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Greenpoint's Self-Appointed Film Crew Watchdog Keeps Wary Eye on Industry

By Serena Dai | July 17, 2014 1:13pm
 Rolf Carle, 53, is a longtime Greenpoint resident known for documenting the way the city treats the film industry.
Rolf Carle, Greenpoint's Film Accountability Activist
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GREENPOINT — Greenpoint's film industry watchdog is willing to admit his dedication to keeping film crews on the straight and narrow borders on "fanatical."

Greenpoint resident Rolf Carle, 53, who has lived in Greenpoint for more than two decades, has been called a "film-shoot accountability activist" by locals for calling out everything from companies leaving tape on poles and trees to those hogging the residential parking.

Carle takes photos of behavior that might be egregious, posts them to his Facebook group "Film Complaint 11222" — which now has more than 50 members, including residents and local media — and files a complaint with 311 and the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting.

"Listen, I like movies. Who doesn't?" he said, adding that he just wants the film crews — and the city agency tasked with overseeing them — to follow the rules. "All I want them to do is respect our block."

Carle's frustrations began when the 1996 film "Sleepers," starring Robert De Niro, spent time filming near his cabinetry business in The Pencil Factory on Greenpoint Avenue.

Carle said he received no warning that the film, which also starred Kevin Bacon, Dustin Hoffman and Brad Pitt, would bring lights, cameras and trucks to the street. 

He had a project he needed to finish, but with all the ruckus, his own deliveries couldn't get through.

"I really felt like an armed force came in and took control," Carle said.

His frustration grew as Greenpoint became a hub for filming, including the FX show "Rescue Me," which sent fumes wafting into his window in 2006.

A couple of film crews, including the one for the 2011 Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock movie "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," taped permit signs to trees, only to have the bark rip off with the tape, Carle said.

Carle — with the support of neighbors — started documenting complaints after that, first on Scribd and then on Facebook.

He said he's had a mixed response from the city's Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment, which is responsible for issuing permits for on-site shoots through the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting.

Carle said he felt the city often gave him the run-around when he called to complain about behavior he and others considered disrespectful.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg championed the film industry with tax breaks during his time in office, while Mayor Bill de Blasio continued the love, wooing Hollywood with new programs and partnerships, which he said in an op-ed is worth some $7.1 billion to the city.

But after local backlash about the suffocating number of movie and TV shoots taking over the streets, the city has recently rolled out a series of efforts to curtail the pain inflicted on popular filming sites, including issuing a temporary moratorium on filming in Hunters Point, Queens.

Marybeth Ihle, spokeswoman for the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment, said the city is hyper-aware of its responsibility to balance the needs of locals and of film crews.

Being production friendly partly means "making sure productions are good neighbors while filming on location," Ihle said.

Ihle said the city responds "to all calls and emails we receive to resolve on-set situations as quickly as possible," adding that companies that don't adhere to the rules can have their permits revoked.

Despite his reputation as a film crew vigilante, Carle's "not a single-issue guy," said Marisa Bowe, a resident who's known him for years. He has rallied against a power plant being built on the waterfront and fought to keep more firehouses in the neighborhood. He's also fought pollution in Newtown Creek.

Even so, Bowe said Carle's a non-confrontational "totally sweet, teddy bear guy" who's just devoted to community issues.

"He's not like popped up as this crazy person who's upset against the film industry," Bowe said.

Carle's not sure how much impact his work has had, though he does think films are more careful about taping permits to trees after his complaints.

His next big wish, he said, is for the city to hold a forum for residents in heavily filmed neighborhoods can voice their concerns.

Meanwhile, he "is trying to lighten up." Bringing a little humor to the whole thing could bring more attention to the issue, he said.

"It's an approach that's more appealing," he said. "No one likes a complainer."