Do you have a favorite memory of New York?
Well, I grew up outside the City, as we called it. My father worked there so we often came in for a show, or to dine out, or to visit my father in his office. The first, most vivid, memory I have is taking a class trip to the Statue of Liberty, which was, when you see it up close -- you've seen it in books or in photographs or in movies, but when you get off of the boat that takes you out there and look up at it, it's truly magnificent. It's really overwhelming. So that was one of my earliest memories.
|From left: David Ford (assist. camera), Buddy Squires, Ric Burns and Lisa Ades on top of the Empire State Building, March 1996.
Why do you think New York holds such a fascination for people around the world?
I think that New York is a place that people love to love and love to hate. It really holds out this idea of possibility and promise, that you can come to New York and you can reinvent yourself, you can become something new, you can realize your dreams. And so, for centuries, it's remained a kind of place where people can come to and, as one of our great interviews, Ken Jackson, says, kind of realize one's full potential.
What makes it different from any other city?
New York is so unlike so many other cities. It's so densely populated, it's so crazy. Life is lived on the streets. It has a kind of manic energy, but at the same time, it holds out a sense of calm for people who live in New York and for people who come to visit.
Who were some of the people that you interviewed?
I don't think we've ever made a film that has had such a wide variety of people who have spoken so passionately and eloquently about a subject. People feel strongly about New York, whether they love it or they hate it. Everybody has something to say about it. So we've been extremely fortunate in being able to interview wonderful historians, writers, artists, architects, basically every walk of life. And we have a truly extraordinary cast of characters from Martin Scorsese to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to former mayors, Brendan Gill, architect Robert Stern, historian Ken Jackson.. We have found that there's no other place that inspires people in quite the same way as New York. That's probably why it's the most written about, sung about, photographed, filmed, talked about city anywhere.
|Producer Lisa Ades and DP Allen Moore atop the Chrysler Building, July 1997.
What did you learn about New York that you didn't already know, while you were making this film?
I learned a tremendous amount about New York that I didn't know, from small things like the fact that New York was the capital of the United States for a short period, to the fact that the Bronx was named after a family that had a farm, to just the fact that it has such a sprawling history and so much mirrors the history of the United States and how we came to be as a nation. That was really the most surprising thing, not just that everything happened here first, or on a larger scale than other places, but really how much we can see how the nation was formed through all the forces that converged on this Island of Manhattan 350 years ago.
What sorts of reactions would you get from New Yorkers as you were out shooting?
New Yorkers are accustomed to seeing a film crew on just about every block in New York, so it wasn't particularly surprising to see a small documentary film crew filming anywhere. So we were fortunate in that we had access to numerous locations that one wouldn't ordinarily find themselves in, from the top of the Empire State Building to the front of a subway car filming out, from the point of view of the conductor, to the base of the Statue of Liberty. Nobody bats an eye in New York when they see a film crew, so sometimes we had to avoid people waving and shouting out, "Hi mom." But basically, we were able to go just about everywhere . . . and we did.
Why would non-New Yorkers be interested in this film?
The story of New York is the story of America, not only because everybody came here first, from other places, but in a sense, it's a story of modern culture. So many things were born in New York -- the media, so many artistic movements, literary movements, we can trace the birth of photography and the motion picture camera. And in telling the story of New York, we're, in a sense, telling the story of how this nation came to be, and what the possibilities and the promise of what it means to be an American is.
|Lisa Ades and Production Coordinator Justine Bertucelli on the Chrysler Building, July 1997.
What kind of music are you using in this series and how did you pick it? Or did you have someone write it?
We combined original music, original compositions from our composer, Brian Keene, with period and popular music, so some of it reflects the music of the times, in the 19th century and the early 20th century, and a lot of it is popular music that was written here and performed.
Who are some of the voices that you're using?
We've been very lucky that we've had an extraordinary cast of characters reading off-camera quotes for us. Many of them have worked with us in the past, from George Plimpton, to Eli Wallach, Philip Bosco, Frances Sternhagen and we also have some new people, New Yorkers, who've come on board.
Did you have to search to find the proper New York accents or anything like that?
No. It's very easy to find New York actors, and many of them have been very generous in giving us their time because they love the story of New York and want to help recreate the history. So some of the new actors that we're working with this time include Frank Mc Court, Keith David, Joan Allen...
Where did you go to find all the archival images?
Most of the archival images in the film come from collections in New York, the New-York Historical Society, the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Public Library. But really we've accessed collections throughout the country, from the Library of Congress to private collectors. I think it's safe to say it's one of the richest subjects, visually, that we've ever encountered. So because the series spans such a great length of time -- it goes back to the 17th Century -- you can see visually how the city evolves, and it almost parallels the evolving technology. We go from maps and prints and lithographs, to the still photograph, to the moving picture camera, and then live contemporary footage of the city today. So there's this kind of visual arc where we see the city unfolding through all these different medium, and it's incredibly rich and varied.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I thought about being an anthropologist, but being a documentary film maker is the closest thing in a certain way. It's a way of exploring different cultures, our own culture, various parts of the world, history. It's a way to synthesize and kind of explore and bring to life the stories of different peoples.
What do you hope viewers will take away from watching this?
|DP Allen Moore and Producer Lisa Ades shoot from the Chrysler Building, July 1997.
I hope that people will see in New York the story of where we all came from as Americans, and see in their own cities and in their own family lives and in their own ancestry how we came to be, not only as individuals but as a people, and what the forces that shape this country were 350 years ago and what they are today.
What are the benefits of having this show air on PBS, as opposed to some other network?
We've been very fortunate to have the luxury of exploring one subject over such a great span of time, to really research thoroughly, to take our time in filming and editing, figuring out what to leave in the film and what to leave out. And there's no other broadcast venue besides PBS which would allow filmmakers to do what we do quite in the same way.
Has the growth and popularity of the Worldwide Web and other technologies had any impact on the way that you approach a project?
As documentary filmmakers, we often have an abundance of material that we can't use in the film. We have a very high shooting ratio, and projects like the Web or CD-ROM or a whole host of interactive projects make it possible for us to utilize the tremendous resources that we've gathered. We have outtakes from interviews, we have numerous archival photographs or moving picture footage, newsreels, stock footage, live cinematography, that now we're able to utilize in new ways. The educational possibilities of the Web surpass anything that we've done before, so in addition to having students be able to access the film itself and accompanying teachers' guides or materials that go along with, this is a really fun and interesting way for people to explore more about the city's history.