What's true in real estate is often just as true for the movies: The three most important things are location . . . location . . . location . . . Here's Anthony Mason:
"Hi, I'm sorry to bother you. I'm a film location scout with Paramount Pictures."
Before the lights are set up or the cameras can roll for a movie, someone has to find the perfect place to shoot it. That's Nick Carr's job. You may know his work from "Spider-Man 3," or "Doubt," or "War of the Worlds."
His name doesn't usually appear until the end of the credits. But when a new film gets the green light, he's on the front lines.
After accounting, Carr said, "Locations departments are the first department to get hired in New York City.
"And my whole job is about looking. It's about staring at the city, and you start seeing these things that stand out as different."
Carr is part of the location team for the new film by "Sopranos" creator David Chase, which takes place in the 1960s.
"We needed a period look," Carr said. "And he just absolutely fell in love with it as soon as we drove through."
So Pearl River, N.Y., is standing in for a New Jersey town, but with some additions. "Sebby's House of Subs doesn't really exist. "That's our creation. We built a few sets around town."
There's no school for location scouts. Most stumble into the job, like Ilt Jones, the 6'6" Welsh-born, Los Angeles-based scout who's lined up locations for films like "Pulp Fiction" and "As Good as It Gets."
"We have to be a diplomat, accountants, and we have to have a good eye aesthetically," he said. "You've basically got to launch a charm offensive on the populace, and hope that they bend to your will.
"Money helps!" Jones laughed.
The scout's greatest challenge: A screenplay that calls for something that simply doesn't exist.
"There's always something where it's a complete figment of the writer's imagination," Jones said. "They've come up with this thing and I often wonder if they do it just to wind location scouts up."
"Inception" is a case in point. The script for the Oscar-nominated film included a dream sequence In which a freight train barrels down the center of a city street."
"And, of course, downtown doesn't have any train tracks going through it," Jones said. "So, hmm, what should we do?"
So they shot along Spring Street - which they liked because it was a "controllable" section of the street - and created their own train: "We built our own train on the top of a semi tractor trailer, with two or three carriages. It looked great."
Good enough to fool a drunk he met on the set early one morning: "The drunk guy goes, 'Is that a train?'" Jones recalled. "And I said, 'Yeah, that's a train.' He goes, 'Man, I gotta quit drinkin!'"
The best locations can play more than one part.
L.A.'s Griffith Observatory was the scene of James Dean's knife fight in "Rebel Without a Cause." But Jones also scouted it for a scene in the first "Transformers" film.
"We used it for the robots signaling to outer space," He said. "You know it's a true story!"
L.A.'s Union Station has had a versatile career in the movies. The cavernous ticketing hall played the part of a futuristic police station in "Blade Runner," and more recently, it was Miami Mutual Bank in "Catch Me If You Can," where con man Leonardo diCaprio passed bad checks.
"You couldn't recreate this now if you wanted to," Mason said of Union Station.
"No, it's one of those 'Don't make 'em like that anymore' moments," Jones said.
In New York, Nick Car showed us 55 Central Park West, seen in "Ghostbusters" as Sigourney Weaver's apartment building.
Sometimes, Carr said, a location can influence a director to alter a script. The building chosen for the climactic scene in "Ghostbusters" is next door to a church.
"Originally it was just centered around the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man attacking the apartment building," Carr said. "They scouted the building and, 'Hey, why not use the church?'"
So the giant actually steps onto the church, prompting Bill Murray's line, "Nobody steps on a church in my town!"
We interviewed Carr in another famous movie location: The table in Katz's Deli where Harry met Sally in the 1989 film. "To me that's put it into pop culture legend, you know?" Carr said.
Manager Jake Dell says it's made the deli a tourist attraction. "We have people coming in, want to sit at the table and want to fake it a bit."
"Everyone wants to be Meg Ryan, I guess."
In 1971, location scouts came knocking at the Norton home on Staten Island:
"My father answered the door," said Ed Norton, "and they said, 'We're from Paramount. We want to film a movie.' And he said, 'No thanks' and closed The door and went into the living room. My mother said, 'Who was that?' He said, 'Guys from Paramount. They wanna film a movie.'
"So she got up and opened the door and said, 'Wait! Come on back!'" he laughed. "And the rest is history."
The Norton house would become the Corleones' home in "The Godfather."
The Corleones' daughter was married on the Nortons' back lawn. And the Don himself died in the tomato patch - now the Nortons' swimming pool.
Ed Norton's mother kept a scrapbook during the filming: Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in their backyard. "With my mother's lawn furniture!" Ed laughed.
The Nortons' house is now up for sale . . . for $2.8 million.
"Forty years ago, when they were filming, did you think people would still be driving up here?" Mason asked.
"Absolutely not! I mean, it's a movie and you don't know how popular the movie's going to be," he said. "Turned out to be one of the most famous movies in the world."
So what will be the next great film location?
Nick Carr is always looking, posting his finds on his blog at scoutingny.com. One building has drawn the most interest:
"I got an e-mail that there was a location that I absolutely had to see at 5 Beekman Street," Carr said. "This is a building that was built in the 1800s. And it has the most beautiful atrium in New York City. It goes a full nine stories. And what's even more incredible is that for the past 65 years it has been
completely shuttered up."
Imagine a hideout here . . . a chase scene . . . or maybe a dramatic fall.
"This is a building you want to see in a movie," said Mason.
"Yeah, this is a building that's waiting to have its moment in front of a camera," Carr said.
The Academy doesn't give Oscars to location scouts. But they also dream of discovering a star, of finding that special place that could become a screen icon.
For more info:
The "Godfather" house, 110 Longfellow Avenue, Staten Island, N.Y.
5 Beekman Street, New York, N.Y.
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