Christopher Moloney is an Atlanta-based, Canadian-born writer and producer for television network HLN, and formerly for CNN in New York City. The proximity of CNN’s Columbus Circle offices to Central Park—and a longstanding love of movies—led Moloney to begin taking photographs of paper screen captures from his favorite films, carefully holding them in the same frame as the present-day locations where they were shot. His first photo was of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man rampaging down Manhattan’s West Side in 1984's Ghostbusters. Moloney continues to post his film photos to a Tumblr site called FILMography, which he started in June 2012 and where he sells 8X10 prints of his work. One year and hundreds of photos into his project, I interviewed Moloney for a June 2013 post on my Camera In The Sun film blog and discussed the evolution of his unique style of photography, his approach to composition, and his opinions on various film locations. I recently spoke with Moloney again for an update on FILMography and his television writing career since moving to the Deep South, and I have published portions of both interviews here.
On writing for television news
"You want to give people time to deal with their emotions and grieve before you start saying, 'Hey, do you have that on video we can take a look at?'"
When I worked for CNN, we'd usually do one or two big stories a day, whereas on HLN it's more like the headlines, so I tend to write a lot more stories every day. It's just a matter of finding the nugget that's the wow factor that people can latch on to. You're not necessarily just giving all the facts of the story but what makes it important to people—so if somebody dies in a tragic accident, that's a little more understandable than just saying, "This thing happened," which is sort of the human element of it. It's just a lot of writing and finding elements that are right for the story. The thing that's weird is, I always get sort of surprised when something happens and it's not caught on camera these days because everyone has that camera in their pocket. So if something happens on a plane and then the plane lands and there's actually no video of it anywhere, I'm surprised. Because I'm like, "You've got 200 people on the flight. Everyone's got a phone in their pocket, but no one actually recorded it." I guess it's still the fear of the flight attendant saying, "Put your phone away." So I just reach out to people to see if they have elements we can use. But at the same time being respectful, especially if it's something that was sad or tragic. You want to give people time to deal with their emotions and grieve before you start saying, "Hey, do you have that on video we can take a look at?"
I have a lot of friends who are authors and film writers who are very good writers, but I think I'm very good at writing in people's voices. I worked on Letterman for six years, and I worked on lots of shows up in Canada, like Best Recipes Ever, some morning shows—and you have to write in the person's voice. I find that every host is sort of different with how they approach it. Sometimes they want you to just write the blueprint and they're going to turn it into how they want to say it. So they'll just get the gist of it and tell the story. Whereas other hosts I know, you basically have to write it almost like it's a play. It's in their voice—the way they say it, the pauses, things like that. So every time I work with a new host, it's just a matter of figuring out what they want. Right now I work with a guy named Mike Galanos who's an excellent anchor. But he just wants point-form notes. Then I work with other people who want it all laid out so that they can have every word so that they're not missing anything. It usually takes a little while to just figure out what people want from you and what you can do to actually help them.
On writing for Letterman & cooking shows
"I think that every show I've worked on, whether I did a good job or enjoyed it, has sort of helped me with where I am now."
I started out as a researcher, so I did all the interview segments. I'd come up with what people could talk about. Being Canadian, a lot of Canadians would come on, and I knew about the embarrassing television they had done up in Canada, which most people didn't. So I tracked that down to sort of embarrass them a little bit. It was just coming up with ideas and things that Dave could go to. Then, you would think that all these movie stars have amazing stories. But you get on the phone for pre-interviews with them and you'd be like, "You were in Hawaii for six weeks. What did you do?" And they're like, "I just stayed in my room." They brought nothing to the table at all. So that's when you have to come up with other avenues they can talk about, and old clips, and possible funny segments.
Bill Murray was on one time, and it was at the time when a Ukrainian leader had just been poisoned. So I came up with the idea that maybe Bill Murray had been watching an old clip of himself on Letterman and thought he had been poisoned because he looked so awful. But it turned out he was just watching his first appearance on the show. It's 25-30 years later—of course he's going to look older. So that was the bit he did on the show. I just wrote the script out, handed it in, and he basically did it word for word, looking at it once. It just shows you the level of talent that guy has compared to some other people.
Then I left the research department, moved upstairs, and I was the writers segment producer. So all the writers would tend to write their bits, and then I would be the one who would sort of make them possible. I'd contact locations. I'd go with Biff, or Rupert, or whoever we were going out on the street with. So it would usually be me and one of the writers who was in charge of the segment. A lot of the stuff that I came up with was just stuff that Dave could do. I came up with a segment called "Ape or Artist," where we would put a painting up and it was either by an ape—like a chimpanzee or a gorilla—or by a human artist, and Dave and Paul had to guess which it was. It's weird—I actually have a pretty large collection of ape art now around my apartment. Then I found out that elephants could paint flower pots, so we changed it to "Ape, Artist, or Elephant." We did that for like six weeks, but it was just an idea I had and it was quick.
A lot of the writers would come up with these sort of involved fake commercials and really great sketches, whereas most of my stuff would just be quick hits, like where Dave and Paul look at something. I did a lot of the audience segments, like "Audience Show & Tell." So I found a guy in the line one day who happened to have been an extra in the movie Deep Impact where he was running away from the asteroid. So I found that and put a little circle around him. Then another girl was on one of those Oprah shows where she was giving away free stuff, so we had her jumping up and down in the audience. So it was stuff that was considered writing, but what I did was more of just found comedy. But I found that the writers at Letterman tended to be in their own offices throughout the day, and they would just hand stuff in. Then the head writers, who were very smart and funny, would just sort of pick the ones that they liked best. Then that writer, that was his baby, and he would just do that. Whereas I know on other shows, like The Simpsons, people sort of sit in a room, and once the idea is out there they just sort of beat it until they find the perfect hilarious beats to use. With Letterman, I found that everyone was in their own little space, and then every so often they would come together and work on something. But that was very rare.
I left that, and I went to work up in Canada for the CBC because I'm from Toronto. So I worked on a couple morning shows up there. I worked on some game shows. It was a lot more development, just coming up with shows. Then I worked on a lot of award shows, like the Canadian Emmys, and the Canadian Country Music Awards. I had been at Letterman for so long, and it was such an intense experience with long hours, I wanted to just try other things. Because the interesting thing at The Late Show, and some other shows I've worked on, is I'm working with people who have never worked anywhere else. Even at HLN, people got their 25-year award and I just got my three-year one for working for Time Warner for three years. These two people on the same day got their 25-year one, and I was like, "Wow, 25 years?!" Literally at almost the same desk. I was looking back and I've probably worked on 75-100 different shows in my life. It could be, a) I can't hold a job, or b) I just wanted to find some different experiences. I think that every show I've worked on, whether I did a good job or enjoyed it, has sort of helped me with where I am now. I am a very fast writer. I'm not necessarily one of the best writers, but I'm very fast. So if you give me a big complex thing, I'm very good at boiling it down, which is sort of my strength, and I think is helpful for news. But that sort of came from working on cooking shows. I know nothing about cooking, but I wrote a cooking show for like 30 episodes. They would give me these complex recipes and these terms that I didn't know. So I'd just be sitting there with a dictionary like, "I don't know what this even means." I just knew "A pinch of salt," and there were all these French cooking terms. But I was very good at taking that and boiling it down to just the 30-minute episode. Then on award shows, you have to come up with the ridiculous banter people say, and a lot of times they're saying it for the first time, which is helpful for news in that you want to keep it as simple as possible. Start with the human element and then work on to the other details at the back. A lot of times in news, just because of its breaking nature, they're seeing that for the first time. This awards show—none of these celebrities ever come to rehearsal. Originally what I was writing were these complex and hilarious-in-my-mind bits. Then you realize that they're getting the words wrong because it's just too hard. You just want to get them to say the thing and get off the stage. So that's sort of how I see news. It's almost like an awards show in a way. Just give the people the facts and get off the stage.
On reading habits
"I have some coworkers who read a lot, like I do, and then I have other coworkers who read nothing. So when one of those people says, 'Oh, I read this book. I really like it,' that's the one I go to get. Because I'm like, 'What was the book that made this dude read?'"
I read a lot. It's going to sound strange, but I almost read a book a day. I'm a very fast reader, and I read all sorts of books. You know how with Wikipedia you can read a page and then you'll fall down this Wikipedia rabbit hole where you just keep going, and going, and going? I'm like that with books. If someone mentions a book in a book I'm reading, that tends to be the next book I read. It's the weirdest thing. So someone turned me on to this guy Jack Kornfield, who's like a mindfulness Buddhist teacher. So I started reading that book, and I was like, "Oh, this sounds interesting." In just the introduction, the guy mentioned his reading list, and now I've been reading books that he was reading. So I'm sort of stuck in this loop of this one dude, and I have to get out of that so I can read some other books. I'm a tactile reader. I have to read an actual book. I don't read on a Kindle and stuff like that. Not that I'm against it. But just that I don't get into it as much as gripping something.
If I go to a bookstore, I pretty much give my day to that. I tend to just walk around, I'll sit down, I'll read some books, I'll take them out, I'll put them back, I'll look at the cover. I'm fascinated by book covers, only because you know what book was popular the year before by how book covers look now. The year after Game of Thrones hit, every book looked like Game of Thrones. Then before that, every book looked like Da Vinci Code. So I'm always curious to just look at the covers of the new bestsellers and try to guess what the most popular book from the year before was, because they all look like that cover. I'm big on titles. If a title is too wordy for some reason, I hate it. I don't know why. If I have to read a lot of the title, I get angry. So the shorter titles I tend to gravitate to just because I'm crazy, I think. A lot of times, I'll get recommendations from my coworkers. I have some coworkers who read a lot, like I do, and then I have other coworkers who read nothing. So when one of those people says, "Oh, I read this book. I really like it," that's the one I go to get. Because I'm like, "What was the book that made this dude read?" I just finished reading The Invisible Hand, and I didn't realize this was the guy who had written the play, Disgraced, which I really liked. Other times, I probably would have just picked this up because I knew that the guy had written that play because I tend to just go from thing, to thing, to thing if I like something. In this case, I just picked it up and said, "Oh, this looks interesting," and I read it. Then as I was finishing the play, I realized, "Oh, this is the same guy." When you work in news, the one really exciting and fun thing is that they actually deliver newspapers from other news agencies there. So we have the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA Today, New York Times—stuff like that. I tend to read a lot more newspapers than I ever read when I didn't work in news, which is weird that you're a news source reading other news sources. The one good thing about newspapers is that they sort of honor the written word still and that they actually do mention books a lot more. So a lot of times I'll just rip out a little review of a book or something like that, just to remind myself the next time I'm in a bookstore to maybe look for this.
(2013) On starting FILMography
"I’m not necessarily worried about recreating famous New York scenes anymore. I’m more interested in finding scenes that I know are gonna be good pictures."
When I started this, I just wanted to show my friends “Oh, wow, look. I work next door to where the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is.” I wasn’t really thinking of lining anything up. I just wanted to show this is where it was. And the first few pictures I took, that I’ve since redone, were me just literally holding up [a movie still] and not even lining anything up. Just being like, “Oh, here it is. I found it.” Whereas now I’ve started to take some more time, take some more care, and try to make it look as close as I can possibly make it. The thing that’s interesting about it, too, is when I first started I tried to pick sort of classic scenes—Marilyn Monroe on the subway grate [in The Seven Year Itch]. Now I actually find myself picking scenes that aren’t necessarily classic scenes but ones that I know will work out well. So I like close-up shots of people because it tends to be a better-quality picture, and it’s easier to match up. I literally just use a Canon Sure Shot or something like that to take the picture. I don’t have access to the different lenses that the cinematographers use to make it perfectly. So if it’s something close up, I know I have a better shot of doing that. And then I always look in the background and ask myself, “OK, are there bricks?” or “Is there a crack in the sidewalk?” or “Is there something that I can line up to show you this is exactly where the spot was?” I’m not necessarily worried about recreating famous New York scenes anymore. I’m more interested in finding scenes that I know are gonna be good pictures.
"I have absolutely no background in photography whatsoever. If I’ve improved at all, it’s just because of getting the reps. I’ve done something like 400 of them now over a year. So if I didn’t improve my technique, I at least improved how I lined things up."
I used to do it with the white edges around the picture just because I was doing it really fast. There’s one of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan where I saw someone walking, and I waited for the person to walk there just to see if I could line it up. I didn’t line it up that well. It just happened to be perfect when I pressed the shutter. That’s one time that I consciously did it. But there’s another one that’s Die Hard With a Vengeance, when they’re on the phone near a subway station, where I wasn’t even looking at the bottom of the picture. I was just trying to line up the Sleepy’s sign. So I didn’t notice that the legs matched up perfectly on two of the people. That’s the one that, more than any other picture, people comment on—like the artistry, and the fine technique. But I didn’t even know that until I got home and uploaded it to my computer. I was like, “Whoa, that worked out really well.” I have absolutely no background in photography whatsoever. If I’ve improved at all, it’s just because of getting the reps. I’ve done something like 400 of them now over a year. So if I didn’t improve my technique, I at least improved how I lined things up.
I think the first 10-12 I did, I took on my Blackberry—like that Ghostbusters one. Then I had another camera. If you look at the archive of my Tumblr blog, I only took one picture in March , and that’s not because I didn’t have time or anything like that. It’s just that my camera broke on the second day of March, and I just didn’t have time to get back to Best Buy or wherever I bought it to grab a new camera. So then all these kids who follow my blog started tweeting me, messaging me, and sending me emails from my site, basically saying, “Why did you stop? Please come back.” I just responded saying, “I didn’t stop. I just don’t have a camera right now. Sorry.”
(2013) On selling his photos
People were like, “I’d love to get a print,” and I said, “Well, that sounds like a lot of work.” So I just put them up there. Only recently have I been selling them to an American audience, which kind of makes me laugh. Probably the first 50-60 pictures I sold were actually all to Brazil and Japan and places like that. It was to people who had never been to New York, but loved New York in the movies, and so wanted a piece of it. Whereas just recently, the site has kind of been discovered in Los Angeles. So I’ve had a lot of filmmakers who want to give them as gifts to their clients. Annie Hall‘s the only one that’s sold out. It’s funny because the ones that are very popular online don’t sell. The reason I think is because I sell the pictures for $39, which is kind of steep for kids who are just at home and can probably just upload the pictures themselves. But they love The Avengers and Spiderman, and all those sort of modern superhero movies. One of my pictures of The Avengers I did that lined up really well has like 60,000 re-blogs or “likes” on Tumblr. It’s really, really popular. But no one’s ever bought that one because kids don’t want to buy prints. They just want to look at stuff on the Internet, and be like, “That’s cool. I like that.”
I have these sort of film snobs (and I say that in the best possible way) in New York and L.A. now who don’t really watch movies that were made after 2000. So I’ve had people complain to me, “You do too many new movies. You have to do some more of the classics.” Then I have these kids saying, “What is this crap you’re doing from 1948? We want Ironman. What is wrong with you?” Because I’m 35 years old, I’m now at the point where I totally remember being a kid and yet totally feel old. Nothing made me feel as old as just a month ago—a kid emailed me who was probably 10 years old and said, “Can you please do one of Spiderman?” I said, “Oh no, I just did a Spiderman one.” So I sent him a link to the photo with Tobey Maguire in front of the Public Library. And he responded almost immediately with, “I don’t want the old one.” He wanted the Andrew Garfield version. I was shocked because it seems like the Tobey Maguire Spiderman just came out. I was just like, “Wait, that’s the old one? What the hell is going on here?”
So it’s the ones like Woody Allen or Breakfast at Tiffany’s—those classic movies are the ones that sell really well. Annie Hall—I sold out that one probably in a couple weeks. Then there’s two Breakfast at Tiffany’s ones that I think I have one left of each picture. So those are the ones that are really, really popular. Then it’s weird—there’s one I did of Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo in North by Northwest where he’s about to get on a bus, and I noticed that the buildings in the background lined up perfectly. So I did that one, just because I thought it would be cool, and I’ve sold like six or seven of them to people in London. Every single person who’s bought it is from England. So I guess it’s just the loyalty of, “He’s a British filmmaker and I’m gonna buy that sort of thing.”
(2013) On his favorite filmmaker
I love Woody Allen. I loved him as a stand-up. I love him as a writer. I love him as a filmmaker. Everyone uses the word “genius” too much, but I think he’s actually someone who’s had an original thought. He’s one of those people where you say, “Oh, that’s genius” all the time. But unless it’s something that’s never really been done before, you’re not really supposed to use the word. I think he’s had a lot of ideas and thoughts that no one’s really ever had before, or at least put down on paper. So for a great many years before I moved to New York City, his movies were “New York” to me in a lot of ways. I was telling someone that it amazes me that his New York, Martin Scorsese’s New York and Spike Lee’s New York are the same place. I’m so amazed at how different those New Yorks are, and yet they’re the same city. I think that’s one of the reasons I love New York so much. You can have three people just do everything they know about New York, and experienced as New Yorkers, into their movies—and yet, they all come out so different through their own little prisms. Woody Allen for me, when I was growing up, I was just like, “Wow, this guy is a nerd, but he’s cool, and I don’t really understand how he’s dating all these women.” I was so perplexed by the whole thing. I was like, “That’s sort of what New York is. You can just be a nerd, and yet you somehow not just survive, you succeed. What is this magical city?”
When I first did the Annie Hall photo, it was my favorite photo. It still is in a lot of ways my favorite photo I’ve ever taken just because it’s a movie that I really love. There are some movies that I do that I didn’t really have any sort of film connection to. I was just like, “Oh, that’s cool. I know where that is. I’m gonna do that one.” But Annie Hall was a movie that I really just loved. It’s pretty close to a perfect movie in my mind. That location was a great scene of them arguing about driving, and they were holding tennis racquets. There were so many crazy things going on in that scene. Yet it was such a quiet scene and not a very frenetic scene. The location was great, and it had the brickwork that I could line up. It was actually near where I live now. It’s in the 60s. I live in the 70s, so I could just walk there quite easily to do it. But the reason why it’s my favorite photo now has actually changed in the last few months. I get a lot of messages from kids through my Tumblr—as in 14-15 year-olds who don’t really know any movie that was made basically before 2000—and this girl emailed to tell me how much she loved that photo. She said, “I’m 14 years old. I live in New York,” and I was surprised that a 14-year-old kid would like Annie Hall. It didn’t seem like a movie that a 14-year-old kid would search out and watch. So I asked her, “Well, you like the photo, but what is it about Annie Hall that you like so much?” She goes, “I don’t know what Annie Hall is. I’ve never heard of it. But that’s my school.” So the building that was Diane Keaton’s, where they’re standing in front of, was actually this girl’s school. She goes to that school, and that’s why she liked it so much. So I had to laugh because my whole perception of this person before I asked that question was completely different from what it actually was.
(2013) On Central Park
I still am not at the point where I take Central Park for granted like a lot of people do. I think it’s just because I grew up watching movies that took place in the park where it seemed like such a mythical place. Almost like, “I can’t believe that Central Park exists, and I can walk through it every day.” The other interesting thing that I find is, of the New York pictures I’ve done, almost all of them—like 90%—were filmed in and around the park. I really haven’t ventured below 50th Street at all. I’ve done a few on Wall Street. So it just shows you how many movies have been filmed, and how untapped my scenes really are, because I’ve only touched a small percentage of the city as a whole.
Wall Street is amazing just because it’s that old stone architecture. Federal Hall, the Stock Exchange, hasn’t changed in decades. It’s exactly the same. So I’ve done probably ten photos just in front of that statue by Federal Hall—On The Town, The Dark Knight Rises, all these gritty and very architecturally sound scenes. So that’s really popular. Then in Central Park is the fountain, which is in every movie that’s filmed there. I’ve done a lot on Columbus Circle as well, which is where I work. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene is on one side. Then on the other side is that statue—the gate where people enter the park on the southwest corner there. That’s in a ton of movies too. Then, of course, Lincoln Center is in probably a dozen movies that I’ve seen just in the last little while. It’s funny—that’s one where it’s amazing how many film photos I’ve done at Lincoln Center. Yet the one that would be the best, I could never do. Before Lincoln Center was built, that’s where West Side Story was filmed. It was all just tenement houses. So when they did the big dance numbers and stuff like that, it was right on the spot where Lincoln Center is. But none of those buildings exist anymore because they were torn down to build Lincoln Center. Now dozens of other movies have been filmed in the same spot, but it looks completely different.
I wanted to do Harlem for a long time, and I finally did that. I love going up to Harlem because the Apollo and stuff—it all just looks like another time. The buildings look so cool. The Royal Tenenbaums was shot up in Harlem. That house is amazing. It actually looks the same as it does in the movie.
I think the next thing I’ll do is I’ll start moving south down to the Village and Chelsea and Tribeca. Pete’s Tavern has been in a ton of movies, and everyone keeps saying, “Oh, you should do that one.” Then there’s a lot of bars down in the 20s that have been in a lot of stuff too.
(2013) On uncooperative subjects
Doormen hate my guts because they’re like, “Why are you doing this?” Any building, even if it’s not a famous building. I did one for Scent of a Woman and the guy was like, “You can’t take pictures of the building.” Then I showed him what I was doing and he was like, “No way. That’s this building?” So he had no idea. Then he was all like, “Hey, no problem. You want me to get outta the shot?” Like he was the nicest guy. I think it’s when they see that you actually have a purpose and you’re not just gonna get them in trouble. So the Plaza Hotel was split in half a few years ago. Now half of it is residences and half of it is the regular hotel still. The worst thing for me (which, again, me being selfish) is that the residents lobby is the lobby they shot all the movies in. So I can’t get in there. Like North by Northwest—I have one on the outside of that lobby, but there’s a great scene of him in the lobby, too. I tried to get in there, and I tried to explain to the guy, but they were like, “No, people pay a lot of money to live here, and they pay us a lot of money so this sort of thing doesn’t happen.” So if you look at my Plaza photos, all of them are the exterior because all of the shots that I’d love to do in the interior are one of two places. Either that lobby in the residence, which I can’t get into to take pictures, or the Oak Room, which is under renovation right now, and has been for years. The Oak Room—there’s been like ten movies filmed there, and even episodes of Gossip Girl, but it’s not available. So when that reopens, I’ve heard they’re keeping it all exactly the same. They’re just cleaning it up a bit. So I’m curious to see. Unlike most people, I’ll know whether they made drastic changes just because the pictures won’t work.
(2013) On matching the old and the new
"Originally, as a kid, I didn’t know everything was filmed in Toronto. I just thought, 'Oh wow, New York looks just like my city.' Then later on I realized, 'Oh wait, that is my city.'"
People are sort of amazed that there’s all these pictures I’ve done from the ’40s, the ’50s, and ’60s because they’re like, “I can’t believe those locations still exist.” But I find it much harder to find locations of new movies to do. Because nowadays, when they’re making movies, it seems to me that they’re not really using those sort of stone classic locations anymore. It’s, “Oh, look, these two are in a coffee shop” or “These two are in a book store”. You know, book stores don’t exist anymore. So it’s not like I can go back and recreate that scene, because all that sort of stuff is closing. Unless it’s something like in Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s, everything changes so quickly. Whereas the scenes that they shot in the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s, they used classic locations because I think they wanted to show people watching the movie, “Oh no, this is New York. This is a New York story.” Nowadays, it could really be any city, and most times it’s Toronto.
When I was growing up, almost every New York movie actually was filmed in Toronto. So I remember going to the movies a lot, and I would go just to see which of the locations I knew from Toronto made it into the movie. Originally, as a kid, I didn’t know everything was filmed in Toronto. I just thought, “Oh wow, New York looks just like my city.” Then later on I realized, “Oh wait, that is my city.”
A lot of times they’ll do it anonymously. Resident Evil I know was shot there. Police Academy was shot in Brampton actually, which is the city I’m from just outside Toronto. Child’s Play—all those movies were shot there. To Die For, which is that Nicole Kidman movie, was shot in Brampton. So growing up, I would watch these things being filmed, and then I would go to the movies just to see, “Oh, I wonder if my school’s in this movie," or, "I wonder if this restaurant made it in.”
I think I’ve done 10-12 film photos in Toronto, and it always upsets people. For example, one of the ones I did early on was the bar from Good Will Hunting. That’s such a Boston film, and yet I’d say 70-80% of it was probably shot in Toronto. So the scene with the toy store—that was the toy store I went to when I was in college. That’s down the street from my school in Toronto. The bar is in Toronto. So all those sort of classic Boston moments off that movie actually take place in Toronto.
(2013) On Canadian filmmakers
"...it is interesting that even in Canada—it’s like every other country in the world—it’s the American movies first. You have to work hard to see any movies that are actually made in your own country, for your own country."
It’s funny—up to a certain age, I didn’t know a lot of filmmakers that I really liked were Canadian. I was a big David Cronenberg fan. But I went to him just because I really liked his movies, and then I realized he was Canadian. So I was like, “Wow, that’s really cool.” With Dan Aykroyd, I went to him because I heard he was Canadian. Then later on, as I sort of understood, “Oh, these are real people making movies,” then I started with Mike Myers with Wayne’s World. Then Atom Egoyan—I’m a huge fan of that guy. Lately, even though I live in the States, if a Canadian movie opens here I try to go see it. I’m curious to see where Canadian film is just because all you really hear about is the American media here. The Canadian film industry—a lot of my friends have gone into that now. So they give me updates. But it is interesting that even in Canada—it’s like every other country in the world—it’s the American movies first. You have to work hard to see any movies that are actually made in your own country, for your own country.
I was a big SNL, big SCTV fan. I was a big fan of sketch comedy. Then later on, Kids in the Hall came along. It's funny because a lot of my friends were really big Monty Python fans, and I didn’t really discover Python until my late teens, early 20s. But I tended to watch shows like SNL, SCTV, and Kids in the Hall that were very Python-inspired. In a lot of ways, I saw the children of the movement, before I saw the actual people who inspired it. Growing up in Toronto, where they shot Kids in the Hall, I would see the [outdoor] skits, and be like, “Oh my god, I know where that subdivision is.” Something I realized recently—Fraggle Rock was filmed in Toronto when I was a kid. All the scenes where the uncle goes off into the world to explore—when I watched the 30th-anniversary DVD, it’s all locations right near where I grew up. So even Fraggle Rock, this kids' show, the “big bad world” was Toronto.
(2013) On exploring international cities
I was in Asia a year ago, and I did a couple in Ho Chi Minh City, just of the movie The Quiet American. I was new to the film photos at the time and had just started doing it probably a week before I went on my trip. So I wish I had done more there. But I was more excited to go to The Continental Hotel where I shot the pictures. Not because of the movie, but because I’m such a Graham Greene fan. He’s the author of The Quiet American. I knew he had written a lot of it there in the Continental and had stayed there during his coverage of the Vietnam War. So I was more excited about that. Then when I got there I realized, “Oh my gosh, they actually shot the movies at this location.” Because there was one in 1958 and one in 2002. So I walked into the hotel’s business center, found pictures online, printed them off, walked outside, and took the pictures. I didn’t have any preparation.
I don’t really need to use the Internet to find the locations in New York. I’ll see something in the background and be like, “Oh, I know that fountain,” or “Oh, I know that statue.” That sort of thing. So in New York it’s very easy because I’ve lived here for a decade now. Whereas when I went to Los Angeles, I’ve only been to L.A. about 4-5 times in the past and never for more than a few days. I just go for a few days to work, and then I come back. So that’s the one time that I really had to go online. Like I wanted to do The Wonder Years house because I knew that was actually shot in L.A. So I went online to a Wonder Years fan site and someone talked about like, “Oh, and the house exists. It’s right here,” and gave the address. So I just drove to the street, lined up the shot, took a couple pictures of the Wonder Years house. As I was walking away, the owner of the house drove up, went in the driveway, and she went inside. She didn’t even bat an eye. I guess this sort of thing happens a lot. But it was just funny to me that a) it’s a real place, and b) a human being lives there. It’s not Fred Savage.
(2013) On ever-changing cityscapes
I was trying to line up a scene from Taxi Driver. So I was crouching on the ground holding up the Taxi Driver shot, and I realized that the entire city in that area had changed so much in just the last few years (like I remember these buildings going up on Eighth Avenue) that nothing matched. I couldn’t find one single building that matched the scene that I was trying to do from Taxi Driver. So while I’m literally in the gutter, kind of upset that, “Oh, the history’s gone, and the past is over,” and all that sort of stuff, the actor Christopher McDonald (whom I’ve done in film photos in Toronto for the movie Dirty Work) walked into frame dressed in his costume from Lucky Guy, the Broadway show he’s doing with Tom Hanks. So he’s wearing the old '40s fedora, and it’s just crazy to me that as I’m mourning the loss of the city’s past, a guy dressed in period costume from the '40s just walks into frame. So I snapped that picture instead, and it was a nice sort of second shot to get.
One that worked that I was surprised at was one I did from I Am Legend, the Will Smith movie. I saw a picture online about the overgrown Times Square with lions and stuff like that. The whole thing was completely drawn by an artist recreating New York. So I went to Times Square anyway. I just happened to have this picture in with a few other ones and I held it up. It matched perfectly even though it wasn’t real. It was from the guy's imagination, but he used the buildings, and he used all that sort of stuff to create this thing. I was just amazed that something animated will line up perfectly because they used an actual picture and just drew over the image.
(2013) On photographers who are fans
Actually, the first people that sort of embraced the blog were photographers—surprisingly, because I thought people were gonna say, “Oh, this is so schlocky. This is so lame.” That sort of thing. But it’s people who I think do it for a living, and know how difficult sometimes it can be to line those things up, who appreciate it the most. You know, people who have never taken pictures (which is basically who I was before I started doing this) would just be like, “Oh, that’s cool. That must be so fun and easy,” not realizing that when it comes to the wind, and the sun, and the rain—that sort of thing gets in the way. It’s funny, I had heard my friend talking about the site Dear Photograph, which is where people do the same sort of thing with old family photographs. Then there’s another one called Sleeveface, where they basically hold up album covers that are photographs. When I found out that those existed, after I started doing this, I realized, “I bet I’m gonna be compared to those people.” I feel bad because their sites are really, really good. Their photos are digitally done in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of technology involved. I’m literally just with my hand in the picture. All of the photography people actually asked me if I was a big fan of Kenneth Josephson, who’s a photographer who was doing the same thing. Not necessarily lining them up with things, but just holding pictures in pictures in the 60s. I knew of him, just because one of my art teachers in high school was a big, big fan of his and always used him as an example in our image-making class. They would ask me if I was inspired by that. I’d say, “No, I literally just wanted to show my friends that I worked near the Ghostbusters place.” That’s all I really wanted to do. It wasn’t any sort of grand carrying on of a tradition of the photographer. It’s just me basically having fun. I’m such a big movie fan. I just really wanna see where those locations are.
(2013) On European exhibitions
I didn’t even actually go, which is strange. I probably should have. Belvedere Vodka does a thing called “la Chambre Noire”, or “the dark room.” Every year at Cannes, they pick two artists to showcase in their room, and I was one of the ones that got picked, which was funny because there’s so many people that I know personally that are so much more deserving of that sort of thing. But it was just the idea that it was a film-related thing, and that’s what really got them excited. They asked for 15 photos. I’m not sure how many actually went up. They had their photographer, their guy who has actual skill, take pictures of the stuff for me, which was very nice. Then the Ischia Film Festival—I’m going to that one, which I’m excited about. I’ve been to Italy before, but I’ve never been there. Every year they pick something that’s art to hang up in the castle there. So they reached out to me like a year ago just as I was starting this. It was crazy. I was like, “Oh yeah. Well, how many pictures do you think you’ll need?” They’re like, “Oh, about 20.″ I think at the time I’d just taken my 20th picture, so I was like, “Oh, that shouldn’t be a problem. Yeah, I’ve got 20.” I just sent the pictures to them. Oh, and the guy who’s running the thing, his name is Michelangelo. It’s the craziest thing. He’s like, “This is Michelangelo,” and I was like, “This is the greatest thing ever.” But he asked me for my 20 pictures, and it was really tough for me to go through and pick my 20 favorites. Because I go, “Do I pick movies I like? Do I pick the ones whose photos are the best?” I ended up asking my parents and said, “Hey, which ones do you like?” and they went through and picked them.
On FILMography in Atlanta
The interesting thing is now everything is shot in Atlanta. Every movie, every TV show, is shot here. I'll go to a movie that I didn't even know was shot in Atlanta and be like, "Oh, look, there's my street." I had no idea, and that's amazing. But I got a little sidetracked from what my original goal was. Only because I live in an old high school that's been turned into an apartment building. It was called Bass High School, and now it's called Bass Lofts. I live there, and I found a yearbook from 1950 from the school. The school's a historical building, so we still have all the lockers inside, and the clocks. They couldn't change anything. So one day I went through, and I started recreating pictures around my school. That caught the attention of a newspaper guy here who wanted to do a story anyway about then and now as a look back at Atlanta. So he wanted to use me. Then the historical center and a group called weloveatl liked my stuff, and I did a scavenger hunt with them. So lately, I've been doing a lot of historical pictures, like Martin Luther King.
"There's a couple little pockets of old movies that were shot in Georgia. You've got the Gone With the Wind connection, and stuff like that. But nowadays, it's crazy."
I've still done The Walking Dead. There was a show that I did here to raise money for the food bank where I just went and recreated the entire first episode of The Walking Dead. It's literally shot like a block from CNN. It's the funniest thing. When you look at that episode, you're like, "Oh my god, what a wasteland. There can be nothing around here." Then you're like, "Oh, wait, my office building is right there." So it sort of takes you back to the first picture of Ghostbusters. I'm still looking at pictures that were taken right next to where I work, so nothing has really changed. But then there's like Dukes of Hazzard. And Burt Reynolds shot all his movies in Georgia, in Atlanta, like Smokey and the Bandit and Deliverance. The one thing I just found out, which I'm so bummed that I didn't do this in the '70s, is that for two years in the '70s there was a Burt Reynolds-themed nightclub in the CNN Center. It was called Burt's Place, and it had a giant stained glass window dance floor of his face. It was just the craziest thing, and I was like, "I would never be at work. I would just go to that nightclub every single day." But he is the guy that made it doable to shoot a movie in Georgia. No one was doing it until Burt Reynolds because he stayed down here a lot. So every one of his movies—boom, boom, boom—was shot in Georgia. There's a couple little pockets of old movies that were shot in Georgia. You've got the Gone With the Wind connection, and stuff like that. But nowadays, it's crazy. All of the Marvel movies and most of the DC movies are shot here. You've got all those zombie shows like iZombie, Walking Dead being shot here. All the DC shows like Arrow are shot here. So it's sort of interesting that if I were to do this project in a couple years in Atlanta, it would be a lot easier to find things just because everything now is coming out that was shot here.
On continuing to use paper printouts for the project
I like it probably for the same reason why I like reading real books. I like the idea that I'm there, I'm involved, and I'm the one doing it. There are two women who are from Finland that I've talked to a bit, and they've said some very nice things about me. They go to movie places, but they actually hold up an iPad with the picture and then use their iPhone to take a picture of that. Then there's another guy who's said some nice things about me, who does the thing where he takes a picture at the location and then goes home and photoshops it together. It's three different people doing sort of the same thing three different ways. It's funny, they're both a least ten years younger than me, if not more. So I am sort of an old man at this point, and I'm set in my ways. I'm comfortable holding a piece of paper up, and it just sounds like a lot of work to me to Photoshop things, or even carry around a tablet with me. I can literally carry one of these pictures in my back pocket -- just hold it up and be like, "Oh, here we are," snap, and leave.