Brooklyn Provides the Set for Two Generations of Filmmakers

Home Arts & Culture Brooklyn Provides the Set for Two Generations of Filmmakers

In the trailer for Dan Sallitt’s “The Unspeakable Act,” a 17-year-old girl named Jackie bikes home. Once there, she confronts her brother about his feelings for another girl and reveals her own romantic feelings for him. What only a few astute viewers may recognize is the place. Sallitt, 56, set his fourth feature in a stately green house with yellow shutters in the Midwood Park section of Brooklyn.

“It was kind of crucial to the script that the character have a house that’s very important to her and is kind of a projection of her own mythology of herself,” said Sallitt, who wound up shooting the movie in a longtime friend’s home.

In so doing, Sallitt has joined a growing number of filmmakers and writers who utilize the tree-lined streets and verdant manors found in neighborhoods like Flatbush, Ditmas Park, and Midwood as movie sets. Sallitt said that these communities are “very inviting to the film industry” because their architecture and ambience can evoke small-town America.

Antique cars from the set of Boardwalk Empire in Ditmas Park
Antique cars parked in front of the set of “Boardwalk Empire” in Ditmas Park, where the show filmed part of its pilot episode. (Melissa Howard/The Brooklyn Ink)

“The Unspeakable Act,” which Sallitt says is the first installment of a trilogy, was featured at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Cinema Fest this summer. At the film’s premier at the Sarasota Film Festival, Sallitt won the Independent Vision Award.

Another new film, Franklyn Strachan’s “Death is No Escape,” debuted earlier this summer in the supposedly haunted basement in Flatbush where it was shot. Strachan recently showed “Death is No Escape,” his fifth feature, at the Artisan Festival International World Cinema Festival, an event that says it celebrates cultural diversity, in Southampton on August 4.

Strachan, whose work has been featured in publications like The Huffington Post, The Brooklyn Voice, and Metrofocus, said he wrote the film’s script after experiencing a paranormal encounter.

“Basically, that idea of this fully manifested being, just being there, having a full consciousness from what I noticed, made me wonder what happens on that side and what happens that allows you to come through this side, and what happens if the person who was allowed to come through this side shouldn’t have been,” said Strachan, CEO of Cypher Productions. “That’s where this story starts.”

While the films by Sallitt and Strachan have dramatic themes, filmmakers who are more interested in other genres of film also consider neighborhoods in this area of Brooklyn as the perfect setting. Two New York-based comedians filmed several scenes in their web series, “It Gets Betterish,” in Ditmas Park last summer.

“It’s beautiful, it’s quiet, and it’s a very unassuming neighborhood,” said Eliot Glazer, co-creator of “It Gets Betterish.” “It’s very pretty, so why not take advantage of how beautiful the neighborhood is?”

Shows like “Gossip Girl” and HBO’s new series “Girls,” which is set in areas of Brooklyn and Manhattan, have received wide acclaim for their interpretation of being young and single in New York City. Glazer, 29, said he and the show’s other creator, Brent Sullivan, 28, felt it was important to show a different side of Brooklyn in “It Gets Betterish,” which he described as a web series that gives an “irreverent viewpoint on gay life in a really funny way.”

“It’s also nice to expand that view of Brooklyn outside of neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Park Slope, because you so often see, at least in comedies, films shot in the Williamsburg area,” said Glazer, who lived in Ditmas Park for many years. “You don’t often see representations of being young in Brooklyn elsewhere.”

Eliot Glazer and Brent Sullivan walk through the Cortelyou Road subway station in a scene from their webseries "It Gets Betterish." (Melissa Howard/The Brooklyn Ink)
Eliot Glazer and Brent Sullivan walk through the Cortelyou Road subway station in a scene from their web series “It Gets Betterish.” (Melissa Howard/The Brooklyn Ink)

“It Gets Betterish,” the most popular episode of which has been viewed more than 25,000 times on YouTube, received positive reviews from critics at blogs like Jezebel and The Frisky. In March, Glazer and Sullivan were also featured in The Huffington Post’s “Voice to Voice” series for their show.

The neighborhood culture and Victorian style of homes in some parts of Flatbush have a long history of attracting writers who want to develop their characters there. Sophie Zawistowski emigrates from Germany to Brooklyn in William Styron’s novel “Sophie’s Choice,” which was adapted into a full-length movie in 1982. Meryl Streep starred as Sophie in the film, which was mainly shot in Flatbush. The film “The Lords of Flatbush,” starring Henry Winkler and Sylvester Stallone, also takes place in this community.

Flatbush and Ditmas Park are often spotted in films and TV shows with large budgets. Two feature films scheduled to premiere in 2013 were filmed in Ditmas Park earlier this year, bringing several celebrities to the area. A romantic comedy called “A Case of You,” written by and starring Justin Long, filmed in Ditmas Park in February. “Blood Ties,” which stars Mila Kunis and Clive Owen, was also partially shot there.

One of HBO’s TV shows, “Boardwalk Empire,” filmed in the Flatbush Reformed Church many times in the past year. The crew returned to the area June 13, when they filmed in a house in Ditmas Park for several days. Antique cars were parked nearby, along with trailers labeled as dressing rooms for the show’s actors and actresses. “Boardwalk Empire,” the third season of which will premiere later this year, is actually set in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the Prohibition period of the 1920s and early 1930s.

Bob Shaw, who was the production designer for “Boardwalk Empire” when the crew filmed part of its pilot episode in Flatbush, described some of the sets he designed as a representation of “a much more elegant time than the world we live in now.”

“You can’t always find a block of New York that looks like 1920,” explained Shaw, who said that “staying true to the period” was one of the toughest aspects of working as a member of this show’s crew.

When Jackie asks her brother “Do you really like her better than me?” in “The Unspeakable Act,” when Kristin says “There’s a woman staring at us,” and points to a floating figure in “Death is No Escape,” when Brent swigs from a flask in a bathroom at a dinner party in an episode of “It Gets Betterish,” these characters may seem worlds apart. Off screen, the distance can be measured in blocks.

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