SCHENECTADY — A production company is gearing up to shoot the next season of a show in Schenectady, using the old armory as a sound stage and venturing out for location shots in the area.
As they shop for locations and support services, scouts have openly dropped the name of the show and its owner — Amazon Prime Video’s romantic comedy “Modern Love” — and said filming is set to begin around Sept. 8.
But Amazon and the production company putting the series together, Picrow, have declined to publicize any plans in Schenectady or authorize its discussion.
So the owner of the armory and county officials are left speaking in circumspect fashion, as temporary fencing, generators capable of producing 100,000 watts of electricity and an air-conditioning system rated at 2.4 million BTUs are set up outside the armory.
The county and city have been cooperating with the effort, with the city agreeing to close side streets around the armory and the county arranging for parking.
Accommodations have been secured in apartments and hotels for cast members and 100 to 120 crew members, while restaurants are being hired to cater on-site dining for the cast and crew.
Gear has been unloaded at the armory continually this month, and more trucks were on scene Tuesday.
Picrow and Amazon Prime did not return requests for comment for this story.
Cousins Jeff and Ray Legere bought the circa-1936 armory on Washington Avenue at auction in 2012, when the state was selling off a number of older armories and consolidating its military operations at newer buildings. It was last used as an armory in 2008, and has since seen use as an event venue and sports training facility.
It is not the most ornate armory the state of New York ever built, but it is extremely solid, and features a 50-foot high ceiling completely supported by its own trusses — no columns needed. This construction leaves the 150-by-180-foot floor below completely open for set construction and provides solid anchor points above if needed. Add in all the additional space upstairs, downstairs, and in the former maintenance building next door, and you’ve got a self-contained complex on a two-acre parcel, Ray Legere said.
“A lot of other sound stages may have one or two big rooms but they don’t have the other spaces, for the gaffers, for the health and safety team, for offices,” he said.
Being self-contained is good for security. During a pandemic, it’s good for hygiene, too. Legere said a medical team has been on-site, setting up an infection control protocol.
“Modern Love” is based on the New York Times column of the same name. Season one, with a rotating cast that included Tina Fey, Dev Patel, Andy Garcia and Anne Hathaway, was shot in and around New York City. Amazon renewed the show for season two in October, a little more than four months before the COVID-19 pandemic reached the state, with major and still-enduring impact on the New York City region.
Legere said his company provided indoor space and support when “The Place Beyond the Pines” was shot in Schenectady in 2011, and the production company currently setting up in the armory heard positive reviews about that experience nine years later as it sought a location for production of … the show whose name Legere is not allowed to mention.
The armory is in a good position amid the pandemic. Some of the activities that could be held there are still on the restricted list, but the facility has a rated occupancy limit of more than 1,500 people. So even with the 50-percent capacity restriction imposed by the state, it can legally hold hundreds of people, and has enough space to do it with full social distancing.
The Legeres have been looking for ways to use what they now call the Schenectady Armory Center since buying it. Ray Legere thinks the sound stage model is a good one and hopes to do it again.
Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority, said on-scene shooting can be exciting — recall the sightings of Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes during “Pines” — but it’s usually a one-time thing, and not sustainable. A place cast as an anonymous small city can’t be reused as such too many times.
A sound stage, however, can be torn down and rebuilt into something completely different quickly. And there’s enough space at the armory for multiple sets to be built, used, modified and removed at the same time.
Meanwhile, such productions keep hotels and caterers and their employees busy, bringing money and tax revenue into the community.
That’s why the city, county and Metroplex worked to make this production happen, Gillen said, and are excited it happened. He wouldn’t provide the name of the show, and said it also wouldn’t be officially disclosed when the Schenectady County Legislature discusses free use of county parking lots for the crew, as it’s technically Legere who’s getting the free use.
Metroplex provided a $75,000 grant for retrofits for the armory for this production. It previously provided $90,000 for an elevator and other upgrades after the Legeres bought it, and provided a property tax break that brought the building onto the tax rolls gradually instead of all at once.