Thursday, June 21, 2018
  • Friday, Jun. 6, 2003

In the last few months, Terminal 4 of New York's John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport has become a popular location for commercial, television, film and photo shoots. Spots for clients like Compaq, Kraft, Nextel and General Electric have been filmed in the $1.4 billion structure, which opened in 2001. The feature comedy Anger Management, the television series Law & Order, and a number of still photo shoots and documentary films have also used the site.

JFK International Air Terminal (IAT) LLC, which built and presently runs the terminal, is a consortium made up of Schiphol USA LLC, an affiliate of the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport; LCOR Inc., a real estate developer; and Lehman Brothers, an investment-banking outfit. Terminal 4 occupies the site that housed the former International Arrivals Building (IAB); construction on Terminal 4 began in May '97, and the facility opened in May '01. The terminal serves as the JFK base of operations for airlines such as Continental, KLM and Northwest.

Janice Holden, director of marketing and business development at JFK IAT, points out that JFK IAT is the only private outfit that manages and operates an air terminal in the country today. Other terminals, she notes, are typically run by government agencies or individual airlines. Because Terminal 4 is privately owned, many more business propositions are feasible. "We have the opportunity to look at other opportunities, and business development is one of them," says Holden. "Because we have this very spacious terminal and we're in control of it, we have the ability to make it available to the film and television industry."

Since JFK IAT owns Terminal 4, production companies don't need to acquire city permits to shoot in the facility. However, the consortium does work with the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and the New York State Governor's Office for Motion Picture and Television Development, as well as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Holden notes that the first production shoots that came to the terminal were by way of the Port Authority—location scouts, production houses and studios go through the government agency when they want to film in the city's tunnels, airports and on its bridges. "We seized every opportunity that came our way," Holden recalls.


It's Terminal 4's striking look and immense size that attracts clients, according to Holden. "The building is beautiful," she states. "The departure hall is the size of a football field—it's two-hundred-thousand square feet—and it's beautifully lit. The whole lighting concept [at the terminal] is to bring the outdoors indoors."

It's not surprising that the building, which was designed by the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which has offices throughout the United States (including in New York), has won a number of architectural awards. The terminal's grand, sweeping curves, vast spaciousness (further accentuated by enormous glass walls), and ambient lighting add up to create a dazzling environment.

Holden says that production clients have spread the news about filming at the terminal. "As we began to do more of these shoots, the word of mouth was that when you needed an airport terminal, this was the easiest place to get it done," she says. "It's easy to film here, and it's very easy for us to set it up because we have all the contacts, we know what needs to be done, and we have incredible space."

It's almost easy to forget that Terminal 4, which is open around the clock—it's the only 24-hour arrivals facility at JFK—is a fully functioning part of one of the world's major airports. It services about 50 airlines representing approximately three-dozen countries. (Ninety percent of the flights arriving and departing from Terminal 4 are international.)

How does JFK IAT manage to operate an international airport, provide the sort of security needed in these post-Sept. 11 times, and run a film location, all at the same time? "Our priority is always our airlines and our customers," says Holden, "but we know our business really well, and we know how to manage the terminal. We work closely with security; we know what's required. We work closely with the Port Authority police department, as well as the NYPD, if we need to. We can manage just about anything—and all within the rules and parameters of the security requirements at airports.

"We work [filming] around the passengers' schedules," continues Holden. "Most filming … gets done in the morning hours, and that happens to be one of the slower times in the terminal. We did four days with Sony on Anger Management. That was the longest [shoot] that we've done. They had to leave things up overnight, and we managed that really well."

Terminal 4's back-story begins in the '50s. In '57, the IAB, a U-shaped edifice that was also designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, opened its doors to service flights to and from points around the globe. In the mid-'90s, the Port Authority put out a request for proposals to companies that could replace the IAB, and selected a consortium—JFK IAT—to develop the project. Terminal 4 broke ground in '97. The IAB remained in full operation during the newer terminal's construction. By '02, the old structure had been completely demolished. By '05, it is expected that Delta Air Lines will move its international operations to the Terminal.

Recent Terminal 4 shoots include Mercedes' "Airport," helmed by John O'Hagan of bicoastal/international Hungry Man, via Merkley Newman Harty|Partners, New York; and the feature, Large's Ark, written and directed by Zach Braff, and starring Braff and Natalie Portman. Additionally, print ads have been shot there by advertisers including AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Tylenol.