Lights, camera, Berkshires …

Selling the area to filmmakers

By Derek Gentile
Berkshire Eagle
July 8, 2008

LENOX — Since January 2006, film companies, major and minor, have spent a total of $545 million in the state to make movies, according to Nicholas Paleologos, the director of the Massachusetts Film Office. And state and local officials, as well as the business and local filmmaking community are aiming to tap into that bounty. “If all this money is going into the Boston area,” said state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, “why can’t the Berkshires share in some of that?”

Paleologos met yesterday with representatives of the Berkshires community to discuss efforts to draw film projects to the area. John Whalan, a spokesman for the Berkshire Film and Media Arts Commission, a nonprofit coalition seeking to connect the Berkshires to the Hollywood film community, said his group is looking to market the Berkshires, in part by creating a Berkshire Production Guide.

Such a guide, Whalan said, would not only identify locations in the Berkshires but provide filmmaker-specific information such as the number of hotel rooms available at any one time, the number of electricians, the amount of bureaucratic red tape that must be dealt with in a specific community, catering services available, and other factors. This is already under way, said Whalan, as his group is working with the Berkshire Visitors Bureau and the Massachusetts Film Office to garner this information.

Such a guide, said Keith Girouard, another commission member, would not only provide filmmakers with information on the resources available in the Berkshires, but consolidate the information locally for Berkshire filmmakers. “There are a lot of people in the movie business, in the entertainment business as a whole kicking around in the Berkshires,” he said. “And a lot of them have only a glancing knowledge of each other. One of the foundations for this guide would be to bring those people to each other’s attention.”

In addition, said Whalan, his commission wanted to collate information on the “hard assets” in Berkshire County. Presently, he said, there is a film production studio at Shakespeare and Co. that is the envy of any such studio in the state. However, there are not a lot of people who are aware of that, he said.

The group, said Whalan, is seeking funding sources for carrying out the research and assembling the Berkshire Production Guide. He estimated the commission might need a budget of about $150,000 in its first year. Paleologos lauded the Berkshire Film and Media Arts Commission, noting that no other specific county in Massachusetts has anything like this. He agreed to work with the group. He pointed out that filmmakers looking to find locations that are no more than 30 miles apart. Once that threshold is crossed, he said, filmmakers generally begin asking questions such as the amount of stage space available, whether or not there is enough housing for the actors and crew, and other factors. A “one-stop shopping” guide would be very valuable, he said.

Pignatelli added that educating communities on the economic potential was also crucial. “If this becomes what I think it can be, we’re not just looking at a few box trucks in town for a few days,” he said. “We’re looking at film crews here for months at a time, using local services and goods. This could have a broad impact on the Berkshires. “But we need to communicate this,” he said. “And we need to work together. In the end, we are still 32 very parochial communities.”

To reach Derek Gentile:, (413) 528-3660.

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