but DRINK AND BE REFRESHED is still etched into its empty basin. The refreshment stand in the inner lobby still advertises TASTY POPCORN.

Think, and be impressed.

“My mother grew up in this neighborhood,” Jon said, standing in the middle of the theater.

"She used to go to movies here when she was a girl."

Cold, he sent his assistant for a space heater and some warmer clothing.  She returned with a plastic package of boys’ XL thermal underwear and a plaid hat from the dollar store. “I think these should fit,” she said,  “Twenty-eight waist, right?”  There was a picture of a small boy giving a thumbs-up on the package. They fit.

Jon liked the hat.  He put it on and was ready to start.

He doesnt like this picture because he says his face looks like a lamb chop.

A hundred extras filed in, wearing their coats and protective masks.

A scene which might seem familiar to you.

By some accounts, the theater seats 3,676.  The extras sat close together in the intact chairs in the front right corner, the little crowd dwarfed by the ruined splendor of the building. Still, on camera it looked like a packed house. They faced a green screen on which nothing played and pretended to watch a movie.

The crew turned on the fog machines.

And waited for them to warm up.

Then the fog rolled in.

“Masks off, coats off!” shouted the producer,

and Jon called "Action!"

(He faced a captive audience indeed.)

Spills worked on his laptop, editing footage as it came in

(He sat in the cubicle of the future)

while Jon’s photography teacher from college took stills on the mezzanine.

(Can you spot him?)

Members of the opticnerve™ post-production staff stopped by to check on the shoot’s progress.



while friends of opticnerve™ watched the shoot from a distance.

Interns sent text messages in the hallway and

more than one person swears they saw a ghost.

Eventually, after eight hours of shooting

it was time to wind down and go home.

The nail on Jon’s left thumb was painted blue, the other was painted pink. He hitched his bags over his shoulder with a flourish and got into his car, a Checker Marathon built the year before the Kings Theatre closed.

A light rain fell as the crew stood outside with their facemasks around their necks. Passing them on the sidewalk, an elderly woman covered in burn scars stopped and asked if they were renovating the old theater.  They responded, “Sorry, just shooting a movie.”

“Oh,” she said wistfully, “That’s too bad.  It was such a beautiful theater.” She asked if it was still beautiful and they told her it was.


Which Picture is Worth a Thousand Words?

We have been silent for the past two weeks– but we have been busy.  (Making a masterpiece is hard work.) After climbing mountains of garbage and shooting a Gambian model; entertaining hypnotists, Coney Island performers, and holy men; paying a crowd of people to get drunk on a Bushwick soundstage; and giving manicures to bongo players and goldfish crackers to children, it’s hard to know where to begin.

That’s why we’re leaving the decision up to you.

Each of these photos is a door into a story.




Which door would you like to open?

Some doors have better pictures behind them, some doors have better words.

Voting will close on Tuesday, after which one door will swing open.

Johnny On the Spot

By the late 1990s heroin was cheaper, purer, and stronger than it had ever been. Twenty dollars would buy two bags, or “enough to make a beginner feel good all night. As youth icons Kurt Cobain and River Phoenix succumbed to romantic and widely publicized heroin addictions, the fashion world glamorized a beauty ideal known as heroin chic. Junk was intrinsic to the zeitgeist of the age

In prior decades, a heroin high was achievable only through direct injection, but the potent heroin of the 90s was easily smoked or snorted casually at parties.  Unsurprisingly, the decade witnessed a surge in casual teen use of the drug.

The Partnership knew what they wanted as their poster child for heroin addiction: a nice suburban teenager from a typical all-American family.  They needed a kid who had gotten hooked on heroin the 90s way—not by shooting up, but by snorting or smoking the drug once at a party—and who was now a full-blown addict.  The Partnership needed to make an example of someone for America’s youth, and they needed a junkie with puppy dog eyes to serve as a warning.

The Partnership called Jon Kane to find this kid.

Jon knew that junkies love sugar and money.  He went to Tompkins Square Park and advertised that he had more than enough of both; soon, Jon had booked two solid days of meetings with homeless addicts.  He held the interviews at the old opticnerve™ studios on 22nd Street with a large bowl of cookies, a wallet full of $20 bills, and the help of his pretty assistant.

Jon still has a stack of DAT tapes of these interviews stored behind the DJ booth in the studio.  There is no DAT player; the tapes haven’t been heard in years.  What they contain, Jon says, is “All real sad, all real desperate.”

After two days of unhappy stories, Jon found five young addicts who fit the profile The Partnership wanted.  He told them each that, if selected, they would need to go to rehab after the shooting was done.  All the kids had been in and out of rehab more than once and Jon asked each one why this time was different.  Johnny said it was different because this was national television.   “Nobody else said that,” said Jon.  He believed in Johnny the most.

Jon called Johnny’s family to ask their permission to shoot.  Johnny’s father said he was a good kid and not to trust him at all.  Johnny’s tiny Italian grandmother gave Jon her blessing.

Johnny never got high, only sick when he didn’t have heroin. Once you’ve done enough heroin, you never get high.

Heroin costs money, and you do different things to get it.  Some junkies steal meat from large chain grocery stores and sell it to the bodegas that line Manhattan’s streets– they call this cattle rustling.  Johnny stole lots of things, but mostly books, because he liked reading; there’s a name for that too, but Jon doesn’t remember what it is.

Jon needed to keep Johnny in one place and out of prison for a week so they could film.  Jon got Johnny a motel room and paid him to stay there.  Not wanting Johnny to overdose, Jon sent the money to the motel in $20 increments via his assistant. He didn’t know how much heroin $20 would buy or for how many people;  Jon’s assistant told him she needed to go there every three hours, and she did.

This arrangement seemed to work out well.

There’s Johnny.

Once the week was out, Jon had the footage he needed.  It would be two weeks before the government-run rehab had an opening.  Jon gave Johnny $150 and told him to take the PATH train back to New Jersey and call when he got home.  Johnny promised.  They had become very close.  They hugged goodbye.

Jon waited by the phone all night and into the early hours of the morning. The phone didn’t ring.  Johnny didn’t get home.