Everyone loves seeing a movie being filmed, so when the production of Conspiracy Theory came to my hometown of Roosevelt Island, New York City, in 1996, I did what any teenager in a high school photography class would do: I grabbed my film camera and a roll of black and white film and started documenting.
I was actually supposed to be in a drama class at Roosevelt Island’s Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance the night of the filming, but my friends and I decided that skipping it for the chance to see Patrick Stewart, Julia Roberts or Mel Gibson was worth the risk (Sorry Nancy!). Unfortunately, none of them were on-site that evening, but we still were treated to scenes of police cars zooming by and a helicopter taking off.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the evening was seeing how the crew had transformed the facade of an abandoned old nurse’s residence into what would appear to be, on film, a fully-operating hospital. Today, I look back at these photos with a special sense of nostalgia, as that building has long-since been torn down to make way for a community of condos.
The crew had replaced rows of windows shattered by years of youthful rock-throwers and errant foul baseballs from the nearby field with fresh glass. Neon signs were placed near the entrance advertising the fictitious Germaine O Nicols Mental Hospital and giant flood lights lit up the grounds from above. For that one evening, Hollywood had come to Roosevelt Island.
Perhaps my favorite memory of the filming actually came the day after I took these photos. While walking passed the nurses residence in full Halloween costume en-route to the Subway I was momentarily stopped as a stuntman took a fall, back first, out of a second story window and onto a blow-up mat. Sadly, it was the pre-digital era and I wasn’t about to bring my SLR with me to Halloween, so I have no images of this scene. But I do have more from that evening.
So just what is Conspiracy Theory about? According to IMDB and Chris Makrozahopoulos,
Mel Gibson is a New York taxi driver, who has a strange habit. He makes complicated scenarios of conspiracies and publishes them in a newsletter sent out to five recipients. He keeps doing that, until something unbelievable happens: One of his “conspiracy theories” turns out to be real, and so he finds himself chased by the man hiding behind the whole thing.
These photographs were originally taken with a 35mm Pentax SLR film camera in October, 1996. I printed them by hand in the darkroom at The Calhoun School and put them in a binder where they sat, collecting dust, until just recently. I was especially thrilled to find them, as the main structure in the series, the abandoned nurse’s residence, has long-since been torn down to make way for a community of condos.
I finally blew the dust off the negatives and scanned them at Dickerman Prints Photo Lab in San Francisco, where I have the pleasure of working. They were scanned using a Durst Sigma Plus and I only did minor contrast edits in Photoshop to make them look like my original 15 year old prints.
While visiting New York City might not be one of your cheapest holidays, it’s well worth a trip. And if you do make it, be sure to take the aerial tramway over the East River and spend a few hours on Roosevelt Island.