Lights! Camera! Transit!

Posted on May 15, 2012 by Heather Redfern - Also by this author

Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars aren’t the leading women and men you might think. These “celebrities” are larger than life, yet don’t demand top billing — they’re the transit systems that often play key roles in blockbuster films and TV hits.

How many times has a train station, subway car or crowded bus stop set the stage for a pivotal movie or TV show moment? What helps to make these scenes real is that, across the country, transit authorities in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Boston and Philadelphia, are able to provide production companies with access to hundreds of actual stations, stops and vehicles — both new and vintage. Instead of attempting to recreate the “feel” of an urban subway on a sterile soundstage, production crews can work with transit organizations on location, most often for a fraction of what the cost to build a replica facility or outfit “authentic” vehicles would be.

Filming a scene from the movie SAFE, using a green screen at SEPTA's Fern Rock car shop.
Filming a scene from the movie SAFE, using a green screen at SEPTA's Fern Rock car shop.

In some cases, one system can serve as a “stand-in” for another. In the recently released action flick "Safe," the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA ) Broad Street Line, with the help of some movie magic, portrays the New York City subway. This included using a “green screen” so that background footage could be added later in the production.

Scenes using the Broad Street Line were filmed at SEPTA’s Fern Rock shop over a two-week period in November 2010. Steve Cook, who was assistant director of maintenance at Fern Rock at the time of the shoot, was heavily involved in the planning process.

“One of the things [the crew] liked about the Fern Rock facility was the size of the open, covered space they had to work with inside the building,” said Cook. “Although the movie is set in New York, they also liked that the Broad Street cars have a similar body structure of those used in New York, which allowed them to film some scenes in New York and some while on location in Philadelphia.”  

Filming a trolley scene for the FX hit TV show, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
Filming a trolley scene for the FX hit TV show, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

"SAFE" isn’t the only recent on-camera cameo by SEPTA properties and vehicles. Philadelphia-area native Bradley Cooper filmed a sequence of his 2011 movie "Limitless" in a section of Walnut-Locust Station on the Broad Street Line and the cast of "It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia" tried to catch a SEPTA trolley in a recent episode of the FX hit show. Even international productions — a Bollywood movie, Japanese TV show and Swedish game show — have selected SEPTA for their filming needs.  

While some projects require days of shooting and others are just a few hours, all create national and international exposure for SEPTA and generate revenue for the agency through location and commercial filming vehicle charter fees. In the last year-and-a-half, SEPTA has earned almost $49,600 through movie and television contracts, which are arranged through the media relations department.

“It’s wonderful that more production companies are realizing that the Philadelphia region is a great place to film their movies and shows and SEPTA is thrilled to be able to offer our vehicles and facilities,” said GM Joe Casey. “The projects provide our staff with a fun way to showcase their work and talents outside of their everyday routines while bringing in money for the authority.”

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "In the still of the night" here.

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