Film Production in the Subways

Nothing embodies New York City more than an authentic subway car.

MTA NYC Transit offers an invaluable resource to the film and television industry, which is especially hot in New York City right now. The responsibility of overseeing television and motion picture filming on Transit property falls to the Film and Special Events Unit of the Department of Corporate Communications.

Alberteen Anderson, Director of the unit handles the needs of scores of production companies annually, helping them with everything from site scouting and logistics to choosing a specific type of subway car.

Photo of filming in the subway

Shoots can require virtually anything from the use of a subway sidewalk grating, to a station platform or stationary subway car or involve using a stretch of subway line and a subway train and changing a platform to look like the entrance to the Waldorf Astoria.

Projects can last anywhere from a couple of hours to two years, or production crews can shoot in the system over the course of several months. Last year, 28 productions were shot in the subway system with project times ranging anywhere from one to 40 days.

Shooting a production in North America's largest mass transit system is a cooperative effort among several divisions and units of the Department of Subways, the Department of Buses, the Executive Vice President's Office and the Division of System Safety. (Risk Management) On some productions, NYC Transit will work cooperatively with sister MTA agencies, Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road for Man on a Ledge and the upcoming installment of Spiderman.

If a train is involved, Operations Planning and General Order Units are called upon to write orders giving the production company the tracks and personnel required to operate the train, making certain that passenger train service is not adversely impacted.

Financial charges take into account how long the production will last, how many NYC Transit employees will be needed for the job and how long the project will take to complete. The rental of a subway train includes the crew (train operator and conductor), a train service supervisor and the emergency response team.

If shooting on the roadbed is part of script, all principals must take the prescribed eight-hour track class. The instruction educates the production company to the dangers of working in the vicinity of 400 tons of moving trains and a live third rail. The class is the same as the one given to NYC Transit employees, and is aimed at keeping everyone safe.

Additionally, all productions using NYC Transit property are required to take out liability and railroad insurance policies of a minimum of $2 million each.

It is a complicated process to set everything up to the satisfaction of all sides (The studio, director, Governor's Film Office. After all, while NYC Transit does its best to accommodate the industry, the authority also has five million subway riders to move each day.

Filming in the New York City subway system will always present challenges and opportunities. The next time you see a film, television show or commercial that includes shots of NYC Transit's subway system/Buses, remember a lot of work went into making it look just right.