Hub of the film industry: ‘Big Screen Boston’ chronicles city’s starring roles

By Ed Symkus
GateHouse News Service
Aug 18, 2008

BOSTON —The folks in the movie business aren’t kidding when they refer to Boston and its environs as Hollywood East. That moniker was given to Toronto for a while, but new tax incentives and some eager folks in the Massachusetts Film Office have been luring more and more productions to our fair state.

Over the past year, films shot in and around Boston (but not yet released) include: “The Women” (Meg Ryan, Candice Bergen), “Pink Panther 2” (Steve Martin, Emily Mortimer), “My Best Friend’s Girl” (Kate Hudson, Alec Baldwin), “Real Men Cry” (Ethan Hawke, Mark Ruffalo) and “The Surrogates” (Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell).

But this is hardly a new phenomenon. As pointed out in Paul Sherman’s new book “Big Screen Boston” (Black Bars Publishing, $18.95), the Hub has been a, well, hub, for film production for decades. The well-researched book, chockfull of entertaining tidbits and pieces of actor- and director interviews that Sherman has conducted over the years, runs the gamut between huge hits and deservedly forgotten items, as well as some gems that have unfortunately fallen through the cracks.

So there’s plenty of information about “Good Will Hunting,” “Love Story” and “The Departed” (hits), “Blown Away,” “Fuzz” and “The Next Karate Kid” (misses), and “Charley,” “The Little Sister” and “Monument Ave” (cracks).

Sherman, a former reviewer and president of the Boston Society of Film Critics, did a lot of movie-watching while researching the book.

“It was between what local libraries had and what Netflix had and what I could get from the filmmakers themselves,” he says. “But so many of the movies never came out. [former Coolidge Corner Theatre artistic director] David Kleiler has all of the videos that people had given him, so I borrowed a bunch from him.

“So that’s how I spent last summer,” he adds. “Re-watching all of these movies, and seeing some of the ones I hadn’t seen for the first time.”

Asked if he watched every film in the book, he admits to having seen “all of the main ones and a lot of others.”

But there was plenty of other research to do.

“I did searches on the Internet Movie Database, and any other Internet database I came across,” he says, then adds, “Obviously, there’s a good deal of misinformation out there on the Internet.”

For instance, in his section on the great Paul Newman film “The Verdict,” Sherman mentions that a young Bruce Willis is an extra.

“That’s something I saw on the IMDB,” he says. “I looked at that scene really closely because I was a little skeptical. Every little thing like that online you have to be skeptical about. But when I watched the movie, I said, ‘Oh yeah, there he is.’ ”

Sherman had only one hard-and-fast rule for a film to make it in the book: It had to have cast members here.

“In ‘Legally Blonde,’ there’s a helicopter shot of a Volkswagen going over the Zakim Bridge, then it cuts to a shot of Reese Witherspoon in a similar looking car, ‘arriving at Harvard,’ but I think it’s really UCLA,” he explains. “So something like that did not make it. But with something like ‘The Last Detail,’ where even though there are only two or three scenes, you can tell that they’re here: at Washington St., walking under the old elevated Orange Line. So that’s in it.”

Although it’s meant to be a reference book, Sherman wasn’t afraid to include some good, old-fashioned opinion.

“I like a lot of the little films from the ’90s,” he says. “The first two Jan Egleson movies (“Billy in the Lowlands,” “The Dark End of the Street”) are really good, but I also like ‘Floating’ and ‘Lift’ and ‘The Blinking Madonna.’ ”

He goes so far as to call the gritty Robert Mitchum starrer “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” the “best movie ever made in Boston.”

“I think it is,” he says firmly. “And it has a lot of mystique because it’s never come out officially on any kind of video. So that sort of helps.”

“Big Screen Boston” is available at local book stores and on

Ed Symkus can be reached at

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