The former Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island hasn’t held prisoners in seven years, but on Wednesday morning, there was plenty of law enforcement there.
During my tour of the campus, a group of men dressed in SWAT gear barreled into what used to be a waiting room for guests, complete with a children’s play area with Disney characters painted on the wall. And throughout the facility, people who appeared to be police officers were walking around minding their own business.
But they were all actors.
What used to be a prison is now a growing hub for film and TV productions and is owned by full-service, Brooklyn-based production company Broadway Stages, which bought the 67-acre property in 2017 for $US7 million and a $US20 million investment to be completed in five years, according to Broadway Stages spokespeople Warren Cohn and Samara Schaum.
The prison, which opened in 1976 and closed in 2011, has become a hot spot for popular movies like this year’s Sandra Bullock-starring “Ocean’s 8” and TV shows like Netflix’s “Daredevil” and “Orange is the New Black.” NBC’s “The Black List” was filming on Wednesday when I got a look at the place.
There was also a helicopter parked on the grounds for what must have been a painstaking shoot of an undisclosed project (but no permit is required since it’s private property now).
The fourth episode from “Daredevil” season 3, named “Blindsided,” has made headlines recently for its nearly 11-minute one-take tracking shot inside a prison facility during a riot. The scene finds Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), the man known as the costumed-vigilante Daredevil, fighting his way through a group of prisoners to learn the name of a man a bad guy Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) paid to shank him.
It was all filmed at Arthur Kill. In an interview with Vulture, showrunner Erik Oleson detailed how the scene came to be, and that it was director Alex Garcia Lopez’s idea to do the “oner” after he read the script. But Oleson didn’t initially grasp the extent of Lopez’s vision, and didn’t foresee it being an over-10-minute take, which made executives sceptical.
“I had to call all the financial people and say, ‘Guess what? We’re gonna stop filming for a day but have the entire crew there to rehearse,'” Oleson said. “From television production, that’s definitely caused some agita.”
According to Oleson, the take is actually one shot, with no CGI tricks. Cox did 80% of the scene himself, but a stunt double, Chris Brewster, was strategically swapped in at opportune moments, called a “Texas switch.”
Lopez and the crew captured the scene, which begins in an infirmary room at the prison and ends with Murdock finally escaping and getting in to a taxi, on the third uninterrupted take.
Since Arthur Kill has been the shooting location for various productions, there are plenty of props around. But a lot of what’s left from the former prison is still there, including writing carved in to walls that is authentic.
As more and more productions leave New York for lower-cost locations, such as Georgia, Broadway Stages hopes Arthur Kill will be a one-stop-shop for multiple shoots at once that could provide at least 1,500 jobs daily. Cohn or Schaum didn’t divulge what Broadway Stages charges for a production to use the grounds, but film students, such as from New York University, can film there for an affordable price.
Broadway Stages’ five-year $US20 million investment includes editing facilities, renovations to the pool for underwater filming, and five sound stages (there’s currently one).
Below is a closer look at the prison:
Here’s the view from the guard tower. There was even a toilet in the tower because guards would be stationed there for hours at a time.
This was the children’s area in the waiting room, where guests would wait to visit prisoners. This wasn’t painted for a production, it was left there from the prison.
In the secured control room of the holding area, this ladder led up to the roof in the event of a dangerous riot and the guards needed to escape, according to Cohn.
I got an inside look at one of the holding cells, which Cohn closed the door of from the control room to show that it was still operational.
Broadway Stages implemented this huge $US50,000 sound-proof door outside of the former recreational gym, which is now a sound stage.
Cohn said that Broadway Stages plans to convert what used to be the prison pool into an underwater filming tank, by digging out the entire pool to the length of the deep end.
This is the prison’s special housing unit (SHU), where prisoners in solitary confinement would stay (the pumpkins are from a recent pumpkin patch Broadway Stages hosted). “Daredevil” was filmed here and in the infirmary.
This red-square prop on the outside of the SHU is leftover from the 2017 movie “Brawl in Cell Block 99,” starring Vince Vaughn.
They can be found all over the grounds, including on the buildings here.
This dental chair is still in the infirmary where “Daredevil” was filmed.
This helicopter landed at the facility for a scene in “The Blacklist.”
This hallway in the main building was, coincidentally, called “Broadway” because it was the main hall in the facility, according to Cohn.
Also in the main building is what “Orange is the New Black” used for a chapel. Arthur Kill is one of a few facilities in New York where the Netflix show has filmed.
Cohn said Amazon spent $US150,000 to convert this basketball court into a tennis court for its show “Red Oaks.”
Here’s a list of film and TV shows that have been filmed at the facility that Broadway Stages provided me:
- “Orange is the New Black”
- “The Sinner”
- “Ocean’s 8”
- “Brawl in Cell Block 99”
- “Neon Joe”
- “The Good Cop”
- “Escape From Dannemora”
- “The Code”
- “Ray Donovan”
- “The Black List”
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