How BTS shot a ‘top secret’ video in Grand Central Terminal

Andrea Salcedo, The New York Times

Posted at Feb 26 2020 11:27 AM

South Korean band BTS performs with Lil' Nas X at the 62nd Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California. Mario Anzuoni, Reuters

NEW YORK — The video clip of BTS, the South Korean boy band, performing at Grand Central Terminal is only 6 minutes long. But it took almost 2 months to arrange for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” to film the K-pop group dancing beneath the celestial ceiling inside the iconic train station.

BTS is wildly popular, a singing and dancing global phenomenon with millions of fans and dozens of awards. Last year, their music video for the song “Boy with Luv” generated 74.6 million views in 24 hours, a record.

How did they manage to pull off filming inside a busy transit hub that welcomes about 750,000 visitors every day?

Timing is everything.

The “Tonight Show” production team approached Metro-North Railroad, which runs Grand Central Terminal, to schedule a time to shoot last December, said Meredith Conti, manager of special events for Metro-North Railroad.

Once the day, Feb. 8, had been agreed upon, the crew of about 180 members, including dancers, a marching band, camera operators and members of the production team arrived to set up at Grand Central Terminal at about 10 p.m.

“It’s Saturday so it’s a much quieter time,” said Catherine Rinaldi, president of Metro-North Railroad.

She added: “We are over the moon about how successful this has been.”

The terminal, home of the MTA Metro-North Railroad and a subway station serving the 4, 5, 6, 7 and S lines, was still open as usual (it closes at 2 a.m.) But it was the weekend, when traffic is not as heavy, said Conti, who has overseen hundreds of productions in her 14 years on the job and was present the day of the shooting.

“I’ve seen quite a few,” Conti said. “This was pretty cool.”

It was a “top secret” mission to keep BTS hidden.

The backup dancers and the marching band stayed in Vanderbilt Hall and the North West Balcony rooms rehearsing while the crew set up their multiple cameras, Conti said.

Then, at about 12 a.m., RM, Jin, SUGA, J-hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook — the members of BTS — got to the terminal, which remained open.

It was important that the public not catch a glimpse of the K-pop group members because their appearance on “The Tonight Show” was a surprise.

“They were not in the public areas while we were still open,” Conti said. “It was top secret.”

It wasn’t until 2 a.m., when the terminal had officially closed to the public, that BTS set foot on the main terminal floor.

They had 2 hours to nail the perfect video clip of “ON” from their new album, “Map of the Soul: 7,” before the terminal’s cleaning staff came in to wash the floors. The doors would open to the public again at 5:15 a.m.

Jimmy Fallon and BTS rode in a special subway.

The episode, which aired Monday night, also featured a #FallonAsksBTS segment in which the seven members of the group rode the subway with Fallon while answering some of the questions their fans, also known as the army, posed on Twitter.

“Can you ask BTS, when they make a song, what comes first, the melody or the lyrics?” Fallon asked the group on behalf of a fan.

The segment was filmed inside an R160 subway car two days after the Grand Central Terminal video, said Sarah Meyer, chief customer officer with the New York City Transit. Fallon’s team had contacted the agency in December, Meyer said.

But this was no regular commute: The train used for the segment is no longer operational but is rented out for special events, including TV and film productions, as well as training, Meyer said.

“It was moving while the cameras were rolling,” Meyer said.

Two train operators, one on each side of the train, were in charge of transporting Fallon and BTS back and forth along a track from a Bowery platform to a Canal Street platform.

The shoot, which was eight hours, took place on a recent weekday afternoon, Meyer said, but they managed to keep it secret, too.

“We wanted to keep the number who knew about this to a minimum,” Meyer said. “It was kept quiet.”

You, too, can shoot a video at Grand Central.

Every year, the staff of Grand Central Terminal accepts 20 to 30 large-scale production requests from TV and film companies, Conti said.

Movies with scenes filmed inside Grand Central include “Men in Black II” and “The Proposal.” The location has also been used for music videos like “Carry On” by Fun and “Legend in Your Own Time” by Carly Simon.

Productions are usually scheduled for the weekend or overnight, avoiding rush hour and aiming for times when service does not have to be disrupted, Conti said.

Small-scale productions, like wedding shoots or student films, which do not require more than one camera or additional support from her office, usually take place between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., outside rush hour.

Conti said that her staff grants about 500 of these requests per year. The Terminal does not allow any recording from late November to late December, when traffic is heavier because of the holidays, Conti added.

(If the price is right.)

“The Tonight Show” did not film inside Grand Central for free.

The Terminal charges a labor fee that includes staff used to supervise the production, electricians, on-site safety and customer service representatives, as well as a rental fee for the space, Conti said. She declined to comment how much Fallon’s show paid for the BTS shoot.

“The Tonight Show” also paid to rent the special subway.

“We were really excited about this one because we do believe that Jimmy Fallon and BTS bring diverse communities together and that’s exactly what New York City Transit does as well,” Meyer said. “There is good synergy.”

But back to the rental fee: When the MTA wrote a message to BTS and Jimmy Fallon that read, “Thanks for riding with us” on Twitter, one person replied, “Take the money they gave you and fix the damn trains.”