Kaufman Astoria opens studio doors

By Patrick Donachie

Kaufman Astoria Studios, a film and television production studio located at 34-12 36th St. in Astoria, welcomed the public behind the scenes for an open house on Sunday, as thousands of visitors witnessed how stunts are created, how special effects are formed and how and where the stars live when they are working on location.

“New York on Location” was produced in tandem with the Museum of the Moving Image, which neighbors the studio, and Theatrical Teamsters Local 817. According to Tracy Capune, the studio’s vice president, between 12,000 and 15,000 people attended the event. She said the open house would not have been possible without the work of the studio’s crew, many of whom volunteered their time.

“I think they love to talk about what they do for a living. They’re proud of what they do for a living, and they should be.”” she said.

A street that typically served as the studio’s backlot was open to the public during the event. At one end stunt performers demonstrated how to safely fall onto an airbag from 30 feet in the air. In another area “rain” poured on frolicking children from pipes placed high above the street, while a large fan blew artificial snow on passersby.

In a nearby lot, a crowd gathered to watch a stunt team demonstrate how someone is lit on fire. Some of the performers dressed in bulky protective equipment and wielded large fire extinguishers. Tony Guida, a stunt performer for nearly thirty years, was to be the demonstrator.

One member of the team spoke to the audience, detailing the many safety procedures and safeguards, while Guida donned layers of clothing coated in a translucent gel. Assistants scooped handfuls of the material from orange barrels that were labeled “thick fire gel.”

“We are covering him in a flame retardant gel,” the master of ceremonies said. “This is not something you can buy in a store.”

One of the assistants asked someone in the audience for a cigarette, which they lit and delivered to Guida. After miming a drag, he proceeded to light himself on fire to the amazement of the crowd.

After the fire was put out and the crowd dispersed, Guida spoke about his passion for stunt work, which began when he saw a television program with famed stuntman Hal Needham.

“This is a manifestation of a dream I had,” he said. He credited the success of the open house event to the hard work of the Teamsters and the studio, as well as to the film going public that was interested in taking a peek behind the curtain.

“We want them to keep coming out to the movies,” he said.

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.