Timelapse is everywhere. Thanks to newer cameras with the function built in, DSLR’s with external timers, action cams featuring the function, and even cameras solely devoted to it, time-lapse is used for everything from pure beauty sequences to documenting buildings on the rise.

But what about storytelling? While it can be argued that a complete long term sequence of a building’s construction is indeed a story, what about the story behind the story? Who built this? Who designed it? Why? What does it all mean for the company or its customers?

40 Wall Street

Historic Manhattan Bank Building now the Trump Building, 40 Wall Street

My trip into time-lapse began with what was supposed to be a multi-camera fixed position timelapse documentation of the conversion of a massive former bank facility into a state of the art pharmacy / retail store. It was to take place on the first floor of New York’s Trump Building on Wall Street in the financial district, and the tenant and architect of this plan was the popular NYC chain Duane Reade. The first floor of the 70 story tall building  had last been occupied in 1995 by Chase Manhattan Bank, which had been the owner / primary tenant since the building was constructed in 1930.

Duane Reade had been recently been acquired by Walgreens, and this was to be the first marriage of Walgreen’s pharmacy technology with Duane Reade’s new merchandising concept. This was not to be the typical Duane Reade New Yorkers knew. This was a brand new concept in retailing, 40,000 square feet of shopping experience, from a state of the art pharmacy, to a nail salon, a beauty demonstration area, even a sushi bar.

This modern concept was to be housed in a facility adorned with marble floors and columns, corinthian arches, and 40 foot high ceilings.

Brien tours

Brien Lee tours the vacant bank space that will become a flagship Duane Reade

My crew (videographer / construction liaison Dennis Lee and photographer Matt Lee) and I took a tour, led by Duane Reade’s Mike DeFazio, the designer of the space. We marveled at what could be, amidst the debris.

Banker David Rockefeller’s office, replete with fireplace, would become a high-end nail salon, The vast center space where bankers desk’s and teller’s cages once existed would become the retail floor. The Pine Street entrance would greet visitors with take out lunches, a freshly prepared sushi bar, and custom coffees. An annexed space would become a state of the art pharmacy with concierge.

great hall

Escalators provide entrance from Wall Street into the great hall of the former bank.

When you get involved in a newer technology, you investigate. What was clear to me was that fixed position cameras weren’t going to tell the whole story. There was the demolition, the cleanup, the reconstruction and even the retailing installation to document. With the high ceilings, overhead cameras could only tell part of the story. Much of the story would be at eye level, close up. Add to that the fact that cameras might have to be repositioned to allow for construction elements as progress was made, and we realized that what might be a problem begged for cutaways and closeup- time-lapse of course.


Scaffolding is erected to reach the 40 foot high ceilings.

I began to envision a video that mixed a variety of elements- slider moves, slow motion, even Steadicam walkthroughs, along with some natural sound. We would take this process from pretty much the first jackhammer, to opening night, as the first customers came through the doors and up the escalators.

So in a sense, this became not a time-lapse video but a video story with time-lapse elements.




Demolition in progress.

As the scaffolding rose i realized we had made the right decision. No one camera could see both above and below the scaffolding. We moved the time-lapse cameras with their wide angle lenses to new locations every few weeks- wherever the action was. We covered closeup action with temporary fixed position floor cameras- typically Canon 5D Mark II’s, and also introduced hi-def full motion as an added element.


Above the scaffolding, workers plaster the ceiling near the columns.

Over the next seven months, the overheads churned away, while a two man crew shot b-roll, time-lapse and regular, on the floor, above the scaffolding, wherever the action was.

Then the scaffolding came down, and the skeleton was complete. But in retail, there is still a lot to do— fixtures, displays, merchandising, food equipment, refrigeration, computer networks, signage, etc.


The pharmacy area takes shape.

We captured it all.

Finally, opening night— Mayor Bloomberg, Donald Trump, the Chairman of Duane Reade, Joe Magnacca, and celebrities and dignitaries were in attendance. But most importantly, the store crew and suppliers who had tirelessly lined the shelves, stocked the products, set up the displays, and made sure everything— from the custom coke machine to the “holographic” greeter— were working and ready for the crowds— got to see their hard work appreciated.


Flags are erected to adorn this “Flagship” store.

And then the editing began.

Chairman Magnacca had commissioned a song— “The Rising of 40 Wall Street”— and that provided an emotional basis on which to edit.

You create the footage first, but the footage is eventually led by the soundtrack. It lead to a mix of timelapse, high-speed, slo-mo, and montage elements.

Three short weeks later, the video was premiered in front of 11,000 Duane Reade and Walgreens employees at attendance at the Manager’s Meeting in Las Vegas.

It was a major hit.

Yes, the time-lapse was part of it, but the real star was the story— the legacy of the building, the planning, the design, the construction, the hard work, the fine details, and the final triumph.

This became the basis on which we would build for future time-lapse stories, and in those we would take the story concept farther. See the final video below.


The Building of 40 Wall Street from brienlee on Vimeo.