Coffee With … Mark Kamine

Mark Kamine was the original location director of The Sopranos and, since the show ended, he’s moved on to become a production director of movies like “The Fighter” and “Limitless.” A 16-year-resident of Montclair, Kamine himself departs for a new location tomorrow, when moving vans come to move him and his family to New York City. We sat down to talk to Kamine about the iconic locations of the Sopranos.

How did you come to the Sopranos job and how long did you do it?

I was a location manager and I started as a scout. I was working for about eight or 10 years at that before Sopranos started. I knew the producer from other jobs.

Who was that?

Ilene Landress. She called me when they were doing the pilot. I was on another job. And then when the show got picked up, I started. Which was maybe a year after. And I remember I met David Chase as part of the process in a hotel in New York. It was sort of unheard of at the time for a cable network to be doing a TV series. It was very early in the process — ’97, ’98 — and the test for the show was that it might appeal to housewives and professors, academics. Which didn’t sound too promising. But we had some scripts and we started to scout for some of the things that the pilot had shot, but to do in a more permanent way, like the pork store. They started to build the Soprano house in North Caldwell. That started to get reproduced on the stage. And it was just a general figuring out how to continue the look of the pilot.

It seems to me that show was so much about location.

David Chase grew up in New Jersey, I think he was born in Newark, and then Verona and the Caldwell area after that. He often had specific ideas about where to find things. And then I also grew up in New Jersey. Born in Jersey City, grew up in Wayne. And spent a lot of time all over the place and then lived in Montclair for a long time. The whole time I was doing that show. And then my main assistant, Regina Heyman, who took over the location managing for me after three years, she grew up in Montclair. She had a lot of New Jersey knowledge too. And then the scouts who worked with us. They’re New York scouts they tend to spend time all over the New York area. And certainly over the course of Sopranos, when we would read a script, everyone had ideas of where to find it, what town. That sounds like Little Falls. Or that sounds like North Caldwell. You started to get the rhythm of how to find certain things.

What makes a Jersey location different from others?

New Jersey, residentially, was formed later than the older suburbs in Westchester and Connecticut. The general feel of Westchester, like one of the river towns or Chappaqua: they’re older houses and I hate to say they’re classier, but there’s more of an upscale tradition to it. And New Jersey, not that it doesn’t exist, those kinds of places in New Jersey, but a lot of the residential developments came out of the late 50’s and 60’s and there’s definitely a feel of that in Sopranos. There were the old blue collar towns, like Kearney and parts of Newark. And then there’s the suburban sprawl that was a big part of it.  The Soprano neighborhood, they’re new houses. They’re newish over-the-top, big houses on decent property but not sprawling property. Like you’re not in Pound Ridge or something. It’s New Jersey. It’s just different. It’s a little hilly but it’s not real hilly for most part, unlike maybe Westchester. It doesn’t have a rural feel like Connecticut and Long Island is pretty flat. There’s a Jersey landscape that’s pretty noticeable. And then there’s the industrial side or the manufacturing and light industrial side of New Jersey, which is very distinct. Everyone knows the Turnpike drive and the flaming smokestacks. There’s a lot of that. There’s a lot of river warehouses. That was a big part of Sopranos. The Meadowlands look.

Then there’s the whole ethnic thing. And the journey of the generations from town to town.

I know that when we started to get into the flashbacks from season one, David said we should be shooting Junior’s old neighborhood in Down Neck, which is Newark. But it’s not even called Down Neck anymore, really. It’s Ironbound. It’s Portugese, instead of Italian. But in any case, there was definitely a sense of progression from those sort of neighborhoods of wooden row houses where Junior supposedly lived — which was Watsessing Ave, I think, because David liked that name more than anything – to North Caldwell where Tony ends up. We shot a lot of scenes in Kearney, Harrison, Belleville. For those slightly older but not-quite-in-the-city towns. And then there’s the North Caldwell version, which is the newer generation of build-your-own house or buy a new house, state of the art, with the swimming pool and all that. And a lot of marble in the interior.

What were some of your favorite locations?

I liked the pork store. That was good one. The original pork store for the pilot was in Elizabeth and that was a working pork store and we had to find one where we could film constantly. And also that was maybe a little closer to New York, just for transportation reasons. That was a good find. It was at the bottom of a hill. It was in a town that had a great Main Street, in Kearney. It was a useful location. It was near Newark. It was not so far from the city. And it had a great look, I think. When we took it over, it had been an auto parts store and it was getting converted into like a cleaning company’s office and we kind of made a deal with the person who owned that company to have him relocate his office. David when he saw it, he liked it a lot. And I think it was that year it became the big image in the New York Times Arts and Leisure article about the Sopranos.

Were you involved in the last scene at Holstens?

No. By then I was production managing. That was Gina Heyman. She might have even thought of it. She grew up in Montclair. That place was in Bloomfield and if you’re looking for a coffee shop to set the last scene, it was a natural, if you’re from this area. There are a few old, really good-looking diners. And diners were always a big part. And certainly that’s another, not just New Jersey thing, but it’s a big part of the Jersey scene — all the diners. And we shot a lot of diners over the course of the Sopranos.

Were you aware of the whole controversy?

Yeah, I was aware of it. I was still working on the show. And that was a pretty constant problem with Sopranos once it became well known . There were the Italian-American groups who would say it’s defamatory. And of course David Chase got a kick out of that, because one of the original anti-defamatory Italian societies was founded by Colombo, or one of those guys. It was actually a smokescreen for this guy, who was a mobster.

We had issues with various towns, Bloomfield at the end. I don’t know all the details about that. Certainly, Nutley we had some issues with. There were some people in the government, not the mayor or the council, but we wanted to film in the park there and someone didn’t want us to. And I think a professor at William Paterson University — we wanted to film a scene there — and this woman who was concerned about the image of Italian Americans kind of prevented us from filming it there. We had a script for Columbia University. Meadow went to Columbia. And we had a script where her bicycle got stolen and Columbia didn’t let us film there at the school because that was in the script. That was funny to me, because at the same time they were telling us we couldn’t film there because we showed a bicycle getting stolen in New York City, they were very proudly advocating for academic freedom of speech.

What role did Montclair have? What did Montclair represent?

It was where Dr. Melfi’s office was. I don’t know that it was ever exactly spelled out. That was certainly David’s sense. I think he specificially said there’s a street you should look at for the back door of Melfi’s office. Early on, when Tony’s coming out of Melfi’s office, they try to kill him. There’s a hit, which I think Junior was involved in. And Montclair was like a little bit more educated. It makes sense for Melfi, she would be in Montclair. That’s where you would go for therapy – not Kearney or North Caldwell. Clearly, in the world of Sopranos you’re not going to go to therapy in a blue-collar town and you’re not going to go in the brand new suburb. You might know people. And there’s a stigma about therapy for Tony Soprano. He had to keep it secret and none of his buddies or associates are going to be there.

Where was Artie’s restaurant?

Where it was really located, originally, I think was Long Island City. It was the interior of a restaurant there. And that was because the stage was always in Long Island City at Silver Cup and so we would very rarely – because David wouldn’t let us – cheat locations close to the stage. He really wanted to go to New Jersey whenever possible. I guess to his credit. You can’t argue with success.

But the restaurant itself, the interior was in Long Island City. We ended up building it on the stage.

And the exterior. We shot a few different exteriors. I think we shot in Caldwell. We shot a parking lot in Lyndhurst once or twice. It was a little bit indeterminate. The idea was it was somewhere out in the Caldwells or near enough to where Tony and Carmella lived. It was suburban.

What do you see happening to locations, just in terms of big box stores and suburbanization? Do you see uniqueness of location going away?

Well certainly locations go away. There’s the big box store and the sort of endless highways of chain stores. They are locations. And they have a certain usefulness or beauty I guess in movies or TV. But locations go away. It’s harder and harder to find proper locations – just because of the nature of things. Awnings change. And ATMs spring up everywhere. And next thing you know you have a really hard time convincing anyone that it’s 1974 or 1895 or whatever your problem is.

Do you see the world becoming more homogenized? Or do you think the variety will always be there?

It’s certainly becoming more homogenized, but I don’t see in the near future it becoming a problem finding locations. Just because places like Newark or Kearney or Bayonne, they’re older towns. Partly economically because they can’t afford to upgrade, so they’re stuff gets preserved. I didn’t do the movie, but I think when they shot “Age of Innocence,” they went up to Troy or the Albany area to find turn-of- the-last-century looking stuff. It’s just like, if it’s a little bit economically depressed, things don’t change. They just fall apart.

How long did you live in Montclair?

This is 16 ½ years in Montclair. We had lived in New York City for a long time when I was first starting to do locations and my wife worked there. And then we had a kid. We moved out when he was about four. And now he’s in college and we’re going back to the city.

And how do you feel about that?

Great. It’s exciting. You know, it’s a little bit bittersweet to be leaving here. It was a great town to raise a kid in and live in. Really great movie theaters and lot of restaurants and great people. So it’s bittersweet.

Satriale’s photo from Wikipedia.

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  1. Nice interview, Debbie. And best wishes to Mark on the move. Over the years, cycling around the area, we would often see the trucks as they filmed scenes. That house in Caldwell is on a deadend street off of Mountain Ave. Still remember the busy crowd on Broad Street as they set up the final shots at Holstens. A booth there has a sign: “Reserved for the Soprano Family.” I think this appeals to the tour folks.

  2. Because in the end…crime doesn’t pay. The Sopranos was a biblical tale of moral transgressions & Tony got what he gave.

  3. One day, while writing from home and staring out the window I kept seeing a white Escalade pass by with a film crew on a flatbed behind them. Being used to all kind of commercials being made here in the S. End of GR, I didn’t think too hard about it. Later in the day, though, I passed a line up of directors chairs with the Soprano’s logo along Ridgewood Avenue. I asked the cop what was going on and found out they were filming the scene when Tony’s new driver got frustrated with a landscape truck that pulled out in front of him, or blocked his view or something, got out of the Escalade and beat the crap out of the guy. Just another day on my block…

  4. Tony wasn’t whacked!

    Fascinating interview Debbie!– though somewhat misleading about New Jersey towns. Millburn-Short Hills is over 100 years old, as is Morristown and Springield. Most of the houses in my neighborhood were built in the 20s.

  5. “…though somewhat misleading about New Jersey towns. Millburn-Short Hills is over 100 years old, as is Morristown and Springield. Most of the houses in my neighborhood were built in the 20s.”

    @gwenorel: same here – and I respectfully disagree with him about the lack of hilliness around here! Great interview; I love reading about what makes New Jersey sui generis.

  6. Mark Kamine gave me the opportunity to be a professional actor and showcase my multi talents, for which I will always be grateful for. I wish him and his family all the best with their new journey and would like one day that our paths cross again in the acting world. The experiences given to me with the Sopranos taught me a lot about life, preparation, and the acting world. I have made some great friends along the way, and I consider Mark one of them. James Matarazzo Jr., SAG

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