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How to Crash a Film Set

(Photo: Eddie Codel)

Seeing your first production notice on a lamppost is like seeing your first R-rated movie - even if it's a B-grade horror flick starring a '70s actress you've never heard of, it's still exciting. Thanks to Brooklyn's white-hot cultural cache, as well as city-sponsored programs like Made in NY that offer tax breaks and behind-the-scenes support to productions that want to work within our fair borough, you're about to start seeing a lot more of these brightly colored notices that are the bane of drivers from Greenpoint to DUMBO. Watching a crew set up, shoot and act like they own the streets of New York City is one of life's great cheap thrills, so here are some tips on how to crash a set like a pro.

Before you go off hoping to see Keri Russell grab a donut in between takes for The Americans, which recently set up camp on several blocks of the Columbia Waterfront District, or Lena Dunham act like the world's worst barista on Girls, which counts Greenpoint's Cafe Grumpy as a prime location, you have to know where they'll be. There are a host of websites and forums dedicated to tracking film and TV shoots for people obsessed with seeing their favorite stars. On Location Vacations updates their website daily with information on film and TV shoots from tipsters around the country, and its Twitter feed (@olv) is a treasure trove of on-the-fly updates and furtively-taken photographs. Another great resource is Made in NY itself, which sends out a weekly list of upcoming shoots known as The Reel Jobs list. The main purpose of the list is to connect production companies with prospective crew members but enterprising fans can use the information to suss out the when and where they'll need to be to catch a glimpse of Hollywood in NYC.

Once you figure out the coordinates of a shoot, the question of how to cross over from observer to observed has an easy answer. Remember that old adage "fake it 'till you make it?" The strategy behind crashing a film set can often be boiled down to something as simple as confidence, so put that semester of theater to use. Production assistants, or PA's, are the nameless, faceless backbone of any media production, so dressing up in a typical work outfit of sneakers, jeans and hoodie (clipboard optional) will help you blend into the background. Hanging around the craft table is a time-honored time-waster, so head there and nurse a cup of coffee while staring intently at an important email on your phone (hey, they don't know you're really checking out the top stories on Facebook). If you're a smoker, offer a light or a cigarette to other stressed out crew members and complain about how long everything takes and how the light just won't cooperate. And if all else fails, pretending to be a confused extra is always an option - just blame it on a shady ad you answered on Craigslist.

If you're not one for crashing the set, hop on the Brooklyn TV & Movie Sites tour, which departs every Saturday at 11am. You may not be in the middle of the action, but you will see how spots in Brooklyn have stood in for Manhattan, Boston and even France.

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