Frozen Grand Central

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On a cold Saturday in New York City, the world’s largest train terminal came to a sudden halt. Over 200 Improv Everywhere Agents froze in place at the exact same second for five minutes in the Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal. Over 500,000 people rush through Grand Central every day, but today, things slowed down just a bit as commuters and tourists alike stopped to notice what was happening around them. Enjoy the video first and then go behind the scenes with our mission report and photos.

Hidden Audio Actors: Agents Osteri, Rodgers, Sommer, Todd
Digital Video: Agent Carbone
Digital Photography: Agent Nicholson

The Main Concourse before we arrive

Back in 2006 we had around 200 people shop in slow motion at a Manhattan Home Depot. For part two of that mission everyone froze in place. As it turned out the slow motion was subtle, but the freezing in place was absolutely striking. I wanted to recreate the frozen idea, but this time in a larger, more open space. Home Depot had many aisles and multiple floors so you could never see more than a handful of frozen people at a time. At Grand Central’s enormous Main Concourse, we would be able to see everyone simultaneously.

We met in nearby Bryant Park and synchronized our watches. We would freeze at exactly 2:30 PM. A nice mix of people of all ages and races showed up, so we would look like any random sample of New Yorkers before we froze.

The room starts to fill up moments before go time

The clock strikes 2:30

Another thing we learned at the Home Depot mission is that it’s really tough to convey this idea through photographs. Everyone is frozen in place in a photo. Our chief photographer Chad Nicholson toyed with his exposure a bit to help compensate. Those not frozen are blurry.

Where’s Rob?

Where’s Chekov?

We filmed this mission discreetly from the upper balcony and with a roaming agent on the floor with a camera sticking out of a cart of luggage.

Agent Hurn films

At one point a guy driving some type of maintenance cart entered the concourse and was stopped in his tracks by our frozen agents. Fortunately there were just a few seconds left in the mission. We unfroze before he got too frustrated.

We got great reactions from the folks who encountered us. Strangers started talking to each other, trying to figure out what was going on. With wireless microphones hidden in our shirts, a few agents and I struck up conversations with folks. I convinced one guy to grab a cell phone from a frozen woman’s hand. He did it, laughing uncontrollably as he gently put it back in her hand. My favorite reaction was from a female cop who witnessed the whole thing from behind her NYPD recruitment booth:

Me: Do you know what that was?
Cop: I have no idea! That is the craziest shit I’ve ever seen in my life, AND I’M A COP!
Me: Ha. Yeah, it was weird.
Cop: You wanna sign up to be in the NYPD?
Me: No thanks.

Folks gawk and smile

It was fun to see all the different choices people made for their frozen moment. I didn’t give any instructions in advance. I just told everyone to be doing something realistic and not jokey. One guy dropped an entire briefcase full of papers the second before he froze, leaving his papers scattered before him for five minutes. Many froze midway through eating or drinking. A few froze while taking off a jacket. One couple froze kissing.

I’ve put together some animations of a few of my favorite moments. It’s fun to watch each one through multiple times, focusing on different parts of the image. You can try to figure out how many people in each image are actually frozen. Agent Nicholson was not shooting from a tripod, so on some of these the image shifts slightly from frame to frame. I’ve spaced them out so you can focus on one at a time.

Notice the agent spilling the papers left center, and the agent taking his jacket off right center (this animation may not work in all browsers, get Firefox.)

Several agents froze looking at maps and train schedules

I love this woman’s expression

These agents froze taking a photo, complete with “bunny ears”

A five-minute kiss

I can only spot four agents in this photo: two black males just above the truck, the woman with the red scarf towards the left, and the white male at the bottom with glasses. Everyone else moves.

Mission Accomplished


See these photos in their full resolution at Agent Nicholson’s Flickr Set.

If you participated, leave your agent report in the comments.

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371 Responses to Frozen Grand Central

  1. Dan Katz says:

    That was great! Probably the best made video of an event as well. Really well done everybody!

  2. David says:

    Note to self: Move to New York to be a part of awesome IE stunts.

  3. Agent Simmons says:

    There was one rather exasperated luggage-buggy driver who must have honked at me 30 times as I stood frozen, examining my ticket to Yonkers.

  4. Agent Bee says:

    Wow. Just… wow. Seriously. I wish I could’ve been there for that one… hopefully by this time next year, though, I’ll be back in the game. :) Bravo! This one was fantastic. I love how everyone applauded when you started going again. :D

    To the couple who froze mid-kiss – BRAVO. I love my girl to bits and pieces, but I don’t know if we would’ve been able to hold a kiss (without moving, of course) for five minutes.

  5. Todd says:

    Fantastic job, guys. I wish I had been part of this one.

  6. Konceptz says:

    Awesome! i wish i was in New York at the time, i would’ve loved to contribute.

  7. beekman33 says:

    beautiful, and strangely moving

  8. Clifford says:

    Ha! You guys are awesome!

  9. Renata says:

    This is really cool! I hope you plan to do something like this again–I’d love to be involved.

  10. Mate0 says:

    Brilliant as always. Wish I could have participated!

  11. Ranjit says:

    “Some kind of protest probably” … “Either that or an acting class.”


  12. marie says:

    harriet just showed this to me,can’t believe I really did it!!!!!!!

  13. Brian says:

    Such a great stunt. I like how Agent Todd went around engaging the audience. Looks like it was a lot of fun.

  14. James Cobalt says:

    BOOOOO to IE not getting picked up from the pilot. w00t for getting this online :-)
    Awesome work!

  15. Ryan says:

    that was so awesome thats the best thing I have seen you guys do so far

  16. Gina says:

    Please come to Los Angeles!

  17. Agent Hunter says:

    I was wondering when you’d finally put this one up! The video ends with my girlfriend and I unfreezing.

    Easily my most exciting and best mission yet!

    Thanks as always, IE!

  18. Jeff Lin says:

    This I think equals the quality of the mission, “The Moebius”. Everyone did their jobs so well, I couldn’t believe some of them were able to hold their positions for 5 minutes. None of their positions were unnatural, which made the mission even better. Oh, I wish I lived in New York.

  19. Agent RH says:

    When I entered the terminal, I immediately noticed two sets of escalators, one that was working, and one that sat motionless and closed off. I walked up the broken stairs out of sight and waited for a few minutes. Then I walked down and, at the specified time, I froze in the middle of the steps. From the terminal, I wagered it would look like even two of the escalators had frozen in place, while the two next to them dutifully continued taking people to and from the street. I thought it was pretty clever. I also thought there was a good chance no one would notice. Still, I thought, what are the odds that the side with the escalators won’t appear in the background of at least one or two shots?

    Answer: Better than you’d think!

  20. Alona says:

    This was really fun, I had a great time when me and my friend did this- I had her pose for a photo, and I was a few feet away taking it when the freezing started- so it seemed to passers by that we were only still for taking a picture- until it lasted longer than a few seconds. Most went around us after waiting anyway, which was cute.