Happy St. Patrick’s Day

The parade may have passed, but for those who missed it, here’s a bite-sized serving that Will shot and edited in 2009:

A New Year and a Look Back

Happy New Year! The last half of 2013 was quite busy for ACT – we interviewed several planners, workers, urban historians, business people, social theorists, and others who have an influential role in shaping New York City.  Thanks to our entire production team who have made all of these amazing shoots possible!

While we still have a few more shoots to go before we wrap production, we’ve been gearing up for editing in these early weeks of 2014 and we can’t wait to delve into our trove of material!  An exciting part of this process will be digging through the many photo and video archives of the city, which will help bring the stories we are weaving to life – especially because we are in conversation with animators!

Here is a look back on some moments, made possible by our awesome crew, from the last six months of 2013:


Will adjusts the camera angle while Tunisia Mitchell, our Production Assistant, sits in for our interviewee, Mr. Felix Rohatyn. June 2013 at Rockefeller Center.


Dan Fridman adjusts the boom stand while Will temporarily sits in for our interviewee, lawyer Stanley Geller. We put mylar film over each window pane so that the outside buildings wouldn’t be blown out from over-exposure. August 2013


Prudence slates the beginning of the interview with the Queens Borough Office Director of Planning and Development, Irving Poy. September 2013

Martyna Starosta focuses in on some City Council action. September 2013

Martyna Starosta focuses in on some City Council action. September 2013


What the interviewee sees: Will and Fivel Rothberg set up a shot at Good Jobs New York in Lower Manhattan. October 2013

Dan Fridman works his lighting magic on a drop-down ceiling in preparation for our Seth Pinsky interview. December 2013

Dan Fridman works his lighting magic on a drop-down ceiling in preparation for our Seth Pinsky interview. October 2013


Seth Pinsky, former head of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, is interviewed by Prudence in a conference room generously lent by the Cooper Union’s Alumni department. October 2013

Abe Ariel adjusts the camera for our David Harvey interview. December 2013

Abe Ariel gives us that sweet shot for our David Harvey interview. November 2013


Prudence at the New York City Economic Development Corporation Office, in Lower Manhattan, after a Industrial Development Administration hearing. December 2013

Recording the sounds of the city, with a DIY belt clip


Martyna and Douglas capture the moving image; Will reaches in for that sweet, sweet sound

In order to extend our audio range as we do more and more shooting outside of our more controlled interview setups, we recently started using a boom attached to an external audio recorder, in this case the Tascam DR100 mkII.

Not having any kind of belt clip, our first time out it sat in a bag, along with the mic cables.  We quickly learned that this was not the way to go, since you couldn’t read any of the panels, and the gain knobs were easily shifted when coming in and out of the bag.  So, we came up with a down and dirty, yet functional solution: we fashioned a belt clip out of materials scrounged from the miscellaneous tray of our toolbox: a 1/4″ screw used to stabilize the motor of a ceiling fan during shipping, a steel bracket, a key ring, and a small carabiner.

Turned out to work pretty well–quick access to meters and controls, with the cables hanging nice and easy!Tascam Clip

Video Profile: Juan Francisco Useche – Irca Metal Spinning


One of the goals of A City Traced is to highlight some of the manufacturing businesses that make up New York City’s diverse economy. Juan Francisco Useche founded Irca Metal Spinning 35 years ago and is still creating lighting fixtures for the city to this day.

We wanted to excerpt some longer takes from the day we spent filming with him and this short video was born. I hope that you enjoy his spinning as much as we did!

Thank you to Dan Fridman and Martyna Starosta for filming.

Springtime in the Archives

We’ve spent the past few days researching at Cornell Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in beautiful, misty Ithaca. Our eyeballs and fingers have gone over boxes upon boxes of early planning ephemera, notes, letters, and schemes.

Here’s an example of a 1920′s glass negative: a photo of the majestic Woolworth Building (with the colors inverted in photoshop). You can see the East River, and the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridge behind.


The Baroness in the Adirondacks

Last year, we were asked to participate in an ambitious project conceived and directed by the amazing minds of Cassandra Guan and Lily Benson. I’ll let their description explain the project:

The Filmballad of MAMADADA is an experimental, feminist biodrama about the marginalized Dadaist, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Its content has been produced collaboratively by an international group of filmmakers and artists. Participants undertook to interpret and adapt fragments from Freytag-Loringhoven’s biography, working in piecemeal fashion toward a collective narrative. The resulting compilation (a total of 49 passages) is being edited into a feature-length film, its representation of history fractured through a shifting series of authorial lenses. This unconventional process of production can be imagined as a game of exquisite corpse unfolding in time, giving shape to an intricate web of desires and fears surrounding identity politics today.

We were charged with a portion of the year 1923: Elsa has returned to Berlin penniless, cold, with only an unfurnished apartment. Inspired, we decided to portray Elsa’s outer landscape as a reflection of her inner landscape. This January of 2013, we shot our scene lakeside in the January subzero Adirondacks, near the town of Old Forge. MaryAnn Nelson, an extremely talented local actress, was our Baroness.


MaryAnn Nelson

A lake dock is transformed from a dormant memory of summer to a confined room.


Prudence demonstrating the proper use of safety goggles

Does the window allow her to look out or look in?


MaryAnn Nelson and William

Cassandra Guan recently cut a trailer for “The Filmballad of MAMADADA.” Excerpts from our sequence are seen in the cut before and after the title card, and in the very last cut.

Roberta Brandes Gratz interview

We recently interviewed author and historic preservationist Roberta Brandes Gratz during a gray and rainy afternoon. Her most recent book is Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, and she regaled us, as the rain turned to fat white flakes of sleet, with tales of New York City’s past as only a true New Yorker can do.

Dan Fridman, our trusted cinematographer,  also did a splendid job with his lights set-up and in holding the reigns of the two-camera shoot (our AF100 and the new Blackmagic camera).

The Port and Sandy

In October we had the pleasure of speaking with Eric Darton, author of Divided We Stand: A Biography of the World Trade Center. Our interview’s finale was in Battery Park City, with the marina and the World Financial Center as our backdrop.

The Freedom Tower as framed by Battery Park City

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An 1890 Manhattan Patchwork!

This amazing, confusing-to-read, quilt was created from census data showing the nationality mix of the time – A glorious island of immigrants!

Here’s some of what the creator’s of the map had to say:

The census of 1890 obtained the nationality of the residents of each sanitary district by descent from the mother. The table in which this appears was made the basis of the nationality map. As a basis it will appear fair enough when it is considered that at the time of the census over seventy-six percent of the white population in the city had foreign-born mothers, and over forty per cent. were foreign-born themselves. So the latter certainly, and probably a majority of the thirty-six percent. of native-born of foreign mothers, would show the traits of their maternal nationality. All the nationalities given in the table are not plotted. The Scotch, English, Welsh, Scandinavian, and Canadians have not collected in colonies, but are scattered over the city. These, being in small numbers, and perhaps less foreign than the others, were disregarded.

Check out an awesome, cross-hatched 1890 density map, along with insightful commentary from Making Maps: Diy Cartography

Good Morning, America, how are you?

Scott Wooledge of the Daily Kos just wrote a concise review of the newest nationally acclaimed urban, cautionary tale since the “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth.” “Detropia” is a slice-o-life meditation on a city blinking on the edge, and, as Wooledge points out, there is no mention of the stark race stratification between those who live within the city limits of Detroit and those who live in the suburbs or NAFTA: this film contains more pans of industrial ruins than hard statistics. The only point of contention I have with Wooledge is his observation that college educated folks under 35 (he doesn’t mention that they are mostly white folks) are the film’s only “tantalizing glimmer of hope.” I would think that the glimmer of hope was the announcement that 2,500 jobs were to be added because of the Obama bailout?

But, the casting in this documentary is wonderfully fantastic – I recommend this movie on the portraits and conversations of these individuals alone. It is through these portraits that the directors were able to do a tidy job of showing how a whole ecosystem of nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, and even an opera, were blooming off of the monoculture of the car industry.


Now that the car industry has abandoned their native soil, perhaps it’s time to look again at the train – the original native son.