Bedford-Stuyvesant

Clifford the Big Red Dog is coming to Brooklyn — but can he fit?

For one, his body's at least the width of Malcolm X Boulevard.

July 17, 2019 Jake Bittle
This is balloon Clifford, not CGI Clifford — but they're both massive. AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek

Filming for Paramount Pictures’ live-action adaptation of “Clifford the Big Red Dog” took place in Bedford-Stuyvesant this week, with crews setting up on residential blocks near Malcolm X Boulevard and in a nearby playground.

According to Pete Silbermann, the film’s publicist, the short sequence shows Clifford accidentally stepping on a car hood and later entering a basketball game in Reinaldo Salgado Playground, where he uses his nose to tip a ball into a net.

In the original book series and cartoon TV show, Clifford lives in a spacious suburb, where he has plenty of room to stretch out his gigantic body among detached single-family homes and large backyards. He will probably have much more difficulty navigating the denser corridors of Bed-Stuy — his body is wider than Malcolm X Boulevard, to say nothing of the one-way streets where crews were also filming.

“He’s huge,” confirmed Silbermann.

While Clifford’s height (he’s usually depicted at around 25 feet tall) would fall well within Bed-Stuy’s current zoning constraints, the shooting location is mere blocks from the Stuyvesant Heights Historic District, which contains numerous landmarked buildings that would presumably suffer significant damage if the massive dog came into contact with them.

Then, there’s the potential hazard Clifford’s presence could cause for cyclists and construction workers as he makes his way past bike lanes and scaffolding.

A Bed-Stuy tipster who saw the shoot in progress said the filmmakers used, “like, a crude approximation of the shape of Clifford’s head … with red fabric stretched over it” to track Clifford’s head for CGI. “A buff guy held it up and ran across the street with it.”

“It was smaller than I thought it would be,” said the tipster, “but they’ll scale it up on CGI.”

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Under a 1983 law passed to prevent unjust evictions, New York City tenants have a right to keep a pet even in a “no-pet” building as long as the building has more than three units and the pet has been living “openly and notoriously” in the building for at least three months. Given Clifford’s size, it’s safe to say that he would probably be covered under any reasonable definition of “openly and notoriously.”

Silbermann declined to say whether Clifford gets involved local political issues such as rent regulation and the MTA funding crisis, but confirmed that Clifford does not ride the subway in the film, as he is too large to fit through either the turnstiles or the train car doors.

“Clifford the Big Red Dog” the book series, written and illustrated by Norman Bridwell, was first published in 1963. It was later adapted into a cartoon TV series which was later spun off into a prequel series, “Clifford’s Puppy Days” and a TV movie, “Clifford’s Really Big Movie.”

The new Illumination Entertainment film, directed by Walt Becker, has been in the works since at least 2017, and is currently slated for a Thanksgiving 2020 release.

The story follows a girl named Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp), who befriends Clifford while struggling to fit in at school. The dog then spontaneously grows to an enormous size. Emily and her Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) soon find themselves protecting Clifford from the greedy hands of an evil genetics company. The Bed-Stuy scene begins shortly after Emily and Clifford have temporarily escaped the company’s agents.

Silbermann said crews were also shooting this week in Staten Island and other locations around New York. Emily and Clifford are not Brooklynites, he said — they originally hail from East Harlem. One of Silbermann’s favorite scenes takes place in Central Park, where Clifford drinks from a pond, gets into a squabble with pigeons over a french fry, then chases after some people wearing those plastic body balls.

“This is a New York story,” said Silbermann. “We’re filming in iconic New York locations and giving it a New York feel.”

Jake Bittle is a reporter and researcher who lives in Flatbush. You can find him on Twitter.

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