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Lights, Camera, Action in Nyack, Piermont and Rockland

by Jon Miller

Film making in Rockland County has a long and rich history dating back to the invention of the movie camera itself. In 1898, four years after the Lumière brothers held the first public film screening in Paris, Thomas Edison shot “Loading Ice on Cars” at what is now Rockland Lake State Park. This was followed by the 1902 prequel “Cutting and Canaling Ice.”

In 1918, Adolph Zukor purchased 300 acres in New City. The founder of Paramount Pictures, Zukor made history by introducing American audiences to their first feature film, the 53-minute French “Queen Elizabeth.” Despite abysmal camera work and a mediocre performance by the aging Sarah Bernhardt, who stumbled through scenes on a wooden leg, audiences were hooked to the new art. Zukor lived on his New City estate until 1956, using it as a getaway from the city life where stars such as Mae West would visit to sun themselves lounge by his pool. The land is now part of the aptly named Paramount Country Club .

The (fake) Jewel Theatre during the filming of Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo in the Winter of 1983-4 in Piermont, NY. © Sally Savage photo.

Since then, Rockland County has been a growing site for film making. Televisions shows and features, including big budget productions and indies alike, have used the county for everything from gangster thrillers  to chick flicks. Here’s a short Rockland County highlights reel:

  • Goat, directed by Paul Borghese, is set for release in 2011
  • Riding in Cars with Boys (2001) shot at Dr. Davies Farm in Congers
  • TV drama Lipstick Jungle and the classic comedy Network (1976) were also filmed at Dr. Davies Farm.
  • Woody Allen remade Piermont in 1983 to look like a 1930’s depression-era town for The Purple Rose of Cairo.
  • In an episode of the Sopranos, Tony’s son hangs out in front of Napoli’s Pizza in New City, and in a later episode, plays football across the street at Albertus Magnus High School.
  • Rockland was also the backdrop for several scenes in Broken Flowers (2005), the deadpan comedy starring Bill Murray. At one point in the production, director Jim Jarmusch recalls Murray walking mysteriously off set into a house that was not a part of the film shoot. Murray returned shortly with a plate of cookies.

Nyack has also had its share of shoots over the years.

  • Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986), featuring a wicked David Bowie and other hairy creatures, filmed exteriors at a home in Upper Nyack, and an opening scene in Memorial Park.
  • Stepmom (1998) and Bounty Hunter (2010) prominently featured exteriors of the same beautiful Also in Upper Nyack Victorian house.
  • Nyack’s own Jonathan Demme filmed several scenes for his remake of The Manchurian Candidate (2004) close to home.
  • Mira Nair used the Nyack Library for a scene in The Namesake (2006).

In 2008, the prior Village Board in Nyack virtually killed the film production business by imposing a $25,000 permit fee per production. The draconian rule was sparked by a terrible experience filming The Greatest (2010), a movie that starred Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon. Despite a prior agreement, the production blocked streets and sidewalks. “It was chaos incarnate,” says Jack Dunnigan of Pickwick Books in Nyack. “The mayor was out. The trustees were out. But the production could care less!'”

New trustees elected in 2009 reversed course and enacted new regulations that allow encourage productions again, but in a more controlled way.

“The revised film law protects residents and merchants but does not discourage filming,” says Trustee Jen White, who championed the new rules. Fees are now scale-based; a major motion picture pays $250 per hour of filming, while nonprofit applicants pay a flat fee of $100. For a set which requires use of public lands, an Orangetown police officer must be present during the filming, as well as an electrician if existing power lines are used. The new rules call for businesses that are directly impacted to receive $350 per day of filming.

Since the new rules went into effect earlier this year, productions have slowly begun to trickle back into the village. ABC’s investigative series “What Would You Do?” challenged customers at Nyack’s Old World Market on how they would react to witnessing a handicapped neighbor being treated badly. Location scouts say they are once again looking at Nyack as a possible location for features. Will this trend continue? Stay tuned for the coming attractions to find out.


See also: Nyack VB To Reconsider Film Regs,  11/9/2010

Special thanks to Sally Savage Photography for use of the Jewel Theatre photo from The Purple Rose of Cairo shoot in Piermont.

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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