The Filming of a Theory

Filming a Hollywood Movie Down the Street

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.

Behind the scenes on Conspiracy Theory
Behind the scenes on Conspiracy Theory

Cutting Class to Watch the Filming

I was actually supposed to be in a drama class at Roosevelt Island’s Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance the night of the filming. However, 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.

The old nurses residences were lit up for the first time in years
The old nurses residences were lit up for the first time in years
This was about as close as I could get to the filming
This was about as close as I could get to the filming

Turning Our Ruins into an Active Hospital

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.

This building is now long-gone
This building is now long-gone
Everything in this photo was brought in for filming Conspiracy Theory
Everything in this photo was brought in for filming Conspiracy Theory
Germaineo Nicols Mental Hospital never existed
Germaineo Nicols Mental Hospital never existed

Germaine O Nicols Mental Hospital

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.

All the Roosevelt Island residents came out to watch them film
All the Roosevelt Island residents came out to watch them film
Helicopters were used during filming
Helicopters were used during filming

Shattering Glass and a Man Falling Out a Window

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.

I wonder if the ambulance was there for filming or in case of emergency
I wonder if the ambulance was there for filming or in case of emergency
I still remember how bright the lights were
I still remember how bright the lights were

So What’s 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.

I probably didn't mean for this photo to be blurry, but I love it now!
I probably didn’t mean for this photo to be blurry, but I love it now!
There were only so many things to point my camera at
There were only so many things to point my camera at
When I scanned this, bits of the film's ridges made it in.
When I scanned this, bits of the film’s ridges made it in.

Photographed With Film

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.

They were filming on the old soccer/baseball field
They were filming on the old soccer/baseball field
It was amazing to see how many vehicles were needed on set, just to get some background shots
It was amazing to see how many vehicles were needed on set, just to get some background shots

Scanning the Photos at Dickerman Prints

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.

Lights, camera, action!
Lights, camera, action!
I like the unconventional framing in this photo, though I have no idea if it was intentional
I like the unconventional framing in this photo, though I have no idea if it was intentional

CUT!

Share the Journey

  • http://None Joanne Gerhart

    What an experience to always look back on!

    I just saw the movie for the first time today on Starz..

    Being an animal lover, I wondered if you might possibly know where the closing shots were taken? The ones with the grey hunter/ jumper and the farm it was filmed on?
    I didn’t see any credits at the end, and asI missed the first bit of the movie, I don’t know if they may have listed it first?

    Thanks,
    Joanne

    My husband, at 82, loves his digital cameras and goes with me to K-9 Search and Rescue seminars, and takes many 100′s of pictures that the instructors use to critique each handler & K-9 team. He loves his photography hobby!

    • http://www.AdventuresofaGoodMan.com Greg Goodman

      Hi Joanne,
      So glad you enjoyed the photos and the movie. To answer your question, all of the scenes at the horse farm were shot at Lionshare Farm in Greenwich, CT. Hope that helps.