// you’re reading...


Michael Krivicka talks about his documentary Subway Melodies

Readersvoice.com aims to give people a few good reading tips. You might want to check out some previous issues, too, for more reading suggestions and interviews.For this issue I sent some questions off to film-maker Michael Krivicka.In October, 2003, Michael Krivicka descended into the subways of New York and started filming Subway Melodies. It's a documentary about the musicians of the New York subway. I asked Michael Krivicka about Subway Melodies, and some of his favorite film magazines and books.

READERSVOICE.COM: How did you get the idea for Subway Melodies?

MICHAEL KRIVICKA: I have been riding the subway for a few years now but the idea for Subway Melodies really came the first time I swiped the metrocard.

Once I did my research on the subject, I found out that there wasn’t really any movie depicting the musicians as its main focus point.
So I started constructing an idea in my head. Last Summer I bought some 16 mm filmstock to do some test-shots down there to find out what type of film stock it would take to make this movie, but I soon realized that the entire thing had to be done in digital video because of the cost.

RV: What equipment did you take with you into the New York subways?

MK: I shot the entire film on a consumer one-chip miniDV camera. There are two reasons for that: 1. I couldn’t afford anything better. The camera was given to me by me ex-girlfriend. 2. I got away with it. Anything that would look like a professional camera would automatically attract cops and basically cause trouble because I didn’t have a permit to film down there.
RV: Where did you start filming first?
MK: The 34th Street Station with its O/W line turned out to be the No. 1 spot for catching interesting performances at different times.

The No. 2 spot would be Times Square. From there on it was a cat/ mouse game. I would try to keep track of who is playing where and what time; which ones are on trains and which ones are on platforms. It is a challenge to just try to catch these guys sometimes. But in the end it all worked out.

RV: What were the reactions of the musicians and other people in the subways to being filmed? Generally what sort of problems did you face with musicians or other factors?
MK: There were a number of problems and challenges, not just with the musicians.
My approach is a careful one. I try to listen first, then talk to the performer, feel him/ her out, and then propose the project and my intentions.
Some are shy. Some want money. Some don’t want to sign the release form. Some don’t even speak English. It was tough.
The other challenge was filming anything else but the musicians, because that is also what the film is partially about. People are shy, pissed, aggravated, and do not tolerate being on camera.
It is of course very understandable. I get the same feeling when I see a NYU crew shooting some student film in the subway train I’m sitting in.
Sometimes people laugh at me and ridicule what I am doing, tell me to get a life…

Especially now, with the tightened security (the political conventions are happening here in NYC) it is extremely difficult to shoot. Cops are all over the place looking for suspicious activities.
RV: How did you go about filming when you were in the subways? When did you turn on the camera and start filming?
MK: I always play it safe. I get to a platform and “check it out” before I do anything. I look for cameras and try to stay in “blind spots”. I look for cops or undercover cops (by now I know their faces). I also look for anyone or anything that might give me trouble, and once I’m sure, I pull out the camera and start rolling.
RV: Were you ever scared and why?
MK: Sure. Many times. There was a moment where I sort of had to “dive” into a subway car that was about to close its doors.
The cops noticed me and started walking towards me through the crowd. Some passenger alarmed me about them while I was filming a performance.
I am not sure if they were after me or the musicians (they have more trouble performing down there than me trying to film), but I didn’t want to take the risk, reacted quickly and disappeared.
I have been approached by police before, and I have an act to get out of it. I take advantage of my European accent and pretend to be a lost tourist who is of course not aware of the subway laws. I pull out a map that I carry with me and just play out my act. So far it has saved my ass a couple of tiimes.