May 27, 2024

More Than Likes is a series about social media celebrities who are trying to do something positive for their communities.

Before he became Nico of New York (handle: @newyorknico), Nicolas Heller, director of popular social media documentaries of New York’s eccentricities and characters, was “The Mayor of 16th Street” — when he was just 3 years old.

On the way home from nursery, Mr. Heller would greet all the friendly faces on the block: the manager at Steak Frites kept a bucket of ice cream with the boy’s name on it; grimacing; those vintage clothing salesmen would turn their standing mirrors around so he could see his own reflection.

In a way, it sets the template for decades to come.

“Everyone was like ‘Hey, Nick. Nick, how’s it going?'” recalls Mr. Heller.

Mr. Heller’s mother, Louise Fili, a graphic designer and author, coined the nickname “Mayor” because of her son’s ability to connect with the ordinary people who make the city come alive . “It’s kind of like what he’s doing now,” Ms Fili said.

For the past decade, Mr. Heller, who calls himself “New York City’s unofficial scout,” has been roaming the city in search of “typical New York” moments. His Nico account in New York — he now has more than 1.3 million followers on TikTok and 1.1 million on Instagram — invites people to celebrate the city’s colorful side: the people, the community staples and the quirky, casual moment, its streets are only comprehensible to those who walk regularly.

One thing that sets Mr. Heller, 34, apart from most social media personalities: He’s more than happy to stay behind the scenes.

“The bigger I got, the less I wanted to be noticed,” Mr Heller said. “It’s my lens. I don’t think people really care about me as much as they see through my eyes.”

Ms. Feeley said he didn’t really appreciate the city until after he left New York. After graduating from Emerson College, Mr. Heller moved to Los Angeles to try to become a hip-hop music video producer. “That didn’t go well,” he said. Six months later, he’s back in New York, living in his parents’ house, not sure which direction his life is going to take.

As he sat in Union Square Park one day, he saw a busker he had always admired holding up a sign: “6ft 7in Jew Will Freestyle Rap for you.” Mr. Heller never Too embarrassed to talk to him, but he worked up the courage to approach the man and ask if he could make a short film about him. The man agreed, and Mr. Heller made the project a success, “No Your City,” a YouTube series about local street people.

Mr. Heller’s approach was based on the realization that life could quickly get worse, he said, whether it was a terrorist attack — he was 12 on September 11, 2001, and he said he was still doing escapes from buildings. nightmare — or a pandemic.

Mr. Heller created his Instagram account in 2013 and began taking it more seriously in 2015, when traffic to “No Your City” was dwindling. Instead of presenting full narratives, he turns to cellphone filming and focuses on capturing smaller slices of life in strange and fascinating corners of the city.

“It’s important to me to preserve all the character and all the glory of New York,” Mr. Heller said.

In early May, Mr. Heller walked out Country Revival Recordsa record store he made famous on social media, anonymously on a crowded Greenwich Village sidewalk.

Passers-by noticed the man beside him. This is “Bobby”, stumbling around New York on ridiculously high stilts, Mr Heller first appeared on social media a year ago.

“Hi Bobby!” said one fan.

Bobby is part of a recurring cast of characters in Mr. Heller’s videos, which also include “the Green Lady,” “BigTime Tommie,” and “Cugine.” A man passing by “Tiger Hood” organizes “street golf” outings, instructing passers-by to hit milk cartons stuffed with newspapers.

“Like I always say to him, they’re the ones I’d run away from on the street, or ignore and put on my New York City blindfold,” said Mr. Heller’s father, Steven, a writer on The and former senior art director for The New York Times. “A lot of Instagram is voyeurism. And I don’t think Nick is a voyeur. I think he’s involved with these people.”

During the pandemic, Mr. Heller has turned the spotlight on struggling local small businesses such as Astor Place Hair Stylist and Village Revival, a record store owned by Jamal Alnasr. “My business has changed dramatically,” Mr Alnasr said. Equally important, there is a personal relationship with Mr. Heller: “We became true friends.”

In December 2022, Mr. Heller’s film “Order and Chaos” will be released, starring nearly two dozen characters who appear frequently on his social media accounts. He said it was important to help the people in his videos “own their own businesses.”

After saying goodbye to Bobby, Mr. Heller walked to Union Square Park, where he crowded around people at the marijuana rally, snapping photos and videos they might watch later in the evening on his Instagram Story. His camera is drawn to a man in a head-to-toe cannabis leaf costume.

Mr. Heller is good at observing people without being noticed. Another type of his setting is a candid slice of life: a man in a blonde wig, high heels, and a Santa dress struts around Times Square; sign of the sign of the cross; two Hasidic Jewish men talking on the sidewalk, gesticulating as they blow in the wind. (He often collects these in what he calls his “Sunday dump.”)

After the Marijuana Festival, Mr. Heller returns to play golf with Tiger Hood on 16th Street In the 2019 documentary. .

As Mr. Heller walked to the makeshift tee (a row of milk cartons strewn across the floor mat like a $100 bill) and lined up at his club, a small group began recording. Maybe they recognized Mr. Heller. Or maybe they didn’t, just pulled out their phones to capture the moment on the streets of New York.

Mr. Heller made contact, and the milk carton flew up in the air. For a moment, all eyes and cameras were on New York Nico.

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