While Times Square and the Empire State Building provide for breathtaking shots, life on New York City film sets can be strenuous, as mere 30-second commercials can require days of takes, re-takes, and set changes. "Making Of" features of film and TV have often documented the efforts of actors and crew members.
However, the story of the NYPD Movie-TV Unit and its few members, who are assigned to protect these important sets from theft and defamation, has now been examined on the day-to-day level in a new memoir, The Coparazzi, by unit member and retired NYPD officer Vincent Casale, who will appear at in Locust Valley for a book signing from 4-6 p.m.
The unit, the first of its kind, is unique in that Casale says most municipalities contract their security services out to private companies, and the city does not charge filmmakers for their services, though a permit is required to film commercially in NYC. The entertainment industry in New York City is now worth $5 billion, according to the unit's website.
Casale, born in East Harlem, became a member of the NYPD in 1984 and joined the Movie-TV Unit from 1989 until 1992, a busy period for New York City's film exploits. Casale worked on sets including The Godfather: Part 3, Scent of A Woman, and Ghost, and spent time on the set of Law & Order.
Thrilled for the opportunity to work alongside big names like Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Cindy Crawford and Harrison Ford, Casale learned the basics of protecting the delicate sets.
"We were assigned to protect the sets and preserve the peace," he said over the phone Wednesday. "There were a lot of pyrotechnics involved, and prop guns - we also were charged with informing the public that the scenes being shot weren't the real thing. Passersby often couldn't tell the difference, especially during Law & Order."
Casale soon learned that although there were the big scenes in the blockbusters, protecting these locations wasn't always a glorious role.
"With a lot of the big films came a lot of small jobs, like commercials or promotional videos - those were one-man jobs with long hours - sometimes it'd be a 10- to 12-hour shift on that one set with nobody there," he explained, noting that 18 officers were assigned to the Unit. "The commute was always a strain too, as can be imagined."
After four years in the Unit, Casale returned to his patrolman role in the department and remained there until 2004, when he retired from the NYPD. He now lives in Syosset with his family.
"Vinny" Casale and his book will be available for signing tomorrow at Forest Books, located at 182 Birch Hill Road in Locust Valley. For information, call the store at 516-759-1489. The book is also available on Amazon and has a Kindle version, though Forest Books owner invites readers to attend the book signing.
"There'll be coffee and snacks, and it'll be a real fun time," said Aledort.