The method of creating sets contained in buildings that look like the opposite of Hollywood still goes on today, as it has during all of Hollywood’s existence. In recent years, however, Hollywood has found somewhat of a faraway pet location: New England is becoming the west coast’s backyard playground for filmmaking. Among the lineup of high profile films are the likes of David O. Russel’s The Fighter and American Hustle (the latter taking place in New Jersey, with filming taking place in Massachusetts suburbs), Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, Ben Affleck’s The Town and Gone Baby Gone, Gus Van Sant’s seminal Good Will Hunting, and a myriad of others.
A common thread between the majority of films that take place in New England (and most notably, Boston) is the depiction of organized crime or other such illicit activities. The image cast by Hollywood with regards to the Boston area is one of moral depravity – hard drug use, kidnapped children, bank robbing heists, murder – you name it. However, that trend is slowly slipping away as truer, more human stories are being told. Tumbledown, a new romantic comedy film starring Jason Sudeikis is undergoing principle filming on set in Devens, Massachusetts. The plot is about two people working on a biography of a late musician, and they slowly start to fall for each other. If it is a narrative that sounds keenly indie, that’s because it is.
Hollywood has utilized this playground for years. Locals sometimes apply to become extras in the movie to catch a glimpse of stardom in an otherwise idyllic environment. New England Studios (N.E.S.), headquartered in Devens, provides a bridge for west coast film productions to find its way on the east coast. The mission of N.E.S. is to have more Hollywood productions come to the north east region. But is that potentially threatening to local and independent filmmakers?
Massachusetts is a hub for many things, and as it spirals further into a melting pot of diversity, the arts are coming to the forefront. Hollywood’s intangible existence in Massachusetts and other states is not outright dangerous. It’s actually a great thing. However, for aspiring actors and directors, it is tough to insert yourself into the production limelight even as an offstage extra, much less a major player in the production. A lot of celebrating and self congratulating has gone on between Hollywood and its east coast film industry partners, but it’s important to keep an eye on exclusivity. The more exclusive and inaccessible Hollywood becomes to local auteurs, the more the film industry runs the risk of alienating the people that adore them.
That’s not terribly likely to happen, though. Not when the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival and Provincetown Film Festival are still major players in the game. They both attract stellar submissions and international audiences. Mass. Independent Film Festival gets submissions from overseas, and still manages to award the best and brightest of local filmmakers.
If Hollywood and New England Studios can manage to accomplish one thing (aside from producing run of the mill blockbusters) it’s the ability and prestige to lampoon indie filmmakers from the area. A stronger partnership could transform New England’s film industry from a simple backyard playground for Hollywood, to giving it a national platform to show off what could be a dazzling cultural renaissance.
Opinion by Tyler Collins
The Boston Globe