Smoke machines and movie trailers are common sights on the streets of New York City’s Greenwich Village and Brooklyn’s trendy DUMBO neighborhood, but as more television and film crews make their way across the Hudson River, similar sights are becoming commonplace in Secaucus, Hoboken, and Jersey City.
Twice within the last two weeks, TV film crews have shot footage locally. Last Wednesday, the cast of NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” filmed along Meadowlands Parkway near the Red Roof Inn in Secaucus. The previous week, the hospital drama “Mercy,” another NBC production, shot its season finale outdoors near its Secaucus-based production studio at 10 Enterprise Ave.
NBC actually has two production studios in Hudson County. In addition to the “Mercy” studio, “Law & Order: SVU” has its studio in North Bergen.
“Mercy” films throughout the county, but its indoor footage is filmed at its studio in Secaucus.
The fictitious Mercy Hospital, where the characters work, is based in Jersey City. “Mercy” films its outdoor footage throughout Hudson County, but its indoor footage is filmed in the studio.
The gigantic space accommodates the show’s nurses’ station, staff lounge, various hospital rooms, a bar where the characters hang out, and dozens of other sets the characters frequent during the show.
Like any film studio, the sets include only what needs to be seen on-air. So there are sections of character’s “houses” that include some rooms (a kitchen, a child’s bedroom, a living room), but not others (a bathroom). Some doors lead to other rooms, but others don’t open at all, or open onto an area of the studio that won’t be filmed.
The studio employs dozens of technical, behind-the-scenes workers who perform construction and build the sets. An art department maps out how each set should look. Wardrobe, props and items to be used for set design take up rooms in the studio that are large enough to be an apartment.
The crew has also tried to sprinkle in realistic images of Hudson County. One set was built to look like the roof of the old Yardley Building in Union City, overlooking Hoboken. A large-scale photo of a row of houses in Weehawken is sometimes used as a backdrop.
In fact, “Mercy” sometimes films inside a private residence in Weehawken, and the photo is the exterior of that home.
Although NBC and the producers of “Mercy” allowed the Reporter to take a tour of the facility recently, the network would not permit photos to be taken.
The ‘Sopranos’ effect
While the public may be growing more aware of the presence of film crews in their backyards, Steven Gorelick, executive director of the New Jersey Television and Motion Picture Commission, emphasizes that the state has “a very long history” of film productions.
“Going as far back as the ’70s, we’ve had a lot of film projects come to New Jersey,” he said. “So it wouldn’t be fair to say that this is a new trend. But it is fair to say that some producers who might not have considered New Jersey will now.”
Gorelick credits “Law & Order: SVU” and the HBO hit “The Sopranos” with further raising the state’s profile as ripe for filming.
To illustrate the “L&O” and “Sopranos” effect, Gorelick pointed to the series “Oz.” Tom Fontana, who produced “Oz,” Gorelick said, was notorious for only filming in New York.
“He really didn’t want to even consider New Jersey,” Gorelick remembered. “But once we got him over here, and he saw how close it was to the city, and he saw the types of spaces he’d have available, he was sold. And that show really would not have worked nearly as well in New York as it did in New Jersey.”
Gorelick and his staff had met with Fontana and gave him a tour of Bayonne. After seeing the defunct Military Ocean Terminal base there, Fontana was sold. He eventually created his fictitious Oswald State Correctional Facility in an old Bayonne warehouse.
The commission tries to attract film productions by keeping an exhaustive archive of possible sets and locations in the state where producers might want to shoot.
“One advantage that New Jersey has over some other locations is that it has a wonderful diversity of locales within a small amount of space,” Gorelick noted. “So if a producer needs a beach scene, we can offer that. And if they also need an old train station or an urban setting, we can offer that as well.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.