For years, Hollywood producers steered clear of the ‘celluloid pariah’ known as Massachusetts. But now they’re all over Boston, thanks to tax breaks and a warm welcome.
Omigosh, there’s Kate Hudson pushing her little son Ryder in a stroller down Newbury Street. Look! Paparazzi — OK, one paparazzo — stalking a movie set on Northern Avenue. Was that Eva Mendes over on Boylston Street, in front of Saks Fifth Avenue?
It’s not Rodeo Drive quite yet, but dowdy old Boston is becoming a hot town for movies. After Labor Day, for the first time in modern memory, there will be three full-bore Hollywood movies filming in the Hub simultaneously: “Bachelor No. 2,” a romantic comedy starring Hudson and Dane Cook; “The Women,” an updated version of the swanky 1939 George Cukor movie; and “Pink Panther 2,” not to be confused with Return of, Revenge of, Son of, or Curse of the famous Blake Edwards creation.
None of the three movies originally intended to come to Boston. “Bachelor” was a written-for-anywhere urban comedy that Arlington-born actor Cook wanted to bring here. “Women” is set entirely in New York, but almost all of the seven-week shoot will take place around Boston.
“Panther,” a $90 million extravaganza starring Steve Martin, Andy Garcia, and John Cleese, is using Boston as a “cheat” for Paris, in movieland lingo. “Paris is getting two weeks of exterior shooting, and we’ll have them here in September, October, and November,” crows Massachusetts Film Office executive director Nicholas Paleologos. “Boston will be Paris. When they are done, you won’t know the difference.”
The Bunker Hill Monument as the Eiffel Tower? Anything is possible.
Boston’s sudden celluloid celebrity is the result of a perfectly desirable storm. A coalition that included Paleologos, a former state representative, Newton-based director Sam Weisman, and actor Chris Cooper of Kingston successfully jawboned the Legislature into enacting a 25 percent tax credit for all expenses the studios rack up in the Bay State. The initial bill that passed in 2005 was sweetened and expanded just a few months ago to include big-budget productions. Also, producers say that Boston’s legendarily gnarly unions, specifically the Teamsters, are much easier to deal with now than in years past.
Even global monetary policy has played a role. Remember when they shot those “Good Will Hunting” scenes in Toronto? At the time, the Canadian dollar was worth 60 cents. Now it’s worth 94 cents, and movies are shooting here.
The bad old days of Boston filmmaking were pretty bad, and they weren’t so long ago. From 2002 until this year, the state didn’t even have an official film office, which helps the California-based studios to navigate state regulations and to prospect for desirable locations. Likewise the Teamsters had developed a reputation for featherbedding and general obstreperousness. In 2001, an official report declared that Massachusetts had become “a celluloid pariah,” citing union bullying and a federal investigation of the Teamsters local. Longtime local president George Cashman was sentenced to jail in 2003, on extortion charges not related to the filmmaking business.
“Did bad things happen? Yes.” says Weisman, who remembers federal agents raiding the home of his transportation captain while he was shooting “What’s the Worst That Can Happen?” in Boston in 2000. But he and others say the Teamsters have cleaned up their act. “Some people told us that Boston would be a hard place to shoot in,” said “Bachelor” producer Michael Elliott, “but that hasn’t been our experience. The Teamsters and the crafts union have been totally professional.”
The most important change in the moviemaking landscape has been the tax credit, which now equals the 25 percent offered by Rhode Island and is competitive with the 30 percent break in Connecticut, two states with which Massachusetts is constantly competing. “Look at ‘The Departed,’ ” says Paleologos. “That movie was written for Massachusetts, but we ended up getting only six weeks of the location shooting, versus 36 weeks for New York. Why? Because New York State had a tax credit.”
Now Massachusetts has one, and that alone lured “The Women” from New York to Boston, says location manager Tim Gorman. Various local luxury apartments will stand in for Upper East Side digs, and a sprawling mansion in Dover will provide a Greenwich, Conn.-style locale. Gorman is even planning to “cheat” the Boston Public Library for the iconic New York Public Library.
Massachusetts has other advantages over its regional counterparts. Some Rhode Island and Connecticut unions are headquartered in New York, so some skilled laborers have to be brought in from out of state. Also, Massachusetts has a variety of landscapes and backdrops, from rural (Berkshires) to bohemian (Cambridge) to ethnic (Southie and the North End) to slick (South End) and, finally rugged, as in the coastline.
“In Connecticut, you don’t have any cities, you don’t get any really good looks,” says Weisman. Elliott, who lives in Los Angeles, agrees. “Anywhere you go here, it’s a great shot,” according to Elliott, who was interviewed while standing next to Boston Harbor on a perfectly cool, sunny day.
The aggregate budget of the three movies shooting here is about $150 million, maybe half of which will end up in Massachusetts. About three-quarters of the movie crews will be hired locally. Most estimates of “multiplier,” or spinoff revenues, are suspect, but there is little doubt the productions pour millions of dollars into the local economy. “The money these guys spend is incredible,” says director Richard Shepard, who was in Boston to promote “The Hunting Party.” “A lot of the crew is on $150 per diems, they eat out, they’re at the clubs. Look, it’s all about money. If you can squeeze an extra four days into the shooting budget because of a tax credit, that’s huge.”
While it is true that the chic clubs prosper while the glitterati quaff Cristal, real people get work, too. Revere’s Lori Vozzella has already worked twice as an extra on “Bachelor” and auditioned, for pay, to be a stand-in for Meg Ryan on “The Women.” The base rate for a day’s work is $130, which grows quickly if extras are held over for late shooting, asked to bring their own outfits, or appear in a scene where someone is smoking.
Like practically all “background artists” in Boston, Vozzella has had to work at a second job, as a realtor, to make ends meet. But now, with the downturn in real estate, and the unexpected boom in moviemaking — she is auditioning for “Panther 2” today — her acting income exceeds her real estate commissions. “I’m making more money as an actress than I do in real estate,” she says.
So what can we look forward to, other than ogling Emily Mortimer, who will soon be here filming “Panther 2”? Paleologos says Walt Disney Pictures, which helped lobby the Legislature for the tax breaks, plans to shoot two movies here next year. Paramount has been talking for several years about making the Mark Wahlberg-Matt Damon collaboration “The Fighter,” based on the life of Lowell boxer “Irish” Micky Ward.
There are rumblings about filming “Against All Enemies,” a book by Boston Latin’s own Richard Clarke, here, as well as talk of a prequel to the Oscar-winning “The Departed.” Whatever happens, the Film Office says the phones are ringing, and Massachusetts is a celluloid pariah no more.