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The Tempo Of New York City
"New York City is a living entity,” Robin Williams attests. "It's possible to shoot movies in other places and finesse it to look like New York. Toronto can look like New York, but if you're actually shooting a scene in Columbus Circle, Central Park, Washington Square, if you're in Brooklyn or the Village or Manhattan, as soon as you step onto the street you know it's a whole other game. That's vital to a film like this; it's all about rhythm and pulse.

"Washington Square has a great tradition of busking and performance, whether it's musicians or chess hustlers,” he continues. "We'd be on the set all day with the kids playing their instruments and then break for dinner, and when we came back there would be genuine street kids out there with their own instruments.”

Adds Lewis, "Washington Square and Central Park, while also beautiful, can be easily dark and oppressive also, depending on your mood and circumstances.” "Robin, of course, would entertain the entire park full of people between takes. He had a thriving stand-up routine on the side,” recalls Sheridan.

Mindful of mood, production designer Michael Shaw and the filmmakers selected the film's numerous practical locations to illustrate the stark contrasts that define August's experience in the city. Offers Shaw, "It's not an easy place, but it makes you tough to live there. As August feels that, we want the audience to feel it also. At the same time he's taking in the glamorous New York iconography, the clean lines and elegance of places like Carnegie Hall and Juilliard, he's also seeing the city's rougher side, like the abandoned theater that is essentially Wizard's lair.”

The production crew discovered an old but working theater for sale in the Bronx and transformed it into a derelict version of the Fillmore East, complete with faded marquee and posters and oversized speakers in the back. "We removed the seats, aged it down and decayed it,” says Shaw, whose work draws upon years of experience as a sculptor and painter. After welding a series of ramps and substructures that resembled makeshift scaffolding and decorating the walls with graffiti, he and his team "brought in props to look like the kids had created a home for themselves from whatever items they could salvage from dumpsters and the street—bits of wood, old doors, police barricades, whatever they could find. The trick was in making it look flimsy and slipshod, as though constructed by kids, yet have it be strong and safe enough for the cast and crew to walk on and move around.”

"It's kind of a fairytale tree house structure that kids would fantasize about building, because they're so resourceful and imaginative, but with an eye toward efficiency, which is how Wizard runs the place,” notes Sheridan.

Filming outdoors in New York required not only careful planning but a measure of luck, which remained consistently in their favor, as Sheridan relates with a touch of lingering amazement. "At one point we needed snow for a scene upstate when August is at the orphanage. It was February but there was no snow until the day before we traveled. Then, suddenly, they had the most massive snowfall that area had seen for something like 20 years and we had our beautiful red barn covered with white.”

The biggest challenge was the film's climactic scene set at a symphony concert in Central Park, involving more than 500 extras and scheduled for an April shoot. Says Sheridan, "It was a huge risk but Richard is a fantastic risk-taker. He knew he just had to go for it, and it turned out that we got the four warmest nights in the history of April in New York City.”

"Everyone said you can't do it, forget about it, move it inside,” the producer admits. "But that wouldn't work. It had to be Central Park. This child has been searching for a way to reach as many people as possibl


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