Brush with celebrity

Hub art galleries, shops get a business lift from movie-making boomlet

By Johnny Diaz
Boston Globe
September 17, 2009

When movie set decorator Debbie Cutler needed sculptures and paintings for one of the character’s homes in the Bruce Willis futuristic thriller “Surrogates,’’ she knew where to get her art props: Boston-based Lanoue Film Arts.

The company, located on Newbury Street, rents art, from original oil paintings to vintage photographs, for movie and TV productions filmed in Massachusetts. For “Surrogates,’’ about a world where humans interact through robots, Cutler leased 60 pieces of artwork, including a sculpture featuring two contorted human forms reaching out to each other.

“The characters do exist in our mind,’’ said Cutler, who has also leased artwork for the 2007 movie “The Women’’ and the Ben Affleck movie “The Town,’’ which is currently being shot here. She added that “as a decorator, I have to think about not what I like, but what would’’ the characters like.

As the film industry booms in Massachusetts, it’s creating a ripple effect across many businesses. Some come readily to mind, such as caterers and hotels. But others are more obscure such as galleries and antique shops that lease or sell paintings, maps, and photographs that are used to make the characters’ homes and offices look and feel real on screen. Although these firms don’t see their names in the film’s closing credits, they get bragging rights – as well as return customers when the next production comes to town.

“Now that the pictures are rolling in, one right after the other, word of mouth drives filmmakers back to a lot of the same places that they patronized before,’’ said Nick Paleologos, executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office, which has created a listing on its website of businesses that lease and sell art props for the productions. The art rental business, Paleologos said, “becomes a thriving industry beneath the surface.’’

In 2006, only two films were made in Massachusetts. That number jumped to 13 last year with films that in total generated $452 million, such as “Shutter Island,’’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and “Surrogates,’’ which opens next week. This year, 10 films have finished or are currently filming in the state. Film industry officials and business owners say film producers have been attracted by a tax credit for in-state productions and two proposed movie studios on the South Shore.

The influx has created a growing source of revenue for local galleries. The amount a gallery or shop charges for lending its work depends on the art, the budget of the movie, and the amount of time the art is used, gallery owners and film officials say. One estimate by, an online consultant, holds that rental fees run at around 10 percent of the art’s retail value for the first week, and 5 percent for the following week and third week.

Russ Gerard, who owns Gerard Arts in the South End, said he charged around $4,000 to lend about 50 pieces – lamps and artsy scientific-looking tools and apparatus – used in “Surrogates.’’ When scenes had to be reshot six months later, he charged about $5,000. For the movie “Edge of Darkness,’’ filmed in Boston last fall, the art director bought nine pieces from Gerard, which included a 1930 Art Deco architectural rendering and two celestial charts from 1801.

“It’s clearly something that has provided some income during the downtime,’’ Gerard said.

That’s one of the reasons Susan Lanoue, owner of Lanoue Fine Art in Boston, and her husband, Mark, a film producer, decided to launch a spinoff business to lease art to local movie productions. They got the idea five years ago after the Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore baseball movie “Fever Pitch’’ filmed next door to their gallery. Film representatives asked the couple if they could place a bronze sculpture to be displayed in their gallery’s front window, which appeared in the background of a scene.

In 2007, Cutler, the set decorator, reached out to the Lanoues for artwork for the movie “The Women,’’ which starred Annette Bening and Meg Ryan. Cutler leased six paintings to decorate Bening’s character’s office and home.

It’s not just the paintings or sculptures that set decorators lease, but prints, too. For instance, when “The Company Men’’ filmed in Boston last spring, Lanoue enlarged nine photographs of ship hulls’ to decorate the walls of the fictional shipbuilding headquarter offices featured in the movie.

After that, more calls started coming in for artwork and Lanoue decided to formally launch her rental company this year. Lanoue would not say how much she charges to rent out the artwork but the business has added 10 percent to her gallery’s overall revenue.

People are “surprised that we have these contemporary resources that [film companies] are used to seeing in Los Angeles and New York,’’ said Susan Lanoue, who opened her gallery in 2004.

And set directors aren’t just renting art, but buying it, too. Film representatives for “Shutter Island,’’ which follows a US marshal assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from a Boston mental hospital in 1954, have used art from The Scrapbook, a shop owned by Vincent and Barbara Caravella. For that movie, the couple sold 30 framed prints, between $85 to $185 each. The prints featured natural landscapes, monkeys, and botanicals.

“They help create a mood for the actor,’’ said Vincent Caravella, who said the prints were used to decorate characters’ offices in the movie filmed last summer.

Click here to see a slideshow of art, from local galleries, used in movies.

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