Mean Streets: The Toughness Behind The Place Beyond The Pines
Behind the Scenes of The Place Beyond The Pines
A Look at the Upcoming Film, The Place Beyond the Pines, with Ryan Gosling, Filmed on Location in Schenectady
On a crowded New York City street, two men are in a fight. The scuffle is caught on video by a couple of young women who are, ironically, giggling. As one man takes the other man by his jacket collar, the women continue to titter and laugh. Then, the man with the grip on the other lands a blow to his back. One of the girls behind the camera capturing it all asks, “Is this really happening?”
Out of nowhere, a third man shows up. A baseball cap pulled low conceals most of his face; his arms bulge from a striped tank-top. This third man grabs the aggressor by the wrist, twisting his arm away and pushing him back. He gets in between the fighting men.
“You know who that is, right?” asks one of the young women.
“That’s the guy from the movie. The Notebook.”
“Are you serious??”
They shriek and jostle the camera as the hero in the tank-top proceeds to break up the altercation. Indeed, it looks like the actor Ryan Gosling.
“Is it?” The woman holding the camera continues to jounce around, getting increasingly excited. “You’re lying,” she says. She repeats it. “You’re lying. You’re lying.” Then, “Oh my God, it is!”
The camera goes wild. Gosling comes closer across the street, separating the two men, keeping a hand on the ostensible victim’s back like a high school principal escorting a hormonal teen away from a hallway brawl. The camera lurches, the women shriek. End of transmission.
The video quickly goes viral on YouTube. Gosling, fresh from shooting a movie in Upstate New York, endures a fresh battery from the press as paparazzi snap new photos of the actor in Lower Manhattan and a blogger bonanza and talk show smorgasbord ensues. Gosling handles it all with aplomb, grinning and making funny faces at the photogs, answering a battery of interviewer questions about breaking up the nascent street fight.
The streets, it seems, can be tough. And while Gosling enjoys a break from filmmaking (punctuated with bouts of nobly sheriffing New York City’s agitators, of course), the production of The Place Beyond The Pines, a feature film from writer-director Derek Cianfrance, is wrapping production in one of New York State’s other tough cities: Schenectady.
Cianfrance, whose breakthrough film Blue Valentine (starring Gosling and Michelle Williams) knows the city of Schenectady well. The director is on a roll, following up the independent, shattering love story of Valentine with several new films (including the cinema-bending Metalhead and a documentary, Cagefighter). The forthcoming dramatic crime-thriller Pines has a special place in the director’s heart, as does the city which the production called home for more than two months.
“The community of Schenectady made Pines possible,” Cianfrance tells me. “They are crucial collaborators. The city, the police department, the people, all welcomed us and gave generously of their time and talents and knowledge. I’ve made a bunch of documentaries, and in making docs, you really need the support of communities and real people. I’ve tried to take that same aesthetic into narrative filmmaking.”
Schenectady is a mid-sized city located in Central New York, what was once called the Central-Leatherstocking region. It is also known as the Stockade region, with part of the city called simply “The Stockade,” a moniker that evokes the violent history of the area.
In 1661 a stockaded village – meaning one fortified by a defensive barrier of posts or timbers driven side by side into the ground – was settled by Dutch fur-traders. The merchant village was then viciously attacked in 1690 by a marauding party of French-Canadians and Indians. The aggressors burnt it to the ground, killing many of its inhabitants, taking others as prisoners back to Quebec. But the burgeoning city could not be stopped. Just two years later, the Stockade was once again flourishing as a fur-trading outpost and a place of industry and commerce. The Dutch settlers endured, along with English and Scots, building robust, unyielding homes.
Today, the region is known for its unique blend of architecture; areas of Schenectady may feature Colonial, Federal, Victorian, and Georgian style homes, sometimes all on the same street. The city has been preserved thanks to a historic organization founded in the 1950s, but it still bears the scars and pulses with the blood of its tumultuous history.
“I was always taken by that town,” says Cianfrance. “It seems to have a deep soul and so many ghosts. Also: very tough.”
He adds, “My co-writer, Ben Coccio, grew up in Niskayuna. The film has always been set in Schenectady.”
I then ask Cianfrance how the inspiration for The Place Beyond the Pines came about.
“My wife is from Schenectady. I feel like I have been doing a location scout up there for the eight years I have been with her. I came up with the idea for Pines about a month before my son Cody was born. That was four and a half years ago. I was thinking a lot about generations, and what gets passed on down the blood line. Thinking of my father. His father. His father. And my sons. I was also reading a lot of Jack London books and was just really interested in exploring nature and ancestry in a story.”
Without a doubt, the city of Schenectady feels like the perfect fit for The Place Beyond the Pines, a gritty crime drama. The film’s story centers around a motorcycle stunt rider (played by Gosling) who considers committing a crime in order to provide for his wife and child. The act then puts him on a collision course with a cop-turned-politician.
In addition to stars Gosling and Bradley Cooper (The Hangover), the film is rounded out with an A-list cast including Rose Byrne (X-men: First Class), Eva Mendes (Training Day), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), and Bruce Greenwood (Super 8).
While it may be a tough town, Schenectady certainly opened its doors and cordially lent itself to the production. Don Rittner and the Schenectady Film Commission helped to facilitate things from the beginning.
Luckily, Ryan Gosling didn’t need to mediate any fights while there.
“Is this really happening?” We seem to live in a time when fact and fable have blended. In our complex, fast-moving information age, vetted and verifiable information is an increasing commodity. New films have emerged which blend documentary with fictional narrative, and nearly everything we see comes from some source material, often touted as a “true story,” whether based on a memoir, an article in a newspaper, or from memory. As the line blurs between what’s real and what’s Memorex, it’s good to know there’s still those gunslingers like Cianfrance out there shooting a straight story. Something like the Pines; gritty, personal, and while totally made up, set in a region whose torrid past, strength and endurance are qualities well worth honoring. A city with the kind of nature and ancestry Cianfrance seeks to capture…
…When translated from its Mohawk origin, the named Schenectady means “Near the Pines,” “On That Side of the Pines,” or, as fate would have it, “The Place Beyond the Pines.”
–TJ Brearton is a Contributor to The Free George.
The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.
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