HBO viewers will be able to take a walk on the wild side this weekend when 1970s-era New York City drama “Vinyl” debuts.
The show focuses on the character of Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), founder and president of American Century Records, during the age of punk, disco and hip-hop. The two-hour pilot was directed by Martin Scorsese, who created the show along with Mick Jagger, Rich Cohen and Terence Winter (“Boardwalk Empire”).
Location manager Kip Myers, who worked on both the pilot and the rest of the first season, said the show typically filmed in the areas it was meant to depict, from parts of SoHo to “the birthplace of hip-hop,” Sedgwick Avenue in The Bronx. Other times, the crew recreated now-long-gone venues — like Max’s Kansas City — in the neighborhoods they were once in.
But while the crew was generally able to find remnants of the ‘70s that added to the show’s authenticity, there were some challenges, Myers said.
“Whenever we’d be filming at a location, they would say like, ‘Oh listen, next year, this building is being torn down,’ or ‘oh this building’s converted into condos.’ Or ‘this no longer exists,’” Myers said.
“And stuff we’d scouted was like two months later gone. It was crazy how fast some of the ‘70s was disappearing, so we were in a race at many times to kind of make sure we capture it before it’s gone.”
Myers talked to DNAinfo New York about what it took to revive a bygone era for the series:
1. Recreating Max’s Kansas City, a popular nightclub that drew the likes of David Bowie and Andy Warhol, created quite a stir.
Myers: “We ended up going right around the block where it was originally and when we were putting up the signage for it… we had several people come out and were like, ‘Oh my God, Max’s Kansas City is opening back up, I remember the stories.’… So all these people were super excited. It’s kind of interesting to do this era because people [who were around then] are still here.”
2. In the pilot, a character is seen taking the subway at the graffiti-filled, grimy Times Square stop with much of the graffiti added in post-production. The scene was shot in a subway station (which we suspect is Brooklyn’s Hoyt-Schemerhorn) with some special history for episode director Martin Scorsese.
Myers: “It was a dead train line… we paid the MTA to allow us to rent the train, and ironically it was the same subway station that Scorsese filmed Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ video… He hasn’t filmed there since then.”
3. Scaffolding caused some problems when choosing locations. For instance, while interiors in the Chelsea Hotel were actually shot there, the exteriors had to be shot elsewhere.
Myers: “We ended up going to Harlem…. Because the Chelsea Hotel is covered in scaffolding right now, and to the point of like you can’t really take it down, it’s all the way to the top…. So it was unaffordable to take it down — not even that, they wouldn’t allow us to take it down, so we had to kind of find a different exterior, but we did do the interior at the actual hotel.”
4. The crew also recreated the Mercer Arts Center for the pilot, filming the exteriors in close proximity of where it once stood.
Myers: “I believe it was on Broadway and West Third and the entrance was on Mercer Street, around the corner. So we went two blocks south on Crosby between Houston and Spring right there… that was kind of our street because the actual architecture matched exactly how it was in the photos that we had seen.”
“This particular street had no scaffolding, barely any modern signs and we just dressed the storefronts to mostly make them look closed. And then we added an awning onto the back of one of the buildings, so it looked like that was the entrance… And then the interior, we actually did [in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens] in Brooklyn.”
5. The cast and crew did leave the five boroughs to shoot some scenes in Long Island, including those set in Greenwich, Connecticut, and scenes that were supposed to be at Madison Square Garden.
Myers: “We scouted Madison Square Garden but… they’ve renovated it so much, there’s only a couple of spots that would have worked, and so we ended up going to Nassau Coliseum, which has a really nice period look. But then after we got done filming that, they also tore it down — well, they’re tearing it down right now. It’s almost like we’re archiving parts of New York.”
6. Green screen wasn’t used too often, but there were instances — such as driving scenes — where it was needed.
Myers: “[It] became a real issue to find a few blocks even to be able to do driving shots. There’s some blocks [around the Garment District] that kind of have that period look, but we started finding out you’d have to either be there or you could go up, like Upper West Side or along Central Park. That would kind of give you some period looks. But the driving shots became kind of difficult to find — like long stretches of period stuff. I think some of that we used green screen.”
7. While some places had to be recreated, other spots — like the Brill Building and recording studios Electric Lady and Avatar — make an actual appearance in the series.
Myers: “On the pilot, we went to the real Brill Building [near Times Square]. There’s a shot of seeing the outside of the Brill and going into the beautiful mirrored lobby… then after we filmed the pilot, they decided to renovate…. We had to film in [Electric Lady] like three or four times and Avatar… which is super cool. So both of those are period recording studios, which have so much history. And we got to go in. We were super excited to be able to use them and they were equally excited to be working with us, which kind of never happens.”
The 10-episode first season of "Vinyl" airs on HBO starting Sunday, Feb. 14 at 9 p.m. with a two-hour pilot.