The New York City subway system comprises 24 separate lines, 469 different stations, and more than 31,000 individual turnstiles. Laid out end to end, its 840 miles of track could stretch from the five boroughs to Chicago, and its 6,300-plus trains currently serve some 5.6 million riders each day. And despite the intricacies involved in maintaining an operation of this magnitude, it turns out one of the best ways to conceptualize the organized chaos that is the New York City subway system is to boil the insanity down into a two-minute experimental film.
“I’ve always been inspired by the subway system, and I think it’s due to the fact that it’s such a sensory environment. There are so many different layers of information within each individual station,” Roddy Hyduk, a 24-year-old filmmaker based out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, tells the Voice. Hyduk was part of a collective that put together a two-minute short called Stations: A Quick Scan Through NYC, a collection of snippets of life inside 120 different stations. “The project came about from a strong fascination with that and trying to figure out how it can be wrapped up and translated into a short film.”
Hyduk developed Stations with his partners at Snowday Films, a collaborative filmmaking team that produces ads, videos, and documentary shorts for the Web. Capturing the often frenetic pace of life as a commuter, the film treats the city’s subway stations as radio stations on a tuning dial, flipping between each platform after only a few seconds and separating the cuts with bursts of static.
The film was shot sporadically over the course of ten days this year at stations in all five boroughs, from hubs like Grand Central Terminal and Times Square to more desolate platforms like the graveyard-surrounded Wilson Avenue stop on the L train.
“[The film] stems from being a little overwhelmed by the thought of the entire system and kind of what that represents about New York,” Hyduk explains. “The metaphor of the stations was kind of at the beginning of everything and what we thought was a pretty cool place to start.”
Though Hyduk now resides in Ann Arbor, he spent last year working at NYU’s Office of Interactive Media after graduating from the University of Michigan’s Screen Arts & Cultures program in 2013. Stations — which incorporates both scripted scenes with actors as well as spontaneous documentary-style footage — is in many ways an ode to the time Hyduk spent getting to know his neighborhood around 111th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Manhattan. His sister, Chelsea, is a graduate of Columbia University’s architecture program and served as something of a guide through the five boroughs — working as a producer on the shoots and making contact with New Yorkers the team hoped to put in the film.
“I think I was just drawn to the city,” Hyduk says. “The piece is kind of a response to that: my personal journey of spending time in New York, leaving New York for a period of time, and hopefully one day returning to New York.”
Though the film is tightly packed and fast-moving — shot unobtrusively on a compact, handheld camera — Hyduk believes story lines emerge when the clips are watched together as a montage. For instance, candid shots of happy couples kissing on station platforms give way to a scripted scene featuring a young man and woman arguing about their relationship as they wait for their train to arrive at 103rd Street. The film also includes quintessential subway sequences like buskers performing on platforms, commuters shoving their way onto packed cars, and (of course) rats crawling over tunnel train tracks. The result is an abstract piece of art that captures the atmosphere and energy Hyduk experienced during his time in New York.
“There’s a lot to be absorbed in that city,” Hyduk says. “More than any place I’ve been in my life.”
See more stills from the film below: