The Dark Knight

5 Films That Feature the Staten Island Ferry

Most tourists visiting New York City typically ignore the southernmost borough, Staten Island. In fact, many New Yorkers who’ve lived in the city their whole lives have never been, either. However, the boat that takes 24 million people per year from Manhattan to Staten Island and back again — the Staten Island Ferry — is one of the city’s most famous, most visited landmarks.

Traveling between the Big Apple’s two island counties by boat is a tradition that goes all the way back to the 1700s, when Cornelius Vanderbilt made his first profit sailing fellow Staten Islanders to downtown Manhattan. The iconic orange fleet of ships have been in service nearly as long, and are as much a fixture of New York Harbor as the Statue of Liberty. Look out the windows from New York Film Academy’s Battery Park campus in downtown New York City, and chances are you’ll see a ferry or two making their way to port, just yards away from the school.

It’s no surprise then that the Staten Island Ferry has appeared in many New York-based films. Sometimes, the ferries provide the setting for a key scene, sometimes they make brief cameos as part of the city’s backdrop, sometimes they’re the focus of the movie.

In the fourth film of Blumhouse’s Purge franchise coming out this summer, Staten Island takes center stage as the testing grounds for The First Purge. Don’t be surprised if the borough’s namesake ferry makes an appearance or two before Purge Night reaches dawn. In the meantime, here are five other films that predominantly feature the Staten Island Ferry:

(Warning: may contain spoilers!)

Spider-Man: Homecoming

The second act centerpiece of Peter Parker’s very own entry in the MCU was so epic and action-packed that it became the focus of much of the film’s marketing and film trailers. Far from his friendly neighborhood in Queens, and far from the skyscrapers he could web-sling to for escape, Spider-Man found himself in the middle of New York Harbor battling Michael Keaton’s villain, the Vulture.

After the ferry is completely split in two, Spider-Man must work quickly to hold the entire, massive ship together with his own webs and Spidey-strength. At the end of the day, the ship is saved and its passengers kept dry, but only after some help from Marvel’s other iconic New Yorker, Tony Stark.

Working Girl

Working Girl was a box-office smash in the 1980s, back when Hollywood wasn’t completely dominated by superhero and sci-fi franchises. The romantic comedy, directed by legendary Mike Nichols, starred Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver, and Harrison Ford.

Griffith’s sympathetic lead, Tess McGill, is a secretary from Staten Island who, like a lot of Staten Islanders, commutes every morning to Wall Street for work. The film’s iconic opening sequence featured Griffith, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, taking the Ferry along with an army of morning commuters. The scene featured Carly Simon’s Let the River Run, which ultimately went on to win the Oscar for Best Song and solidified the Staten Island Ferry’s place in Hollywood history.

Who’s That Knocking At My Door?

The title may not ring any bells, but 1967’s Who’s That Knocking At My Door?, originally titled I Call First, is legendary for being the first feature film by director Martin Scorsese. Starring a very young, fresh-faced Harvey Keitel, the film deals with Catholic guilt as well as love and heartbreak for Italian Americans in downtown Manhattan, themes that would be even more fleshed out six years later in Mean Streets.

The film centers around the relationship between Keitel’s character, J.R., and his unnamed love interest, played by Zina Bethune. The audience’s engagement with these two characters relies on a key opening scene in the film — a lengthy, sometimes awkward conversation where the two leads meet while commuting on the Staten Island Ferry. In its own twisted way, it may even be one of Hollywood’s first meet cutes.

Notably, Scorsese’s first feature was filmed over several years, originally as part of his student film. Prolific Hollywood director Martin Brest also shot his student film, Hot Dogs for Gauguin, on the Staten Island Ferry, starring then-unknown actors Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman — solidifying the Ferry as a go-to location for New York film students.

Ferry Tales

While the Staten Island Ferry is a huge attraction for tourists visiting New York City, its greatest use is transporting commuters back and forth across the harbor. Many Staten Islanders work in Manhattan, whether as Wall Street brokers, with the NYPD, or in any number of white- and blue-collar jobs. These commuters often take the ferry every morning at the same time, and start to recognize one another and even form friendships.

In 2003 the documentary short Ferry Tales was released, featuring the stories of some of the women who got to know each other in the powder room of the ferry while getting ready for work in the city. These women came from all sorts of diverse backgrounds but, for twenty-five minutes each morning, bonded over their shared commute and shared stories both with one other and with the documentary crew, including subjects as heavy as divorce, domestic violence, and the struggles of single motherhood.

Early in the 2001 filming of the documentary, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 occurred, giving everyone on the ferry — and the film crew — an unobstructed front row view of one of the most horrific attacks to ever occur on American soil. Along with appearing in and winning several film festivals, Ferry Tales went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject in 2003.

The Dark Knight

Technically, the Staten Island Ferry doesn’t appear in Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film. Instead, the third act climax revolves around the Gotham Island Ferry — two, in fact. However, you wouldn’t need an eagle eye or be from Staten Island to recognize the iconic orange ships — with the exception of the first word painted on the side, these boats are Staten Island Ferries both inside and out.

Whereas most of Gotham City in The Dark Knight was filmed in and based on Chicago, the island boroughs and harbor were more clearly modeled on New York — a trend that was even more fleshed out in the third film, The Dark Knight Rises. The final, master plan of Heath Ledger’s Joker involved strapping bombs to two escaping ferries — one loaded with innocent evacuees, the other with convicted felons. The Joker gave each group the opportunity to save themselves by blowing up the other boat. Christian Bale’s Batman held faith that neither side would give in so easily, and was ultimately proven right, much to the Joker’s disappointment. It’s a safe bet to assume the real life commuters of the Staten Island Ferry would make the same choice.

Interested in studying film or acting just yards away from the Staten Island Ferry? Check out the programs New York Film Academy has to offer HERE.

How To Implement An Alluring Color Design Scheme

Color is a seemingly magical tool, and a hugely important asset in the cinematographer’s toolbox for conveying a particular mood and eliciting the desired emotions in a movie’s audience.

Of course, it isn’t really magic—the science behind which colors work well together on film and the effects they create are taught at cinematography school 101, and the theory behind color design is well established at this point in the history of cinema.

That said, it’s always good to refresh that knowledge from time to time, especially since it’s an integral part of effective filmmaking. Today, we’ll be looking at:

Color Design in Film: 5 Important Things to Consider

color wheel cinematography

1. Know This Well

The color wheel above is an iconic representation of the red, yellow, blue—or subtractive—color model, and is an essential concept in pretty much any field of the visual arts and cinematography is no exception.

Learn this like the back of your hand, though there’s no harm in keeping a reference card in your field kit bag. Or pinned up in the edit room. Or superglued to the back of the assistant DP’s head. Everywhere, really.

But equally important is knowing what to do with it. Moving on to:

2. Color Temperature

Looking back to the color wheel, you’ll see that colors running clockwise 90 to 270 degrees—i.e. the right-hand side—are predominantly warmer than those on the left-hand side. The upshot of this is that scenes which feature warmer colors are more lively and energetic, while the ‘cooler’ colors give the impression of stillness, and calm and somberness when applied to film.

It’s a fairly basic principle, but the results of applying warm and cold colors effectively really do speak for themselves. Check out this scene from The Dark Knight, which features a heavy amount of graytones and cobalt blue and the effect it has on the overall mood:

Notice also in the above scene that the cold colors play very well against the fire and blood. Given that you won’t want to just use either warm and cold palettes all the time, let’s explore…

3. Creating Contrast With Opposing Colors

Any two colors that lie opposite each other on the color wheel can be used together to create a real vibrancy to a scene, particularly when it comes to pairing a warm and a cool color. A good demonstration of this can be found in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi—really, any Ang Lee movie viewed with a cinematographer’s eye will teach you volumes about effective color design:

You’ll likely have to carefully balance saturation and contrast in the editing suite when putting together two very vibrant and opposite colors, but the payoff can be more than worth the time it takes to get it right. That all said…

4. Know When to Dial It Back

Just because two or more colors work well together doesn’t mean you necessarily have to push them to the limit and oversaturate them. In fact, sometimes the best color design can be found in moderation.

If you think back on any of Tim Burton’s movies, you’ll notice they have the strange knack of giving the impression of both vivid color as well as a macabre, washed-out look… all at the same time.

It’s an exceptionally clever trick, mainly achieved by keeping most of the key characters and majority of the scenery on a grayscale but applying bright color design to secondary elements (almost the reverse of common convention.) Here’s a clip from the iconic Edward Scissorhands:

And finally…

5. Mix & Match

While all of the above can be considered conventional wisdom, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel free to experiment with color combinations. A lot of great cinematography has been born out of experimentation, so bend the rules and see what happens—using colder colors for a romantic scene to create a contrasting and jarring effect, for instance, or mixing two colors that don’t typically work in order to make the cinematography feel alien and unsettling.

Your experimentation won’t always work, but there’s certainly no harm in trying (and the more you discover what doesn’t work, the more you’ll intuitively get a handle on what does.)