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. Another Hit. LOL.. that’s just awesome.

  2. Agent Duo says:

    Oh damn, I remember this. My lower back got so sore afterwards because during the first freeze. I was bending down, but it was so awesome. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

  3. Agent Jewbacchus says:

    This was a lot of fun. My last mission before college.
    And I actually got paid for it.

  4. Dustin Schmidt says:

    This was my first Mission so I figured I had to make a good impression… I was the guy who dropped the papers all over the place!!! It was hilarious hearing all the comments going around, and the few agents who got down to “try and help me” pick them up made it even better. I think the 2nd freeze was even better after we freaked people out by moving for 30 secs! Had a great time, and wish I could take part in more, but I now live in L.A. Good Luck…

  5. Katy says:

    I LOVE how every mission you get the, “This must be some kind of protest” reaction from people.

  6. Ed says:

    Did this stunt go out on the NYC agents mailing list? When was it performed?

  7. Peter says:

    On the second to last picture, I found five agents. There is one in the bottom left corner wearing a black and yellow coat.

  8. Agent Plaid says:

    My last mission before moving to DC. And we got paid to freak out the tourists! My newfound partner and I had one dude come up and stick his camera right in our faces and snap a photo and he was like “They didn’t even BLINK!” and then at the end, a woman asked us what we were doing and we both said “Trying to get to Connecticut. What are YOU doing?” So much fun!

  9. Timothy says:

    “This is so weird” “I just wish I knew what they were doing” were a few comments from passersby. It was really nice when everyone applauded after we broke from our first freeze. It was like everyone in Grand Central was saying to us, “Job well done”.

  10. Steven Nguyen says:

    wow that was great, hope u guys have more videos and another missions coming up shortly

  11. dave says:

    This was such a fun one to take part in. I was on the stairway coming down onto the main floor and the view of the event was spectacular!! I wish there had been more video taken from above. Even more interesting was the abrupt decrease and later increase in the volume in the terminal. Amazing. I heard all kinds of great comments like “uh oh, somethings going on”, and in reference to another agent who had “tripped” and fallen just before the freeze: “somethings wrong with her”. I also had to remain frozen while a homeless person worked the crowd and came over to me staring right into my face repeatedly asking for money. Whew!

  12. amber says:

    that was awesome!

  13. Tamara says:

    Oh, how badly I wish I lived in New York! I’ve read through all the missions, and I think this is one of my favorites. You all are awesome!

    How does everyone know when it’s been exactly five minutes, if you’re frozen and can’t look at your watch?

  14. Agent Shinobi says:

    Kisser # 1 (I’m # 2) and I just found this and are alternately laughing and blushing, I think. Only real problem was seeing a clock/watch in the process.


  15. Charlie Todd says:

    To those who asked how we knew when the five minutes were up: it worked much like the Home Depot mission. You tried to freeze in a way where you could glance at your watch, but if not you would keep an eye those around you who were frozen and move when they move.

  16. agent dewstar AZ says:

    Clever Clever! A fav!

    Next time, after the five minutes up, move for two minutes and freeze again for 1-2 minutes to do the double freak on the public.

    This video was really great with the music and everything. I think you are on to something! haha

  17. Katie Hall says:

    It was incredible how they could all stand frozen for 5 minutes.
    Too bad I wasn’t there to see.

  18. Richard C. Lurie says:

    The last animation is my favorite.

  19. John says:

    Awsome! How creative!

  20. Liza says:

    Did this mission go out to the NYC e-mail list? If so I didn’t get an e-mail!