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311 Complaints Against Movie Crews Down, Despite Recent Flareups

By DNAinfo Staff on August 23, 2010 7:18am  | Updated on August 24, 2010 5:46am

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, seen here with Leonardo DiCaprio, has been filming scenes for
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, seen here with Leonardo DiCaprio, has been filming scenes for "Premium Rush" in Midtown and the Upper West Side.
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Getty Images/Kevin Winter

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN — Despite several high-profile incidents of anger on Manhattan movie sets, including a head-butting incident that sent a production assistant to the emergency room, complaints against movie shoots are down dramatically this summer versus last, new city figures obtained by DNAinfo show.

So far this summer, the city's 311 complaints line has received 60 percent fewer complaints about movie shoots compared with last year, with just 177 angry calls from June 1 through August 16 versus 418 over the same period in 2009.

The drop was especially steep in July, when more than three times as many complaints were lodged in the summer of 2009, the data shows.

The numbers come as perceptions of tensions between film crews and residents appear to be at an all-time high thanks to several public run-ins on the set of the new Joseph Gordon-Levitt flick "Premium Rush." The film, which follows a bike messenger as he's chased around the city, has been filming across Midtown and the Upper West Side.

Earlier this month, the New York Post reported that a frustrated Upper West Sider was so infuriated at being blocked from his destination, he head-butted a production assistant, sending the P.A. to the emergency room.

The next day, the Daily News reported than an 87-year-old woman returning from church had been "forced to drag her shopping-bag filled cart" away from her bus shelter under orders from the "Premium Rush" crew.

Julianne Cho, the associate commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, credits the drop in complaints to a series of initiatives by the office aimed at improving relations between residents and crews — not a reduction in movie shoot days.

"We’ve definitely stepped up the community outreach," she said.

In addition to a publicity campaign selling the importance of the industry, the office has been working with production companies to find ways to limit inconveniences, including restricting parking and publishing a guide of "best practices" that advises staff to "frequent local merchants, clean up after themselves" and be "respectful and courteous to residents when they're on location."

"The P.A.s are taught not only how to do their jobs more effectively but how to work best with the neighborhoods," she said. "It creates a much more hospitable environment for crews to work in communities."

Murray Hill resident Charlie Colon, 27, a grip for "Premium Rush" who has been working on sets in the city for the past 10 years, said he's noticed a serious change.

"The Mayor' s Office is really, really involved now," he said. "There's a big difference."

Permits now have strict time limits and P.A.s are instructed to explain to passers-by why they're closing street and help people cross them, he said.

"They won't let you get away with whatever you want to do [anymore]," he said.

Stephen Consentine, 43, of Connecticut, who has worked in the industry for 20 years, said he's noticed improvements, too.

"Years ago, they would let us all park on the street. Now they're very restrictive," he said, as he took a break from filming in the back of a production truck.

Despite the lines of trailers and traffic snarl-ups, he said the hundred-plus members of the crew also give back to the community by visiting local coffee shops and restaurants each day.

"It's gotta help out the neighborhood somehow," he said.

There are typically anywhere from 50 to 75 productions in the city at any time, Cho said. The industry brings in approximately $5 billion to the city’s economy each year.

Some New Yorkers, like Queens resident Jonathan Korn, 27, say it's worth it to be part of the action.

"It's fun walking by and watching it happen," he said as he stopped by to see the crew set up a shot on his lunch break in Midtown.

But not everyone thinks enough is being done.

Midtown resident Sanford Walk, in his 40s, was fuming after he was stopped by a production assistant on his way to work. He said he plans to file a complaint with 311.

"I'm pissed" he said. "The way this is being run, I felt accosted."

Despite the recent high-profile altercations, Consentine said that crews and residents generally do get along.

"We try to be respectful," Consentine said. "We're not all ... evil people."