John Fedynich Interview
CHRIS NEUMER: I was realizing as I was sort of mapping out the article, looking over my notes, planning things: you know what would really help? It was this weird catch-22 where I needed to write the article so that […]
CHRIS NEUMER: I was realizing as I was sort of mapping out the article, looking over my notes, planning things: you know what would really help? It was this weird catch-22 where I needed to write the article so that I knew what I needed to ask you. But of course, in order to know what I needed to ask you, I couldn’t have written the article. It was very strange, which isn’t often the case with me. Nonetheless, I dive right in. I figure we can just start with this one. I’d asked you what the most expensive location was and you had mentioned that there was a two thousand dollar-a-day apartment and there was a planetarium.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah, I mean as far as the dollar amount, that was just sort of a rough figure, but I would say the planetarium was one of the more expensive locations in Spider-Man. Which was probably about $150,000.
CHRIS NEUMER: A day?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Well, that was probably for about… it ended up being along three days, which was preparation, wrapping and actually shooting.
CHRIS NEUMER: That still gets expensive doesn’t it?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah.
CHRIS NEUMER: And the apartment you weren’t sure on, uh, but it just…
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah, I mean I would give that figure as a rough figure…
CHRIS NEUMER: Okay.
JOHN FEDYNICH: …For the fee. Ah. But I was looking at a couple of budgets. One thing, just in regard to the overall dollar figure, using, let’s say, Peter Parker’s neighborhood in either Spider-Man 1 or 2. We probably spent a good 50, 60, 70 thousand dollars just within a block. Which was for a couple of days but we compensated a couple of houses just because of the work we did on their property. Rather than trying to pinpoint one specific location, I was trying to group in locations to point out that not only one place benefits from a film shoot. Occasionally, it’s the neighborhood that also benefits, whether it be businesses or residences. The same with the pizza parlor that we used in Spider-Man 2.
CHRIS NEUMER: Now, is that an actual pizza parlor?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah. So that neighborhood also benefited from us filming there for about a day, which was maybe about $60,000.
CHRIS NEUMER: Which neighborhood was that, by the way?
JOHN FEDYNICH: That was in the West Village.
CHRIS NEUMER: Ahhh.
JOHN FEDYNICH: And we also try to make small donations to the community boards.
CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah, you had mentioned that previously.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Because that helps them and gets their support.
CHRIS NEUMER: Do you have any idea what your total location budget was, for either of the Spider-Man films?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Ummm. Yeah. [pause; looking on computer] I’m booting that up. You know, some of the other films like, um, The Pink Panther or Taxi, some of the location fees vary, we used an event space, uh, that we passed off as a… hold on for one second. We created this casino that was supposed to be in Europe at a location in New York, and we spent about three weeks there, and like a week and a half, two weeks of preparation, we took pretty much over the space for about a month, and spent over a hundred thousand dollars there.
CHRIS NEUMER: And that was for which film, again?
JOHN FEDYNICH: The Pink Panther. And part of the reason that we… we wanted to spend more time at the planetarium for Spider-Man 2 but really the schedule didn’t allow it. And on top of that, just how expensive it was. Uh, it was just very cost-prohibitive to really spend more time at the planetarium so they created the interior out in Los Angeles.
CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah, you mentioned that.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Which was where they tried to spend as much… trying to match.
CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah. Let me ask you this. What is it that contributes to a location’s cost? If something’s very expensive, are there usually some factors that remain consistent?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah. There would be a lot of factors. One is, um, well, the schedule: how many days we’re actually filming there, the prep and wrap that’s involved, um, do we need to relocate people, are we displacing customers, are we shutting down, let’s say, a restaurant? Are we, um, I don’t know, altering their space in any way?
CHRIS NEUMER: If you’re shooting in a three million dollar loft in Soho, is that more expensive than if you’re shooting in a smaller apartment, say, in a neighborhood that’s not as trendy?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah, it’s probably more expensive to do something like that. The expectation is probably greater. Okay… so now I’m looking at Spider-Man 2, and as far as the location budget — now, this is just with site rentals, this is for couple of units together. We probably spent a half a million dollars.
CHRIS NEUMER: Wow.
JOHN FEDYNICH: And that’s for a short period of time of filming. Which is, for the amount of time that we were in town shooting, uh, it’s a lot of money. And that doesn’t include the staffing support, people that were involved in my department, or salaries.
CHRIS NEUMER: Just the rental fee?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yep.
CHRIS NEUMER: And one of the things that you had — and [laughs] I’m asking you to help me with my shortcoming here — which was, as I was writing down things that you were saying, occasionally I used abbreviations. And one I went back on and simply could not figure out what it stood for, which was, you were talking about what you did, and you said sometimes you got there with the trucks and finishing something that I abbreviated as B, as in boy, R, as in room. And I could not figure out what that was.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Maybe bathrooms?
CHRIS NEUMER: That’s possible. I could have gone bedrooms. And neither one…
JOHN FEDYNICH: How did you word it?
CHRIS NEUMER: Uh, you said you also finished whatever BR stands for. I asked you what do you do on set. And you said, oh I do a lot of things, sometimes I stay with the truck, sometimes I deal with complaints from…
JOHN FEDYNICH: Oh, yeah. It can also be, not necessarily me, but in locations, we’ll try to find bathrooms, or cleaning bathrooms, we’re negotiating these incredible deals one minute, and we’re parking trucks the next, and yet, we’re dealing with bathroom issues.
CHRIS NEUMER: It ranges the whole gamut there.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah.
CHRIS NEUMER: You had mentioned that nobody was really clamoring to shoot at Ground Zero. Does this surprise you that no one’s trying to?
JOHN FEDYNICH: I don’t know what they would shoot.
CHRIS NEUMER: Really?
JOHN FEDYNICH: You know, I don’t know what’s…
CHRIS NEUMER: You kind of feel that it’s just a big hole and it’s kind of hard to shoot there…
JOHN FEDYNICH: Well, I just think, what kind of topic would you shoot that would be… politically correct?
CHRIS NEUMER: Well, that’s a good point.
JOHN FEDYNICH: You know, it’s still a very sensitive area, unless it’s, of course, dealing with a documentary about what took place. But to try to commercialize the space by doing a shoot-out or a little walk and talk right outside the… you know, I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do.
CHRIS NEUMER: You had also mentioned, as I said earlier that you had to deal with a lot of complaints while on location, and you said that that the majority of those revolved around people whose cars got towed because they didn’t see or ignored the no parking signs.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Uh-huh.
CHRIS NEUMER: Are there any unusual complaints that you’ve had to deal with while you were on location, that you think about and just go, “Wow!?”
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah, um… noise levels, you know, which is very interesting for New York City, where it’s all noise, and yet, because it’s a film crew and they think they’re going to be compensated because we’re out there filming a movie. Or when we’re doing a night shoot and the lights are bothering them. A lot of times, people are just complaining for the sake of complaining and also because they think they’ll be compensated.
CHRIS NEUMER: Are they ever compensated?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Rarely.
CHRIS NEUMER: [Laughs]
JOHN FEDYNICH: You know what I mean? Because you don’t want to set up precedents. Like that.
CHRIS NEUMER: No, I understand.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Because that’s sort of the perception — that if you go and complain enough, the movie crew’s going to pay you money to keep quiet. So that you don’t interfere with their production…
CHRIS NEUMER: Oh, that’s got to be a pain.
JOHN FEDYNICH: …And that’s not always the case.
CHRIS NEUMER: Do you ever look at somebody who’s complaining to you or complaining to somebody else on the set and just think, “we’re not paying you, we’re trying to keep quiet. But, then, on the other hand, you’re being a genuine pain in the ass!”
JOHN FEDYNICH: Well, you have to be careful what you say.
CHRIS NEUMER: Well, yes. But the polite version of a “pain in the ass.”
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah. It’s trying to make them aware of what we’re doing. I mean, it’s a little bit out of the ordinary, but my responsibility to somewhat educate them on the impact that a film crew has, not only in the neighborhood but also on the city of New York.
CHRIS NEUMER: This was in the eight million dollar figure?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah. You know, as I think I mentioned, it’s close to the, uh, I forget what the revenue is for the city of New York but it’s quite hefty.
CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah, you mentioned a seven of eight million dollar figure, briefly. All right. Uh, do many directors ask not to use locations that have been used in other films?
JOHN FEDYNICH: No. They never come out and ask that. I mean, generally you don’t want to show a location that has been overused. You also want to use one that would be recognized. Unless, of course, it’s maybe Central Park, you know…
CHRIS NEUMER: Sure.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Because you can locate Central Park. Where you bring the director in and he, or she, is like, “well, I’ve seen this a million times. What are you taking me here for?” You just try–unless film really calls for something specific, and it’s only in that one location.
CHRIS NEUMER: You had mentioned something about how you were also in charge of overnight security.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yes.
CHRIS NEUMER: So I’ve hired you on as my location manager, we’re going to be shooting down in that Soho location. What does your being in charge of overnight security entail?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Well, we’re probably going to leave equipment over night. Whether we were doing any type of preparation to the location. Set dressers or maybe the prop department wants to leave picture cars outside, we make sure that there’s security on it over night, and then they’re relieved the next day when we show up to begin filming. And then, if we’re going to come back and film the next day, then we’re probably going to leave equipment, so then we hire security again, until we’re completely out of the location, we have security on board to make sure that everything is okay. And that also includes interior spaces. If we’re going to leave anything that’s considered valuable and irreplaceable, we’re definitely going to hire security inside.
CHRIS NEUMER: So it seems like it’s an integral part of the production you get security and that’s about it.
JOHN FEDYNICH: What do you mean?
CHRIS NEUMER: I mean that, like what you’re talking about, it seems extremely important to have security for the picture cars and all that, but it doesn’t seem like that you guys get security and they take care of stuff overnight. And it’s just about that simple.
JOHN FEDYNICH: No, it’s not, it’s pretty important.
CHRIS NEUMER: No, I’m not saying that, I’m not trying to… oh, some word with a “d.” I am not trying to remove the importance of the task; I’m saying it’s very important. But I’m saying it’s simply a matter of bringing on security to take care of the set.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Oh, yeah.
CHRIS NEUMER: There’s not a lot more — it’s an important task, but that’s the task.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah, well, it’s bringing on security, but it’s also the different departments making sure that they’re communicating to us what they’re leaving behind, so that we can also track what’s there. So that the departments don’t show up the next day and say, you know, that such-and-such is missing.
CHRIS NEUMER: I’m with you.
JOHN FEDYNICH: So it’s not just making a phone call and saying I need you to go down to Prince Street and stand outside and watch or go inside and watch. It’s, “let’s assess what’s here.” These are the things you need to be aware of, this is important, and you’re responsible.
CHRIS NEUMER: Gotcha. Now, going back to the location scout that you and I went on. We looked at several the loft locations down in Soho.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yup.
CHRIS NEUMER: Ah, we looked at the basketball court. I think it was on 4th and 6th. And we looked at that one alley location.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yep.
CHRIS NEUMER: Well, actually we looked at a couple of alley locations, but I particularly liked the one with the overpass, or the connection between the two buildings. Are there any warnings that you would have — or, frankly, did give me and I don’t remember — about shooting in either one of those locations? Something that I would have to consider as a director to make my final decision?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah. I think, businesses, traffic flow.
CHRIS NEUMER: Anything, specifically endemic to those locations. Like…
JOHN FEDYNICH: I would say for the loft locations, it would be the businesses and how we affect traffic, because we’re very close to the Holland Tunnel, which is a very big… it is pretty much the only area from downtown to get out of Manhattan. And then, as far as the alleys, it would be more about the businesses that are there, deliveries. And, I would just have to… if the location director is interested in these locations because I’ve shown him some photographs, then I’m gonna make sure from the mayor’s office that there aren’t any concerns that they would have. Maybe it’s any area that’s a little overshot, and the neighborhood’s a little uptight, and I’m not going to be aware of it unless the mayor’s office has had complaints. So I would also funnel that information from the mayor’s office, passing it on to the director and producers and saying, not only do we have to worry about businesses, but the mayor’s office is saying they’d prefer us to be here on a weekend versus a weekday.
CHRIS NEUMER: But as far as you’re concerned, as far as you know without going to the film office or the mayor’s office… businesses and deliveries?
JOHN FEDYNICH: It would just be, like I’m saying, probably the businesses or traffic flow.
CHRIS NEUMER: Now, how would you go about beginning for the loft in Soho? Suppose I picked a building, one of the buildings I really like. How would you go about getting us a loft in that building?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Well, prior to even showing the director, I want to make sure we can front [?] the film there. So although the person whose space we’re looking at says it’s ok, I want to make sure that, maybe there’s a coop board or a management company who operates the building, I want to make sure from them that it is a film-friendly building.
CHRIS NEUMER: Ok.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Then, once I’ve shown the director and he says, or she says, yes, this is the space I want, then it’s negotiating with the loft owner, and then the management company.
CHRIS NEUMER: Is there anything that goes into the negotiations that is out of the ordinary or out of anything that I would expect, you know, just in terms of, don’t do this, or do this, or give me more money and you can do that.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Well, the negotiations are going to be… I have to gather up the information. And the difficult part about my job is that I also have to predict what the other departments… because when you take the director to the location and the designer, and they say that they like the space. Sometimes — you don’t have your gaffer there, you don’t have your head grip there, you don’t have the D.P. there — and so you have to sort of predict what they’re thinking about, or what they’re going to request, during the time of your negotiations. And then use that when I’m negotiating. I mean, the designer’s telling me he wants to prep there for five days. We’re going to shoot there one, and he’s going to wrap out in three days. But the director of photography and the gaffer, who are not there, may want to, let’s say, remove windows. Maybe, from a crane, have a camera positioned outside. These are things that you can’t always predict.
CHRIS NEUMER: Can or cannot?
JOHN FEDYNICH: You can’t always predict. Or they want to put lights on the fire escape. And these are things you have to incorporate into your negotiations. Now, the difficult part is, when you negotiate you come up with your dollar fee and you wait to sign a contract or you actually sign a contract. Weeks later, you do what’s called a technical scout. And that’s where every department goes on the scout, again, to these locations, and they give you their notes. What always happens, from the original notes given to you, you now get three more pages of additional notes as to what they want to do with this location. So now you have to hope that this is not going to affect what you initially negotiated.
CHRIS NEUMER: Does it often affect…?
JOHN FEDYNICH: It does. I’m going to use The Pink Panther as an example. We were shooting at Lehman College in the Bronx. And we scouted the location several times and it wasn’t until our technical scout that we then had the director of photography, the gaffer and the head grip, who now told us they wanted to have these unusual lighting positions within the auditorium, that involved hanging lights over offices, putting cranes out on the plaza area and shining lights into the auditorium. And, while the college was hesitant in giving us permission, it worked out, but it meant there was a lot a more work and time and effort put into planning and organizing this location, and how I had to sort of renegotiate my original deal with them because I was told, well you can’t put something here. But now I had to go back and say, I know we discussed this, but now, in order for us to shoot at this location, we really need to put a crane in that position.
CHRIS NEUMER: What was the unusual lighting that they wanted?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Well, the auditorium was such a huge space, that they didn’t realize how big of a lighting job it was going to be. Because you were also dealing with lighting with the sun coming in from the windows, so it would have to match the lighting for the rest of the day.
CHRIS NEUMER: Well, last thing I have for you is the shooting of action scenes and gunfire. You were saying that you have to post fliers saying that there will be certain things going on at certain hours, so that people don’t end up calling 9-1-1. And it seems to me, having worked on the films that you have — you know, the Spider-Man’s, the Pink Panther’s, the Taxi’s, all of which could be sort of considered action-adventure films — at some point in time, that you would have run into this on more than one occasion. Are there any sort of other little interesting things that go into shooting either car crashes or gunfire on a location that you have to take into consideration?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah. Anytime there’s any flammable material or electrical charges, anything that could spark a fire, we have to involve the fire department. They have a special explosives unit that comes out and scouts the location ahead of time, and tells the production and the special effects coordinator what we have to be responsible for doing, to prevent a fire or explosion or whatever. And then, depending on what the situation is, they will be on site while we’re filming. Either personally or if it’s, let’s say, if there’s a fire effect, they’ll actually require that we have a stand-by fire truck and firemen on board with us.
CHRIS NEUMER: Has anything ever happened while you’ve been on set or on any other projects, anything out of the ordinary while you’re shooting fire scenes or scenes where there might be some kind of electrical issue?
JOHN FEDYNICH: No, knock on wood, never! And I feel that that sort of shows the type of people that we deal with in the effects department here in New York, because they’re very talented, and really specialized in their field that they know what they’re doing. And on top of that, we get some great direction and help from the New York City fire department.
CHRIS NEUMER: Okay.
JOHN FEDYNICH: And they definitely know what they’re doing and what they’re talking about, what they’re looking for. So in my case, I can’t think of anything that’s ever gotten out of control at all.
CHRIS NEUMER: Granted, it’d make a far better story if you’d managed to light an entire block on fire, but I guess for your sake, it’s better that you haven’t.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Absolutely. Yes.
CHRIS NEUMER: But is there anything else you can give me just about the shooting of gunfire? It’s just I remember you mentioned that this was sort of a bigger issue than I had expected.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Well, one, we do have noise restrictions, any type of noise; we have only a certain time period when we’re allowed to create any loud noise. And when it comes to gunfire, we have to make sure that it’s communicated, one, to the community board and, two, to all the local residences and businesses, that we’re doing an effect that involves gunfire, possibly police cars and ambulances, or fire trucks, and to not be alarmed, and that we will have on-site police with us. Because we don’t want to scare, obviously, the neighborhood when they start hearing gunfire. So we’ll post notices in buildings, we’ll put them on lampposts and a lot of different community boards have community newsletters so well give them advance notice. And obviously, passing out fliers to businesses and to just let people know that this is going to happen and to not be alarmed.
CHRIS NEUMER: The more you talk about this and the more you tell me what you do, the more impressed I am with the absolute breadth of the job you have to do. I mean, you really have to be aware of every aspect of the production.
JOHN FEDYNICH: For the most part, yeah, and sometimes it can be overwhelming or confusing if you forget something that potentially could be the problem. And the interesting thing is when you’re dealing with all these departments, they’re so departmentalized, all they have to worry about is what’s within their department.
CHRIS NEUMER: That’s right.
JOHN FEDYNICH: And with locations, it’s not that. We have to worry about that and we have to worry about where the teamsters are gonna park, when the set dressers want to get into a location, when the grips and electrics want to rig their lighting and position their cranes, making sure that the notifications are up within the community, filing the permits, getting the people on board with us, whether it be the businesses or other residences. And then there’s the holding areas I mentioned where we’re feeding the crew, and where the extras are going to be waiting until they’re used on set, and…
CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah. It makes sense how you can start out doing something like this and then easily make the jump to producer or, at least, even a production manager.
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah. You’re aware of what’s going on, and you’re really involved with a lot of money that you’re responsible for. And when you’re negotiating too, you’re working on behalf of the studio, but you’re also representing the location where you’re filming. So you need to come up with a location fee that’s fair for both. Because you don’t want to take advantage of a location. I want to be able to make sure that they’re satisfied from the film shoot, knowing that there’s a possibility that I’m going to go back to them again and use them for another job. And sometimes you work on these big-budget movies — like Spider-Man — but then I’m going to work on something that a lot less money is involved, and I’m going to want to be able to go back to some of those locations and say, I know I paid you such-and-such on Spider-Man, but our budget is not as great, can you work with me this time? And a lot of times, because of your reputation, they’re willing to take that chance and work with you and know that you’ll be good on it for the next job.
CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah. Well, it’s good to have that reputation. But, anything else that you want to add, anything else you want to throw on the board?
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah, I was trying to think of… yeah, I think that doing locations is such an exciting part of the filmmaking process, but yet, it’s the position that a lot of people don’t know what we do. And really, the least appreciated. It really allows you to be creative. And it’s exciting to work with people who have these incredible visions that I can also have some input on. And it does get a little frustrating when you spend days trying to scout locations and the locations aren’t always what the director wants. But, you know, I came from a team-working environment prior to getting into the film business, and that was a challenge for me to go from that environment to an environment where the creative process is what is the priority. I mean, we have to work as a team, but we’re all so compartmentalized.
CHRIS NEUMER: What was the team thing that you were involved in before you got into locations?
JOHN FEDYNICH: I worked internationally with an organization called Up With People. So it was a cross-cultural exchange program that was involved with team-building and motivational activities. You know, to go from that, where the push and the effort was to really work as a team, to production, where there’s a process. Eventually, we all work as a team, but it’s like, the grips only know what they’re responsible for.
CHRIS NEUMER: That’s right.
JOHN FEDYNICH: The electrics only know what they’re responsible for. The set dressers, their responsibility is to get the location dressed. Then I really have to be able to help coordinate that the set dressers are in there, maybe, after the electrics and the grips are in the location. So it’s just an interesting transition I had going from the one to the other. It’s just a great job. If there’s one that I wanted to do in the industry, it would be locations. And I’m just really fortunate to be involved with it.
CHRIS NEUMER: Yes. Lucky you to be there!
JOHN FEDYNICH: Yeah.
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