Museum by day, movie studio by night

Great care was taken to ensure the artworks in the Metropolitan Museum of Art were safe while filming heist movie Ocean's 8

NEW YORK • There was money to be made, but that would be peanuts compared with the great loss from any damage to precious artworks during the shooting of Ocean's 8.

So, for a couple of weeks last year, Ms Rebecca Schear and Sandra Bullock worked nights together.

They never met, but played different parts in the making of the just-released heist movie - Bullock as the mastermind of a caper that required elaborate planning, Ms Schear as a different kind of mastermind.

For those couple of weeks, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was a museum by day, as usual, and a movie studio by night.

When the galleries closed, the film crew shot scenes and left around dawn - only to go through the same routine the next night.

Ms Schear, the Met's senior production manager, was responsible for keeping the movie machinery safely away from the art.

Much as her bosses wanted the Met to be in the movie, they did not want to hear about statues that were knocked over or canvases that had holes poked in them.

So, as a parade of movie people filed in, Ms Schear, 33, became a sharp-eyed minder, worrying, she recalled, about potential problems like "the swing radius of a Technocrane".

"We wanted to make sure it swung in ways we were comfortable with. It never got close to the ceiling and not to any of the artwork - and we were standing there to make sure," she said.

The Met has laboured to put some past financial turbulence behind it while adjusting to new admission fees for visitors who do not live in New York state.

Its longstanding "pay what you wish" policy ended in March, amid plans by officials to reduce the city's contribution to the Met by up to US$3 million (S$4 million) a year, depending on how much the out-of-staters bring in.

So, for the Met, movies and television shows are an appealing source of extra revenue, though a small one for an institution with a budget of more than US$300 million.

Cameras have been allowed in for other movies, including When Harry Met Sally (1989) and Maid In Manhattan (2002) and small-screen series such as Gossip Girl (2007 to 2012).

Some films did not get past the front door. The 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair did not cross the threshold, just showing Pierce Brosnan on the steps.

The Met "respectfully declined" a request to film inside, according to the movie's production notes. The plot had Brosnan making off with a painting, which troubled its officials at the time.

The Met will not say how much the folk behind Ocean's 8 paid for filming there. "It was appropriate for both sides," its president and chief executive officer, Daniel Weiss said, "but confidential."

The New York Post said last year that a US$1-million donation had opened the Met's doors after hours.

Mr Weiss said he had doubts at first about working with Gary Ross, who directed Ocean's 8, and with Olivia Milch, who is credited with the screenplay.

He added that Ross came across as over-the-top at their first meeting.

"I thought he was putting me on, that I was getting a Hollywood job when he said how great the Met was and how great the building was," Mr Weiss said.

"As the conversation unfolded, I realised that he is formidably smart. He knows our collection and he's a serious intellectual with a love of art. I was persuaded he meant it."

In the production notes for the film, Ross was quoted as saying: "I called safety meetings for the art, as we would for a major stunt.

"I mean, literally, one false move and you've wrecked more than the budget of the movie.

"So, we had to be very, very careful."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2018, with the headline 'Museum by day, movie studio by night'. Print Edition | Subscribe