DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right, there is a lot that goes into filming a movie or TV show in the streets of New York City.
(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS HONKING)
GREENE: We just took you right there, didn't we? I mean, you need lights. You need cameras. You also need parking. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang shadowed some of the little-known workers who helped bring entertainment to our screens. They are called parking production assistants.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Rush hour has come to Lower Manhattan, and Yasser Walton is on the hunt for open parking spots.
How did you spot that? You looked at the rearview mirror?
YASSER WALTON: Yeah. I got to look all over the place.
WANG: As a parking production assistant, Walton doesn't park cars. But he does have to protect parking spaces on the street for the equipment trucks and trailers for this TV shoot. All the vehicles do have parking permits from the city. But the thing is, not every New Yorker pays attention to the no parking signs.
WALTON: You know, sometimes you have cars there. You know, if the car is there and it's not a part of the movies, they can't shoot.
WANG: On this night, high up in an office tower, actors are shooting scenes for "Gotham," the Fox series about a young Batman.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOTHAM")
DAVID MAZOUZ: (As Bruce Wayne) Gotham needs more people who are willing to fight for her.
SEAN PERTWEE: (As Alfred) There is a time for masks, and there is a time for Bruce Wayne.
WANG: Walton spends most of his time fighting for parking - or pacing up and down the block or sitting in his car.
So this is your office?
WALTON: Yeah, this is my office.
WANG: At this point, he's been on the clock for almost 24 hours, watching and waiting for parked cars to pull away so he can put down orange cones to hold spots on the street.
(SOUNDBITE OF KEYS JANGLING)
WANG: Walton still carries rings of keys from his decades of working at a hardware store. Business was slow, he said, so he was laid off a few years ago. That's why he says he took this minimum-wage job wearing a safety vest as a parking PA.
So I see you have a highlighter yellow jacket.
WALTON: Yeah, so I don't get hit by a car (laughter).
WANG: So far, no car accidents. But he's had a few run-ins with drivers frustrated that they can't find parking when there's filming in their neighborhood. Finding a bathroom during long shifts is another challenge for Walton, who says parking production assistants often don't have easy access to a restroom while waiting on location. Walton usually keeps in his car an empty orange juice bottle that he brings from home.
WALTON: I told my wife and kids - you know, once you guys finish don't throw it out. That's my bathroom.
LANERE HOLMES ROLLINS: We're looking for the conditions that we work under to change.
WANG: Lanere Holmes Rollins started working as a parking production assistant more than two decades ago.
HOLMES ROLLINS: I worked on "Kojak," "Law & Order."
WANG: And on "Gotham" - spokespeople for Fox, Warner Bros. and the other production companies behind the TV series all declined to comment to NPR about their working conditions for parking PAs. Holmes Rollins says they're usually hired as freelancers by a coordinator who is working with a production company.
HOLMES ROLLINS: We deserve benefits, retirement, all of the things that anyone else in this industry who has a union is provided. We deserve that because we work just as hard.
WANG: Holmes Rollins is helping to organize a vote for a new union of parking PAs in New York City under the Communications Workers of America. Ballots are scheduled to be counted on February 12.
Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEAL HEFTI AND HIS ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF "BATMAN THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.