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Little Italy in New York: Why it’s a Great Video Location
Little Italy, a single, and singular, Lower Manhattan neighborhood just spitting distance, or perhaps shooting distance, from New York’s Chinatown, offers videographers a backdrop with as much history and tradition as it does modern sensibilities to suit any sequence they might wish to shoot. From fish-out-of-water comedy to immigrant family drama to gritty underbelly action and suspense, and whether Italian-American or otherwise, scripted or unscripted, a show, commercial, or music video, Little Italy turns any video shoot into a colorful feast for the eyes and a cavalcade of activity that mixes Italy’s classic spice with that unmistakably New York flavor.
The History of Little Italy
When Italians immigrated to Manhattan in the late-1800s, they first settled in the approximate area from Houston Street to Canal Street, north to south, and the Bowery to Lafayette, east to west. As more Italians settled here, more emigrants from the old country joined them, making this the birthplace of Italian-American culture and heritage in the US. Starting with the professionals from Naples, or Neapolitans, shortly including the more working-class Sicilians and thereafter former citizens from all over “Mother” Italy, Little Italy grew within its confines to represent the whole of two nations an ocean apart, both steeped in a chaotic yet seamless blend of history and tradition with a modern flair.
Movies and Other Videos Filmed in Little Italy
Many videographers and filmmakers have found filming in Little Italy immensely rewarding, including the makers of (in no particular order:)
- The Amazing Spider-Man 2
- Big Daddy
- Donnie Brasco
- State of Grace
- Mean Streets
- Analyze This
- PS I Love You
- The Freshman
- Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather series
Much of Martin Scorsese’s work, especially his earlier work, was set or shot, partially or in full, in his home neighborhood of Little Italy.
Why Little Italy Offers Great Location for a Video Shoot
Today, the neighborhood hearkens back to this era in its history, reminding residents, visitors, and vendors of the roots of the streets on which they stand. Although no longer the enclave it once was for Italian immigrants and those of Italian descent, marks of Italian heritage and culture can be seen in every direction, from flags of Italy flying from the rafters to fire hydrants painted in the same stripes. Italian eateries, produce markets, butcher shops and patisseries deck the sidewalks blaring traditional Italian songs from the speakers over their entries.
Today’s Little Italy infuses much of the modern world outside its borders into this rich heritage, creating, at once, a clash and a blend of cultures. The injection of greater New York and beyond into Little Italy is perhaps most evident in the area around Houston Street known as NoLIta, or “North of Little Italy” abbreviated.
With this combination of evocations of Italian immigrant heritage and historic mafioso mean streets with vibrant modern street art and food and fashion of every order, the array of video shoot locations in Little Italy offers something for every videographer’s lens.
When most residents and visitors, past and present, think of Little Italy, they generally start on Mulberry Street. Even if you’ve never seen it, when you think of all you’d expect to see in an Italian enclave in NYC, it’s Mulberry Street you’ll no doubt picture. That’s why, if there’s one place for an outdoor Little Italy video shoot, it’s here.
Patrick’s Old Cathedral
The Basilica of Saint Patric’s Old Cathedral may be a religious landmark of both national and international renown, but it’s also an active church where people go consistently for confession, services, and personal prayer. The original seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, before it moved to San Francisco, St. Patrick’s increased its historic relevance when Pope Benedict XVI named it a major basilica on St. Patrick’s day in 2010.
Shrine of the Most Precious Blood Church
Sister church of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, Most Precious Blood, as it’s called for short, features an immaculate facade and ornate entry that leads to a staggering display of sacred art and other divine interior decors.
One famous Little Italy ritual centered here every year, and a feast for videographers, is the 11-day Feast of St. Gennaro, in which the statue of a martyred bishop from the third century and the patron St. of Naples are carried from the church, where it stays year-round, throughout Little Italy’s streets. The festivities include a cannoli-eating contest and live music.
Old Police Headquarters
The current police headquarters in Little Italy is housed in a huge and much more modern Centre Street location, but for more than 45 years before that, it called this humble apartment building home. The New York Times nicknamed this iconic five-story landmark “America’s Scotland Yard” because of its central role in combating the unbridled gang and criminal activity of the era, making it the perfect site to shoot detective, police or criminal content, or even material more mysterious, onerous or illicit.
For a prime indoor establishing shoot or backdrop here, consider the “Rogue’s Gallery” containing 7,000 photos of criminals, which the police there once utilized in hunting down suspects.
Officially the nation’s first pizzeria, this famously recognizable gathering place, with its red and white checkered floor and wood oven offer videographers in NYC an evocative Little Italy eatery always crowded with people laughing, talking loudly over the bustle and, of course, eating, or rather greedily devouring platters of crisply-baked crusts steaming with red sauce, melted cheese and heaps of toppings.
Famous Mafioso Shooting Sites
The double-meaning of “shooting” in that subhead wasn’t intentional, but it fits. While there isn’t necessarily one representative site for shooting historic mafioso shots, there are plenty of areas throughout Little Italy where mafia activity was rampant. For starters, try the former site of Umberto’s Clam House at 129 Mulberry Street, also the site of “Crazy” Joey Gallo’s shooting in plain daylight.
The diversity of Little Italy filming locations gives videographers a unique opportunity to set scenes of cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity in an urban environment where old and new, historic and modern collide.
If you need a professional camera crew familiar with the NYC area, let’s chat. We can have you a team of skilled videographers ready to go – a crew that will make your video production a total success.