Date of Submission
Academic Programs and Concentrations
Film and Electronic Arts
Project Advisor 1
In 2006, a location scout knocked on the door of my Washington Heights apartment and asked my parents if they would be interested in renting out the space for a Law and Order shoot. All of the furniture in our living room was packed into the bedrooms on the other end of the house and we spent the afternoon trying to keep out of the crew’s way. When the shoot ended my mom found a copy of the script in the bathroom trash can and was alarmed to discover that the apartment whose interiors she so meticulously designed had been cast as the home of a pedophile. What was it about our home that screamed “pedophile’s apartment” to that location scout?
Since then our home has served as the set for three television and movie murders. It has also masqueraded as an upper-west side apartment for several movie and commercial shoots. A few times each year a video crew will take over the space, send our furniture out to a warehouse in Brooklyn, redesign the interiors, and have everything look almost exactly as we left it when we return a few days later. It’s so strange that my mom, who works to make the house look just so and avoids reading about the history of the apartment so as not to “taint her vision” of it, would be fine with a group of strangers coming in to splatter blood on the floor.
I’ve used this project as a means to meditate on “home.” I’ve been wondering: how can one understand the narrative of a space? What stories can I glean about my home’s history just from physical markers and remnants in the space? How does space work to trigger memory? And, because my home is also a set, how can I reconcile the apartment as a personal and public area?
The apartment, like every space, has a history that is unrelated to me, stories that I can’t know because the building has been around for 100 years. But there are architectural clues that allude to how the space has been activated in the past. My mom is very vocal about her interest in maintaining the original details of the apartment—when we moved in, she made sure we removed the drop ceiling, took out the wood paneling and Jacuzzi in the maid’s room, and installed French doors in the empty doorway between the living room and my parents’ bedroom. Despite this attention to the original design of the space, we don’t occupy the apartment as it was initially intended. We’ve completely repurposed the rooms to fit our needs. Yet, these details act as a reminder of a history that we don’t know.
My project treats the apartment as a palimpsest, finding traces of my family’s personal connection to the space in the appropriated footage and vice versa. The home movies and media footage together allow these personal and public “histories” to exist simultaneously, in a sort of creative geography. Separately, the miniature living room is my own construction of how the space works—placing familiar scenes of my parents into a set. On a day to day basis, nothing remarkable happens in the apartment. My parents read the newspaper in the living room, put away groceries in the kitchen, work out of the bedroom. My family is private—we are camera-shy and particular. But we take direction from the architecture of the space, just as the directors who come to the apartment must also do. We’re just one of many groups of people who trip through these doorways and brush against these walls. It’s the space that we have in common.
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Ulmer, Ava Lavery, "Directed by Steven Soderbergh" (2014). Senior Projects Spring 2014. 346.