Photographed by Boarwalk Empire scout Orit Greenberg. Stairs in a building in Manhattan, dating to late 1880s
We first met Orit Greenberg, a film location scout for Boardwalk Empire, when she was looking for a 1920s bank interior for the fourth season. She had come across the abandoned Bank of Manhattan in Long Island City through Untapped Cities, during our exhibition partnership with No Longer Empty inside the bank. With our recent two part series on Boardwalk Empire film locations, we decided it was time we did a profile on Orit.
Untapped: You’re a location scout for Boardwalk Empire, which has one of the most incredible backdrops we’ve seen on TV. What have been some highlights while scouting for film locations?
Orit: Highlights have included discovering and gaining access to places that most people don’t get to see: A catwalk in an ornate dome, the Times Square ball rooftop, perfectly-preserved or restored private homes, “the backstage” of a museum, and the many hidden gems that exist throughout the metro area. Just when you think you know a street or neighborhood like the back of your hand, new buildings pop up or something old is revealed—the city is constantly surprising me.
I love the locations I get to scout, but it’s truly the people and the colorful characters who own, maintain or work in them that make the job so fun and exciting. I equally love hearing the stories and history of the locations, as well as the stories of the people who come with them.
Untapped: What challenges arise scouting for Boardwalk Empire compared to other shoots?
Orit: Location scouting is a challenging job in general, but when you work on a period TV show, that challenge increases colossally. Most days you are searching for a needle in a haystack, especially when searching for interior locations. You knock on a lot of doors in vein, until you discover the right look inside. And if it is an exterior location, you need to find something suitable with appropriate period buildings 360 degrees around. But it makes finding the perfect location that much more rewarding.
Untapped: How did you get involved in scouting? What did you do before?
Orit: I read an article about a location manager in the NYTimes and thought it sounded like a fun job, full of travel and photography. I had fantasies of flying in helicopters looking for locations in far-off places. Haven’t scouted via helicopter–yet. But I hope to some day.
Before things went totally digital, location scouts printed their work and assembled folders of photos in the basement of PhotoMax, a photo lab. It was a de facto community center, as well as a workspace. I went down there one day and started asking people about the ins and outs of location scouting—one person happened to be a location manager, who gave my name to another location manager who hired me for a movie.
In my previous work life, I used to be a professional ballet dancer, teacher, nanny, and photographer’s assistant. And I used to work for Pomegranate Arts, a company that produces the live performances of Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, and other international artists.
Untapped: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you on the job?
Orit: Thankfully, nothing too crazy has happened to me on the job. Some days are crazier than others—it’s climbing a ladder onto a roof to get a better shot, or walking past the no trespassing sign to find out what is on the other side, or being chased by feral dogs.
I worked on one movie where they needed to find places where they could film a nail-biting and visually-engaging chase sequence. So I was spending my days asking people if I could climb out of their windows into back alleys, and down stairs into basements, looking for tight squeezes and different, exciting escape routes. Needless to say, getting those scouting photos took some pseudo stunt work.
Warehouse in Brooklyn from the 1900’s.
Untapped: What’s an “Untapped” thing about being a scout that most people don’t know about?
Orit: Being a scout involves many hours of driving, walking, and biking around—alone with a map (or tossing out the map in order to just “get lost” and “follow your nose”), to find a needle in a haystack. All the while you’re desperately trying to find a place to eat lunch in what feels like the middle of nowhere—or worse, trying to find a bathroom in what feels like the middle of nowhere. Scouting also involves days of research, cold calls, knocking on doors, and scouting to find a perfect location—only to find out the location has been changed or, worse, cut from the script. And then you have to start from scratch, but with less time than you had before to find some new options. But it truly is the best job ever, and the perks always outweigh the perils.
Untapped: What are some of your favorite spots in NYC?
I love rooftops. I have had the great fortune to scout rooftops for several projects and have spent weeks looking for perfect ones. It’s not always easy to gain access to rooftops, but once you get up there, it is such a thrill. Looking down on the world, or across to another borough, or into another office/apt/life across the street in another building is so glorious. It is a vantage point that truly inspires me and changes the way the city looks and feels.
Orit is also currently working on the film Annie, currently filming with Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz and Rose Byrne. All photos by Orit Greenberg.