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8 Things You Didn't Know About Filming 'Boardwalk Empire' in NYC

By Radhika Marya | October 3, 2014 7:16am
 Prohibition-era drama "Boardwalk Empire" filmed five seasons all over New York City, transforming parts of Brooklyn, Staten Island and Far Rockaway into 1920s and early 1930s Atlantic City, Chicago and more.
Behind the Scenes of 'Boardwalk Empire'
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NEW YORK CITY — Prohibition-era drama “Boardwalk Empire” — currently in the middle of its fifth and final season on HBO — is among the many primetime TV shows that have used New York City as a set.

The show, focusing on Atlantic City politician and gangster “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi) spent the past few years filming everywhere from Staten Island and Brooklyn to Far Rockaway, transforming parts of the city into Atlantic City, Chicago and even Havana, Cuba.

Amanda Foley, a “Boardwalk Empire” location manager who worked on the show all five seasons, said while New Yorkers — especially those in film-shoot heavy areas of Brooklyn — tend to be “film savvy,” many were starry-eyed in the presence of the actors, extras walking down the street in 1920s costumes, and old-fashioned cars.

Foley revealed some fascinating details about shooting in the city to DNAinfo New York:

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1. Creating 1920s Atlantic City required major temporary alterations to local streets.
"It requires taking down lamp posts, taking down street signs, taking out air conditioners, painting out the double yellow lines, putting down dirt, whatever the scene requires.

"The interior [scenes] were obviously a little bit easier. There are a lot of buildings in New York, landmark buildings that sadly haven’t been properly taken care of, and there’s asbestos or lead paint, those that we had to do a lot of abatement for a lot of our interior locations. And the locations that are period appropriate were buildings that are older, they’ve been updated, so there’s so many modern elements that are just unsuitable. It’s hard to find a period-appropriate location, but we did."

2. They shot scenes set in Havana, Cuba in … Prospect Park.
“We shot the opening scene [this season] at the Tennis House in Prospect Park. I just happen to live near Prospect Park and I walk with my husband and my dog and my daughter, and we walk by that location every day. And I just saw it and was like 'One day this is going to work for "Boardwalk Empire."' We had it in our database, Havana came up in our script and it was perfect.”

3. Staten Island was a stand-in for Chicago.
"We shot in Staten Island quite a bit. We shot on Port Richmond Avenue… It was like a stretch of street that had some empty buildings in it. And we used it for Chicago, we used it for New York, we used it for many locations."

4. The show shot in Rockaway and donated Sandy relief money to the Parks Department.
"The beach was really affected by Sandy. So they were happy to have us, we were able to donate a significant amount of money to the Parks Department to help them build up the boardwalk again, and make improvements, that sort of thing. They were very open to us being there, as well as Staten Island."

5. A cigar store on set was so realistic that a civilian tried to shop there.
"We were on the boardwalk at Far Rockaway… we watched a man get off his bike and walk into one of our fake storefronts [a cigar shop] that we created. And we were like, 'Excuse me, you can’t go in there.' And he actually thought it was a store and he was going in there to purchase something."

6. Occasionally, the shooting would anger locals.
"On a beautiful day, people would want to sit on the beach in front of our [boardwalk] set, and obviously, we can’t have someone in modern day clothing sitting on the beach. We worked with the Parks Department and we received permission from them to politely ask pedestrians to please hold between rolls and cuts… People are usually accommodating. Occasionally, you’ll have one person who is just angry and just storms on through, which is fine. We let that happen and they’re on their way and we move on."

7. They built a subway station in Brooklyn Heights.
"We shot on Monroe Place in Pierrepont in Brooklyn Heights, and we put in a fake old subway station… It was so funny to watch that. Everyone was completely confused by the new subway station that looked like it came from 1931."

8. It takes many, many people to create two minutes of “Boardwalk Empire.”
"For a show like 'Boardwalk Empire,' the amount of work that goes into making a period show, a scene — just one simple scene, it’s a tremendous amount of work, and it takes so many people. So many people are employed just for two minutes of screen time, from costumes to craft service to the locations department to the camera department to the actors.

"It’s incredible how much work goes into it and how much money frankly goes into creating a world that we created on 'Boardwalk Empire.' And people work very hard, very long hours and very hard to make that happen. It’s not all, somebody just said the other day — it’s not all sunglasses and autographs. It’s a lot of work."

The final episode of "Boardwalk Empire" is set to air on HBO on Oct. 26, 2014.