Welcome to Hollywood East (aka Massachusetts)

Massachusetts — and particularly Lowell — becoming a favorite of filmmakers

By Rachel R. Briere
Lowell Sun
July 6, 2009

LOWELL — There is a new economic revolution brewing in the Bay State, and once again Lowell is the epicenter.
In the past year, three movies were filmed in Lowell — The Invention of Lying (formerly known as This Side of the Truth), Four Single Fathers and Edge of Darkness.

Next week, Hollywood comes knocking again with The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo.
Deb Belanger, executive director of the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Ricky Gervais romantic comedy, The Invention of Lying, due out in September, alone generated $2 million worth of economic impact in the region last summer.

According to the Massachusetts Film Office, direct spending since the 25 percent film tax credit began in 2006 has grown from $6 million in 2005 to $359 million last year. From 2006 to 2008, $167 million in film tax credits were issued.
However, this time around, the major motion picture The Fighter is set in the Mill City, centering around the life of hometown hero boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and his relationship with his half brother and trainer, Dicky Eklund. Filming will take place in Lowell over the next several weeks, bringing not only the stars but also a crew of hundreds to Lowell, working on the day-to-day operations.

“I was talking to the producers and they expect to spend at least $3 million,” Belanger said of the Ward and Eklund biopic. “That’s including location fees, security, meals, hotel rooms — all that kind of stuff. It’s huge spending. Not to mention the people who are already here doing preliminary work.”

At the CVB annual breakfast in May, Nicholas Paleologos, executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office, talked of the birth of “Hollywood East” and the increasing number of projects taking place in the state, including a handful in the Merrimack Valley. The box-office hit Paul Blart: Mall Cop, starring Kevin James, filmed scenes inside the Burlington Mall, and the Nicholas Cage thriller Knowing shot parts in Westford at the Haystack Observatory.
“I don’t think Paul Tsongas would ever dream, when he was revitalizing the mills and historic buildings, that Lowell would be a movie magnet,” Paleologos said, referring to the former U.S. senator and late Lowell native who is credited with starting the revitalization of the city.

It will only get bigger and more lucrative for the state when Plymouth Rock Studios opens its doors next year. The state-of-the-art facility will include 14 sound stages, production offices, a theater, shops, restaurants and many other amenities to support the East Coast’s growing entertainment industry and lure movie executives away from the Walk of Fame.

The burgeoning trade has already created a niche market. Boston residents Jeff and Rachel Coveney recently created Boston Movie Tours after taking a similar tour on their honeymoon in Hawaii. The company offers a bus and walking tour leaving Boston Common and making stops at various locations made famous in movies and television shows. Belanger said the CVB is interested in starting a similar tour in Greater Lowell.

“If you remember School Ties, Danas Market in downtown Lowell had a major part in the movie, and with (The Invention of Lying) and The Fighter, we can certainly put something together,” she said.

The buzz surrounding The Fighter is also helping local businesses. Wahlberg has been spotted twice dining at Cobblestones of Lowell, most recently last Friday. Owner Scott Plath was amused at the fervor the actor created. “People were texting and calling all their friends to tell them,” he said.

Last year, Gervais filmed a scene with actress Jennifer Garner at the classy downtown institution, and Plath’s customers are constantly quizzing him on when the stars will be back. Plath also boasts a wall of black-and-white photos of a number of celebrities who have dined at his establishment since he opened it 15 years ago, including Jessica Simpson, Barry Manilow and Ray Romano.

Plath said the anticipation of possibly rubbing elbows with a celebrity brings people out even during a weak economy. However, he believes it’s not just dollars and cents that matter with the recent onslaught of Hollywood activity.

“Movies shot in Lowell are absolutely great for us,” he said. “It does stimulate activity and gets people out to celebrate, but more importantly it serves a bigger picture — if Hollywood is willing to shoot three movies in Lowell in a year, we must live in a great place. That’s the way I see it. We should be proud of Lowell and to have these outsiders see it that way.”

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