On her first visit to the most-filmed city in the world, Helen van Berkel realises she's seen it all before.
My appetite whetted by the half-recognised sights and scenes after a day walking the streets of incredible New York – and my feet still aching – I decided to spend a day being carted about on wheels. A movie tour, available by bus as well as on foot, is a convenient way of getting around New York while seeing the sights with minimal effort.
Guide Roseanne, an excited New Yorker, pointed out the spots as we went: the original Soup Nazi (Seinfeld) still serving from his cart on 55th Street; the heavily armed Trump Tower guards, all dressed in black and slinging what look like machine guns; the French chateau-style Plaza Hotel (Home Alone 2) – a magnificent architectural landmark overlooking Central Park; the Pulitzer fountain that inspired the fountain in the opening montage of Friends (the filmed version is a recreation); Macy's, the Rockefeller Centre, down to Washington Square Park (I Am Legend), the tiny one-bay fire station used in Ghostbusters, and the Friends apartment building.
New York offers generous tax discounts to movie-makers but demands that movies be at least 80 per cent made in the city before they can claim to be "filmed in New York". Many movies and TV shows that look like they are made here are not, including Suits (made in Toronto), Friends (Warner Bros backlot in Burbank, California) and iconic scenes from King Kong (Wellington, New Zealand).
We stop outside the apartment building in the West Village that was used as the exterior for Monica and Rachel's apartment in Friends. The other passengers on the bus pose in front of the building as Roseanne explains that much of the long-running series was actually filmed in Los Angeles.
The apartment used in the opening sequence was chosen because it was on the sunny side of the street and was cheaper to shoot because no expensive lighting was required. The owner never received a dime but the neighbourhood still has to put up with hordes of tourists fascinated by a collection of bricks made famous on a TV show.
But I wanted to see the humans of New York and how they lived. Keeping only half an ear on Roseanne as she explained how movie sets worked, I ranged the neighbourhood. I was delighted to find a tiny little sunbathed garden tucked in the angle of brownstones and bursting with flowers. I hung over a gate marked "private" but no one was in sight.
Across the road from the Friends apartment was another intriguing sight: a wooden house. Fires in the 19th century and the subsequent tightening of building codes pretty much meant the end of wooden dwellings in Manhattan's densely packed neighbourhoods. The rare few that remain are magical: 17 Grove St is a three-storey home with terracotta-painted shutters now owned - according to Roseanne who knows everything - by the daughter of producer of TV shows Benny Hill and Three's Company, Donald Taffner. The original stable is still attached at the back of the house.
I followed the shrieks of children playing but try as I might I couldn't figure out where the laughter was coming from. Google later suggests they were probably students at Charrette School on adjacent Hudson St.
Lower Manhattan is a more residential neighbourhood than Midtown. Black-painted iron staircases zig-zag up the sides of brick apartment buildings and steps lead directly to the street from the famous New York brownstones – more stalwarts of large and small screen.
Some of the streets down here are lined with trees and if you look carefully you will find tiny gardens full of summer colour. Roseanne shocks us with the multimillion-dollar prices for apartments around here, owned by the likes of Beyonce and Rihanna. Across from the Ghostbusters fire station is the apartment where Caroline Bessette-Kennedy and John F. Kennedy jnr locked the door for the last time before their deaths in a plane crash in 1999.
With only a few days in New York, the tour was a quick and convenient way of seeing the city that never sleep. Next month, a new walking tour to the East Village will take in hotspots from shows including Law & Order, When Harry Met Sally and The Godfather: Part II.
USA ON SCREEN
Pretty much everywhere you turn in America, you'll find somewhere that was used as a film or TV location. Here are three more places for pop culture-lovers to check out.
Kauai Island, Hawaii
When movie audiences first witnessed Jurassic Park's "Isla Nublar", we were really seeing the Nā Pali Coast in Kauai. Yes, that magical place truly exists.
Manawaiopuna Falls in Kauai is one of the most famous waterfalls in cinema. The only legal way to get there is by helicopter. The Jurassic Park crew loved this spot so much that they opened a road through the valley and built a landing pad. These days the helicopters land a few metres away, it's tricky to land a chopper vertically like they did in the movie.
Remains of the landing pad can still be seen, scattered in the river below by 1992's Hurricane Iniki.
Shot here: Jurassic Park; Six Days, Seven Nights; South Pacific; The Descendants; Blue Hawaii.
Tours: Island Helicopters
The Ennis House
The original Blade Runner is set in Los Angeles in 2019, but one of its most striking settings is Frank Lloyd Wright's 1924 architectural masterpiece The Ennis House.
The home is currently privately owned by a billionaire and is undergoing restoration, but it is pretty visible from the street. Please note this is a private residence, do not trespass. Start at the bottom of the hill for a bit of exercise and some respectful nosey-ing.
While you're there you can visit another beautiful building from Blade Runner — the Bradbury Building. And the Griffith Observatory (from movies including The Terminator, Rebel Without a Cause and La La Land) is well worth exploring, open Wednesday through Sunday and admission is free.
Location: 2607 Glendower Avenue, Los Angeles, California
Shot here: Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Twin Peaks; Blade Runner; Rush Hour; Predator 2; Beverly Hills Cop II; The House on Haunted Hill; Female (and many more).
Tours: Hundreds of TV show episodes and films are produced in LA every year, so pick your favourites and map them out. Sites such as Movie.Maps.org and even Wikipedia are a good place to start your research.
Timberline Lodge is an unbelievably beautiful lodge in Mt Hood, Oregon, where Stanley Kubrick filmed some of the exterior and aerial shots of The Shining.
You can still stay in this hotel. It's a National Monument personally dedicated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937, and still boasts beautiful craftsmanship and extensive artistic detail.
Portland locals are more than happy to make the 90-minute drive to this cosy wooden lodge, about 1800m up Mt Hood. There are shops, a restaurant and The Blue Ox bar, plus hiking and skiing trails, and nearby fishing in the lakes around the mountain. Be sure to fully explore and spend time in all of the unique nooks and crannies of the maze-like lodge.
Location: 27500 E Timberline Road, Government Camp, Oregon
Shot here: Bend of the River; All the Young Men; Lost Horizon; Hear No Evil; The Shining. Brief exterior shots of a snowy Timberline Lodge were used as a stand-in for a "Bavarian Ski Resort" in multiple episodes of Hogan's Heroes.
United Airlines flies direct from Auckland to San Francisco, with connections to New York. united.com
The Moxy Times Square is conveniently located in Midtown, with rooms from about NZ$200 a night.