‘Pretend it’s a City’ cinematographer Ellen Kuras tells how Fran Lebowitz knocked over the Manhattan Bridge during filming [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Ellen Kuras had never been to the Queens Museum prior to filming “Pretend it’s a City,” but Martin Scorsese wanted to shoot at the museum’s infamous Panorama of the City of New York, a massive scale model of the city. “The whole thing about that is that it is so delicate and fragile that when we first started going out and we started filming, we couldn’t put our cameras out in the middle. We had to put them on the very end,” Kuras tells Gold Derby in our Meet the Experts: Television Documentary panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). Shooting with Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz, Kuras was unprepared for what followed. “Fran comes up through the Verrazanos and comes all the way up and as it turns out, she ended up stepping over the Manhattan Bridge and knocks over the Manhattan Bridge!”

“Pretend it’s a City” is a docuseries on Netflix that shows Scorsese and his conversations with Lebowitz about what it means to live in and be a part of New York City and how that has changed over the decades that Lebowitz has lived there. It’s the second collaboration between the long-time friends after Scorsese made “Public Speaking” in 2010. Kuras has been a frequent collaborator with Scorsese for his documentaries and has built a distinguished filmography as both a cinematographer and director. She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2008 for “The Betrayal – Nerakhoon.” She’s also won two Emmys: One for Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking for “Betrayal” in 2010 and one for Best Cinematography for a Nonfiction Program for “Jane” in 2017.

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One of the main challenges that Kuras encountered was figuring out how she was going to shoot Lebowitz walking around the city and make it feel like the audience is walking with her. “Sony just came out with a new camera, called the Venice. So I could walk around the city, just holding the lens and the sensor, while my camera assistant was holding the body.” Kuras contacted Sony about using the camera: “I called up Sony and I said, ‘I’ve heard you have this new device on the camera,’ and they said, ‘Well, it’s still in prototype. You know, we haven’t put it out yet.’ I said, ‘But this is for Marty. We have to do this. It’s for Fran and Marty.’ And so of course they gave it to us and it made all the difference.”

Another challenge Kuras faced was in trying to make sure the shots of Lebowitz walking around Mahattan had character to them and Kuras gives a lot of credit to another team that helped make the series. “I really think that the editors did a masterful job of being able to put together this piece so that it becomes larger than itself; it becomes larger than stories, even that Fran is telling them.” She adds that this helped bring the themes of the series into even greater focus. “The first section, which is, ‘Pretend it’s a City,’ it’s like, look, people at what’s in plain sight; that everybody now is missing what’s in front of their faces because they’re so busy looking at their phones, or they’re so busy going from Point A to Point B that they forget to look at life itself.”

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