Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sure signs of neighborhood change: fake crime replacing real crime

Signs were posted, and it was hard to miss, but for anyone still wondering what those giant light cranes were doing on Dean between Vanderbilt and Underhill tonight, the answer is that they were shooting "Life on Mars," ABC's new show about an NYPD officer who gets knocked back to 1973 by a car and has to navigate the strange and wondrous world of 1970s policing. I went and poked around, as did many others, and managed to chat up a friendly set worker who informed me that the former St. Joseph's Catholic School building (adjacent to the stunning, crumbling St. Joseph's Church, pictured on the right in the first photo, with the school building left of it on the north side of Dean) now plays the 125th Precinct in the show, though only the exterior--the interior is filmed on a soundstage in Queens. The actual precint for Prospect Heights is the 78th, and the NYPD only have 123 precincts (in the show, the precinct is in Manhattan).

Some locals noticed the awesome period pieces set up for the original shooting in August , and they were definitely out tonight (the photo of the Camaro isn't very good, but its the best I could get with my trusty point-and-shoot). Particularly amusing was the presence of real police in real crusiers oogling the absolutely fantastic old Dodge monsters that play cruisers in the show (great photos here). There were also plenty of extras hipped-out in 1970s garb strolling along the north side of Dean as well.

The show recently received a 4-episode extension from ABC, which likely explains tonight's shooting. The staff guy I spoke with said that the scene being filmed involved a car bomb placed outside the station, and that as part of the shot they were projecting red and orange lights on the building (flames) and actually blowing up a car (though the windshield was already out and the frame already in pieces, so as to fall apart without much of a powerful blast, just a flashy one). This explains the signs posted around earlier warning residents not to get nervous about smoke, flames, or the sounds of explosions.

As for the show itself, it's a remake of a BBC series with an identical plot, set in Manchester. Though the precinct in the show is in Manhattan, the use of Brooklyn as an exterior location strikes me as appropriate--another historically powerful industrial center that suffered some rough times in the 1970s and 1980s only to be reborn as a center of culture, particularly for the young, in the past decade and a half. Now if only we had an almighty football team.

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