I think it was sometime back in 1990 when I was living in a somewhat crappy apartment building on the corner of 112th Street and Manhattan Avenue in Harlem, NYC when a bunch of people rolled up in a few vehicles and started cleaning up the street directly across from me. Weeds were pulled, the basements in the two or three abandoned buildings on the corner were cleared out and if I recall correctly, there was even some exterior and interior painting done that made it seem as if those buildings were going to be fully renovated at some point. All that work also chased away some of the drug trade on the block (a good thing) and at some point I felt things were looking up for the area.
Not too long afterwards, I was going to work and saw a film crew taking up space in the area and it seemed those buildings were going to be used for a movie shoot and not fully renovated after all. Drat. It turned out that scenes for a film called One Good Cop were being shot and despite the somewhat ratty condition of the area, people started popping up to watch the filming. That was in part due to Micheal Keaton being on the set for a few days filming a key action sequence that required a rat wrangler and a whole lot of rats, a few other actors and stuntmen and a panel truck that was key to the scene’s finale.
I had a few days off from the job, so I watched most of the filming from my 5th floor window, fascinated by what I saw. Now, I’d seen movies shot here in NY before, but only a few minutes in my occasional passing of a TV show or film set where you’re asked to clear out before things get rolling. This time, watching scenes being structured, actors going through multiple takes trying different moods and methods, and even a clever uses of doubles and stuntmen all made me realize this is a pretty hard way to make a living. While Keaton was on the set, word got out in the area and it wasn’t long before fans started showing up to gather around his trailer hoping for a chance to see him and/or perhaps score a photo or get an autograph. This was well before the cellphone camera era, mind you, so it was pretty amusing to pop outside every so often and see people milling around across the other street where a few production vehicles were parked.
While I wasn’t as star-struck as those folks clustering around during the shoot, I did feel like doing something fun for the man, especially after that scene he show where he needed to dart from a basement followed by a small army of allegedly trained rats. Well, “trained” as in there was a rat wrangler who was in charge of getting all the rats to run from that basement area and into a cage of some sort without losing a single one. I forget how many takes were done, but it took a while and I recall Keaton not being needed for all the takes because there was a part where just the rats fleeing the basement was being shot. I don’t think any of the rodents were lost, but I do recall wondering what a rat wrangler was paid for keeping all those rats more or less in line.
I think it was about a day after the rat scene when I decided to draw up that image to the right and see if I could either present it to Keaton or perhaps hand it to one of the crew members on he set to give it to him. I didn’t want to lurk outside with the rest of the people, most of which were shooed off by the crew when things got too busy) and at one point, the streets around the corner needed to be cleared for the panel truck sequence, so people were sent packing as the scene was being pieced together.
During a long break in shooting, I recall going downstairs and attempting to get one of the crew members assigned to do a bit of guiding people away from the set to take the art and hand it to Keaton, but they wouldn’t budge from their spot even though it was definitely dead on the set while things were being worked out. While I was disappointed by being turned down by that traffic shifting gofer, popping back upstairs to watch the truck scene being filmed was pretty entertaining. The shoot took up most of the day thanks to the different angles and speeds the truck was filmed at plus the stunt double for one actor who needed to do a bit of work pretending to be struck by that truck.
I recall taking a break from watching the truck coming around that corner and fake hitting that double for a short time and decided during that break to head back downstairs and go wait near Keaton’s trailer with the goal of simply handing him the artwork when he made his exit and scooting back home. I had to wait about 20 minutes inside the building because they were resetting a shot where the truck was to drive by, so I did that and during the next truck reset, I was allowed to dash over the trailers and wait it out. I ended up in a small queue of about ten people gathered near the trailer and chatted with a few of them as we waited. There was some guy with his two kids, a few young ladies and some other folks I don’t recall, all just cheerily yakking away quietly as to not disturb the action taking place.
I don’t recall exactly how long we waited, but it was long enough that people were wondering if anyone was actually inside that trailer. Then, the door popped open and out walked… the guy doubling for Micheal Keaton, gyahhhh. It turned out that he’d actually left earlier in the afternoon and it was his double doing the work in as far as reacting to that dude getting run down. Ah, well. I was doubly dejected, but made note to keep an eye peeled for the film when it landed in theaters. When it did appear on May 2, 1991, I went to see it with a few friends and found it fine on the acting front, but a bit dicey in terms of plot.
Keaton’s Artie Lewis is the titular character who ends up adopting his slain partner’s three daughters and promising them a better life with his wife (Rene Russo). But they need to move to a larger space than the couple’s tiny apartment, so Artie decides to rob drug lord Beniamino Rios (Tony Plana) and use the stolen money as a down payment on a house. It turns out that the drug lord’s main squeeze is a cop Grace De Feliz (Rachel Ticotin) who’s deep undercover and suspects Artie had a hand in the robbery, but he’s allowed to keep working because he’s… ONE GOOD COP. Anyway, stuff goes bad for Artie when Rios indeed figures things out, but he’s saved from certain death by Grace and after a bit of departmental fuss and bother, ends up not charged with any crimes for a somewhat ridiculous reason. Is it a good film? Well, up to the point where your eyes start rolling at the kooky legal maneuvering that gets Artie out of trouble and away to a happy ending, it is.
But then again, it’s not a documentary at all by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a purely Hollywood (by way of some choiceNYC location shots) doing its thing and I’m glad I got to see some of it happening (even if I didn’t get to see Keaton up close even for a half minute – ah well).
Ah yes, life on a film shoot: lots of setting up and prep, several takes, a glimpse or two of the big-name actor, then they’re gone while everyone else cleans up. And like any shoot, some actors were cool and hung out and chatted with you, while others…didn’t. Or they had their stunt doubles hang out with their trailer-waiting fans instead.
I did see plenty of Keaton on the “set” during the shoot, but from my window as they were shooting. Amusingly enough, a friend told me that area is now a high-end spot with super-expensive rents (the very opposite of what it was back when the film was made). I may need to swing by and see for myself at some point.