by Travis Helwig
Just a few hours ago, I was threatened by an NYPD officer after I got a little too close to the cast of "Glee." As a 23-year-old male, this wasn't necessarily something I expected my day to include. Let me explain.
We were tipped off this morning that "Glee" was shooting on the TKTS stairs in Times Square, just one block away from the MTV News offices. Lea Michele tweeted, "Now it's time to get movin because my dream of shooting Glee in NYC is finally coming true! Hope u r ready NYC...Miss Rachel Berry is here!!" Not only that, tweets from surprised fans started to pour over the web. "Glee" was shooting on our turf. We knew what we had to do. If Rachel Berry was in Times Square, so shall be MTV News.
I ran outside, camera in hand, and immediately ran into a brick wall of humans—a seemingly endless mass of people surrounding the TKTS booth, each with a camera phone in hand. I overheard one fan say into a Blackberry, "Yeah, right here. I'm looking at the cast of 'Glee.' Get down here now!" There were multiple cameras on cranes and more security than there were crew members. But through all the hubbub, just beyond the cops, the barricade and the screaming fans, I spotted five female actresses from our favorite FOX musical series.
Heather Morris stood center, clearly the scene's focus. To her left, in a bright striped jacket, sang Lea Michele and Ashley Fink. To Heather's right, Jenna Ushkowitz and Dianna Agron. They were lip-syncing, but the audio was too low for spectators to hear. The five took positions on the top of structure, facing away from the camera. One by one they whipped around and briefly posed, before strutting down the staircase.
Angling to find the best photo location, I spoke to an exhausted P.A. (production assistant) on the shoot, who was very willing to tell me about the ordeal. "It's been a long day," he told me. "Been here since 5 a.m. They didn't even start shooting until 7." Sweat on his forehead, he looked up towards the black rain clouds. "At least the rain's holding off."
They had been resetting the same shot multiple times when I noticed the perfect angle. As they waited for the director to call "action," the cast leaned on the top of the staircase, looking out over 47th Street. I was one of the first to get to the spot, and I got a clear view of the stars smiling and joking with each other between takes. A lot of the fans saw my move and began crowding around my viewpoint by the Olive Garden. One girl yelled, "Hi Brittany!" referring to Heather's Brittany S. Pierce. "You're better than the real one!"
As the crowd gathered behind the staircase, the masses of people bubbled into the road. The paparazzi had arrived, and some were starting to climb the scaffolding behind me. Suddenly an angry producer was among us. "We need everyone on the sidewalk!" she squawked, "We don't want anyone getting hit by a car. It's unsafe and you will get arrested." Arrested? For this? But I live in Brooklyn.
It was in that moment of smug self-assuredness that I heard a roar. A group of about 30 people were surrounding a strangely tall man in a black baseball cap across the street. "Cory Monteith!" I thought. I rushed across to snap a few photos, surrounded by girls too young to propose marriage but asking anyway. He struggled to get through the growing crowd, and the NYPD moved a barrier to let him through. He smiled wide, though clearly uncomfortable, and moved onto the set where he immediately began shooting his own flip video.
He tweeted about the mob just a few minutes later saying, "I got punched in the face twice and lost a shoe :D." Only one punch was mine. The rest of the cast arrived soon after, but somehow escaped the mob that enveloped Cory.
It was the next few moments that stuck with me. Noticing that my originally secret Olive Garden spot was now overrun with paparazzi, I snuck to the east side of the stairs, standing in a small, partially obstructed part of the sidewalk. "Can't stand there," an NYPD officer screamed, as I leaned in for a photo. I moved a few feet away, acting like I was supposed to be where I was, leaning further over the barrier. "You gotta cross the street," he exclaimed, "gotta cross now!"
"Oh, I'm not crossing," I responded, trying to act like I was sure this was the right spot for me. "Listen kid," he got serious, "if you don't move right now, you're getting in the back of my car." At this moment, my mind raced. Perhaps it would be worth it. Perhaps getting arrested for being too close to the cast of "Glee" would be something I could tell my grandkids about. Or better, my prison roommate: 'What are you in for?' '"Glee" photography.' But as the man with the badge (and the gun) moved closer, my decision was made for me: My camera died. There would be no heroics. No epic tales. Just one dead battery.
No one on the set was talking, so I don't have any idea how this scene will play beyond the noise about New Directions visiting New York for glee club nationals. Despite everything, I was amazed that although "Glee" is one of the most popular shows on TV, the cast seemed honestly humbled by the huge crowds of fans that were watching. There was plenty of waving and smiling and laughing. And just moments after I left the scene, Lea Michele tweeted, "Thanks 2 all of our amazing fans who came 2 support us. Wish I could have stopped & talked to every1." You're welcome, Rachel Berry. You're welcome.
Are you as jazzed about the "Glee" finale as we are? Do you have any of your own tales of crashing a television or movie set? Tell us in the comments and on Twitter!