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Spotlight on New England

Spotlight on New England

Articles - Directing

On the Amistad set in Rhode Island

When one thinks of New England with regard to
moviemaking, the first word that comes to mind is usually “Boston.”
There really hasn’t been another dominant production
locale in the region—at least not until “Providence”
entered the Hollywood lexicon this past year. Providence,
Rhode Island, that is. Little “Rhody,” that miniscule
state with but 37 by 48 miles to its name and a population of just
over a million, is a Hollywood hot spot right now, and it’s
dragging the rest of New England—including Massachusetts,
also featured this issue—into the spotlight along with
it. (More of New England next issue.)

Providence has been the big gun in Rhody’s
arsenal this past year, with the NBC primetime show “Providence”
starring former “M*A*S*H” medic Mike Farrell, putting
up some great Nielson numbers and Michael Corrente’s hit
feature, Outside Providence, having recently filmed here.
Direct expenditures by production companies jumped from $5.6
million in 1996 to an astounding $34 million a year later.

Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, Jr., who likes
to call himself “Buddy,” hasn’t stopped being
just that to the film community here. Since establishing the
Providence Film Commission in 1995 (401-273-FILM), he (along
with the state’s film office) has spearheaded the city’s
production push to the tune of 10 features in 1997 alone. The
most notable projects shot here since 19

Cast and crew of Laura Coletta’s Tax Day in and
around Providence, Rhode Island

95 have been James Cameron’s True Lies (Newport), with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis; Dumb and Dumber (Providence), starring Jim Carey; American
Buffalo
(Pawtucket), with Dustin Hoffman; Code of Ethics (Providence, including scenes in Buddy’s office!); the
Farrelly Brothers’ There’s Something About Mary (Providence), starring Cameron Diaz, and Ben Stiller; Meet
Joe Black
(Warwick), with Brad Pitt, Claire Forlani, and
Anthony Hopkins; Stephen Spielberg’s Amistad (Providence
and Newport); local Steve Feinberg’s forthcoming Peter
York
(New Brunswick), A Wake in Providence, which
recently screened at the Boston Film Festival, and the new feature
from the Farrellys, Me, Myself and Irene (Jamestown and
Newport).

These, in addition to two documentaries for the
History Channel, a PBS special, the Discovery Channel’s
“Discover Magazine,” and four television commercials,
have kept the state’s slate full.

With 384 miles of scenic coastline, Rhode Island
lives up to its nick-name “the Ocean State.”

“We have a magnificent coastline with water
that’s accessible to almost anywhere,” says DeLia
McDermott, Marketing and Sales Director for Aldridge Mansion
in Warwick, which was prominently featured in Universal/City
Lights’ Meet Joe Black, directed by Martin Brest.

“We’re one of the last utopias, population-wise,
that lets you get around without hitting major traffic tie-ups.
Our airport (Green Airport, Providence) has recently been renovated,
so you can get in and out without the whole “LaGuardia/Logan-style”
experience. The whole State can be accessed in a half-hour in
any direction, and it’s part of New England, where you
have that quaintness but also the sophistication of a town like
Newport.”

“We have a film forum through the State,
and several other forums and organizations exist to assist filmmakers.
It’s four or five years coming, but we’re finally
being discovered,” McDermott says, adding that with each
feature the community has become more adept at dealing with
the demands of Hollywood production comp

Tax Day

anies. “The local communities want to work
with producers and experience the excitement of bringing Hollywood
East,” she says unabashedly. “Back east,” may
be more correct, considering moviemaking has been going on here
since 1914 and shows like ABC’s daytime serial “Dark
Shadows,” shot scenes here 30 years ago.

Regarding the Mansion’s role in Joe Black,
McDermott explains, “We were contacted by a photo scout
from Universal to look at and photograph the property. It was
a ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you’ situation.”
Finally, months later, they got the “green light”
in typically dramatic Hollywood fashion. “On the lawn of
the 70-acre estate a helicopter landed and out walked the location
manager, director and set designer,” says McDermott. “The
Mansion was selected because of its opulent architecture, but
also due to its privacy and the exclusivity of its location.
It has magnificent stone wall borders that made it a perfect
security point for a closed-set situation. And the panoramic
landscape was the clincher. All the pieces seemed to fit, McDermott
said.”

The Mansion was also chosen over more obvious
1930s icons like The Breakers and The Elms, each dramatically
situated on the cliffs of Newport, RI, due to its relative location
away from tourist centers. “Because the regional tourism
is so seasonal, film production would have caused a traffic
hazard, so I’m sure that was a consideration,” says
McDermott, noting the “one road in, one road out”
smaller neighborhood community situation at the Mansion.

With Meet Joe Black being the first big-budget
film shot at the Mansion, everyone involved had a thing or two
to learn. “We went from infancy to major production adulthood.
Construction alone took several months, principal filming several
more, and deconstruction m

Tennis Hall of Fame

ore still. Total commitment for the Mansion was
over a year.

“It was a real education. Besides the production
people, we had to deal with the local unions, community representatives,
and people from out of state. We had a virtual city here on
the property; much of the set construction was done along the
shoreline, most every state agency was involved and the permitting
required was extensive because they had to make sure that none
of the constructed sets would remain. It was a shame to see
all this magnificent architecture and then see it all go away,
but we took a lot of pictures so we could prove to everyone
they really were here,” said McDermott, who stresses that
a majority of the set crew were local hires. From electrical,
hardware, landscaping to set construction, local unions were
tapped. Craft and food services were all locals, as was medical
personnel. The hotel/housing budget alone came to over a million
dollars.

The Mansion supplied local merchant lists for
the crew so they could, for instance, have gourmet meals delivered
to the set, or have local take out sent to their hotels or apartments.
“It had an incredible impact on the local community, and
Warwick City Hall, the mayor and the governor all played a part,”
says McDermott.

Craig Richardson, writer/director/independent
filmmaker and president of Tangent Films, based in Jamestown,
shot By a Thread in locations throughout the state, and Anima, which was shot in Jamestown and Foster, Rhode
Island, took the best film award at the Newport Film Festival. Anima is a strange story about a mysterious couple who’ve
been living in isolation since World War II. A documentary filmmaker
discovers them and pries into their lives, digging up an intriguing
mystery in the process. “We’re only an hour from Boston
and two from New York,” Richardson said, “so we did
use crew from those two cities but we were able to get at least
half the crew from Rhode Island.”

Richardson is currently working on a new script
set in Europe, but is considering shooting in Rhode Island.
“A first-time filmmaker could hardly find a better state
to shoot in,” says Richardson, who’s compiled a huge
data base of potential locations by traipsing up and down the
state. “Everybody bends over backward to help out and it’s
just plain less expensive than New York or Boston.”

Mark Kemble, who cut his teeth as a playwright,
says “There’s a real Renaissance going on in Providence
right now. And since we only have one ‘pope,’ Vincent
Cianci, Jr., to deal with, and he’s so welcoming and suppor


Aldrich Mansion in Warwick,
Rhode Island, one of the Meet Joe Black locations

tive, we can all be on the same game plan. Also,
since everything’s so close, you can set up your central
compound downtown and when you have to move sets it doesn’t
cost nearly as much.” He adds that on a recent production
in Puerto Rico his crew spent $100,000 each time it had to move
between sets due to the topography.

Kemble and his partner, Tony Musca (Stand and
Deliver, Money for Nothing
) recently co-produced Race, a
political satire that will air on HBO in November, and are now
getting funding to shoot Finding Providence, a film set
in Providence about angels gone wrong who are exiled but given
a second chance.

Yet another Rhode Island-based independent moviemaker
is Laura Colella, who made a film called Tax Day that
was shot in and around Providence. The film takes place on April
15th, and involves two women who intend to pay their taxes but
end up getting involved in an odd set of circumstances. Tax
Day
recently won “Best Narrative” at the Rhode
Island International Film Festival in Providence. Colella, who
studied film at Harvard, also made another film called Statuary which was shot in Smithfield, RI. Both films garnered several
awards on the independent film festival circuit.

“The film commission here is very helpful
to independent filmmakers and there’s enough skilled crew
here to shoot anything. I recruited a lot of crew from Brown
University Film School and The Rhode Island School of Design
for Tax Day, which involved a month-long shoot. A l

Newport Harbor

ot of people still think Rhode Island is Long
Island, but hopefully with Providence making a name for us,
that will begin to diminish,” says Colella.

There is a real mish-mash of architectural styles
in Rhode Island, ranging from wooden farm shack to Cape Cod
style, to Colonial and Victorian. The full wealth of Rhode Island
hasn’t nearly been exploited. For example, three gorgeous,
quaint areas—Westerly, a small city with a beautiful downtown
circa early 1800s to mid 1940s, has the potential to become
the next Mystic (a la Mystic Pizza); Ashaway is a classic
19th Century mill town with a water-powered line and twine factory
still in operation today, and Block Island, an idyllic summer
tourist destination 12 miles off the coast, could double for
Ireland in a leprechaun’s wink. Quonset Point, a former
Naval Base now being used by the National Guard, also presents
some interesting possibilities.

Providence-based director Michael Corrente started

Providence, Rhode Island

out here by shooting the film Federal Hill;
the relative success of that project enabled him to shoot American
Buffalo
, starring Dustin Hoffman. Corrente is in the process
of working out a deal with the state to develop the Cranston
Street Armory in Cranston into a huge soundstage/production
facility which will eventually house art galleries and production
support services. His company, Eagle Beach, used the facility
for many interior shots on Outside Providence and saw
The Armory as a potentially excellent permanent production base.
The Armory has a massive 165,000 square feet to work with. Its
huge wooden floor is about an acre large and is rumored to be
able to support armored tanks if necessary.

Another area in Rhode Island to consider is Bristol,
established in 1680. The town has a plethora of early 19th Century
architecture and Mount Hope Farm, the 127-acre shoreline homestead
that was featured in Amistad. Steven Spielberg, by the way,
said he would come back to Rhode Island to film again “in
a heartbeat.” Cianci, Jr. is hoping to announce new legislation
soon that will provide a 25 percent tax credit for local investors
who help fund independent films that shoot here with budgets

Providence, Rhode Island

of $5 million or less. And the city now has its
own International Film Festival (401-861-4445) which is held
each August, as well as the New England Screenwriter’s
Conference (401-751-9300), which offers invaluable advice and
networking for local talent. Rhode Island is a union-driven
state, and also has child protection laws for anyone under age
18, so it’s a good idea to check with the Dept. of Labor
(401-457-1800) before hiring crew and talent. Contact Rick Smith,
Executive Director of the Rhode Island Film & Television
Office (401-277-3456) for referrals. The Office can also hook
you up with suppliers for anything in period props from sailing
sloops with firing canon, to militiamen in colonial garb.
Rhode Island is becoming known as a good place to shoot particularly
if you’re on a tight budget, because not only are the salaries
not as high as in Los Angeles, the locals are not yet jaded
by production overkill, and producers are still able to cut
“deals” here with vendors who will often make concessions
for low-budget features.

There’s also a surprising amount of talent
here to tap because there are several theaters and drama groups,
and while you’ll have to venture to Boston for processing,
there’s been enough shooting going on for High Output,
a large Boston-based rental/film house, to open a branch here.

Rhode Island may be small in size, but if 1999
is any indicator of what’s to come, it may be looming quite
large on the film production map in coming years.

The Perfect Storm,
shot on the fishing wharves in Gloucester, Massachusetts

Massachusetts

Like the Red Sox in September, Massachusetts is
hot these days, but Massachusetts Film Commission Executive
Director Robin Dawson is betting that the state won’t be
out of the running come October.

“I believe Massachusetts locations are unparalleled
in the United States,” says Dawson. “We’re able
to provide centuries of architecture, diverse locations such
as coastal towns, farms, mountains, and metropolitan areas.”
If that’s not enough incentive to come here, the state
has come up with a program called “Fee-free Locations”
which can be instrumental in lowering below-the-line costs.
The program, which was begun in order to address run-away production
to Canada—which often doubles for Boston—provides
an inventory of over 100 state properties which can be utilized
for production, stage, or office space. If you need anything
from schools to oceanfront properties, farms or National Guard
Armories, Massachusetts will provide them free of charge. The
governor and legislature have also done their part to cut red
tape.

Massachusetts is known as a university state,
and Boston is of course known as a university town, which is
an excellent thing for the independent film industry. Boston
University, Emerson College and Boston College all have, or
are developing, strong film programs that have begun to sprout
talent—talent that is New England born and bred and prefers
to keep it that way. So instead of “film flight” to
New York and L.A., Massachusetts. is starting to hold its own.

According to Dawson, the state can accommodate
two-and-one-half to three crews simultaneously, though a portion
of the “keys” usually come from other areas. The film
commission has forged numerous relationships with local crew,
including independents who only five years ago didn’t exist.
“Now we’re seeing a lot of independent production
companies sprouting up,” says Dawson. “It’s been
nice to be able to foster that growth. We’ve known about
independent talent here for a long time, as evidenced by how
long Ben Affleck and Matt Damon worked to get Good Will Hunting made.”

“The Commonwealth,” as Massachusetts
is commonly known within the state, boasts four centuries of
diverse architecture, including warehouses, churches, cottages,
farms and forts. Everything from Victorian, Gothic, and Colonial
Revival can be found throughout the state. Logistically, most
locations are accessable, but in Boston proper, getting around
isn’t always easy due to the relative congestion and infamous
“no lanes, no rules” driving style of many Bostonians.

Massachusetts is serviced by two major aiports,
Springfield Airport in Springfield, and Logan in Boston. And
geographically, there’s plenty of just about everything,
including the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard,
the beaches of Cape Cod, the Berkshire Mountains, and some gorgeous
colonial homesteads built before the American Revolution.

The Perfect Storm, set in Gloucester, just
wrapped before returning to LA. The film stars George Clooney,
Mark Wahlberg, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. One major consideration
and perhaps a detriment to filming in New England is the notorious
weather, which spawned the famous saying: “If you don’t
like the weather, wait a minute.” But some productions
like

The Perfect Storm can actually use that
fact to their advantage, capturing dramatic footage of a hurricane
which had been downgraded to a tropical storm. The storm scenes
leant some incredible accuracy to the footage.

David Mamet’s new project, State and Main,
about a big town Hollywood production that comes to a small
town to shoot a period film, was shot through October in Manchester,
Beverly, and Deham. It stars Sara Jessica Parker, Alec Baldwin,
Charles Derning, and William H. Macy, says Dawson, adding, “Both
productions were fortunate to have top-notch crews—among
the best I’ve ever worked with. They received complete
support from the communities.”

Other recent in-state productions include Disney’s A Civil Action; Gentleman from Boston, and independents The Blue D

David Mamet’s State
and Main
shot in
Manchester, Massachusetts.

iner, directed by Jan Eagleson, (“Spencer
for Hire”) which starred Miriam Colon (Lone Star); Bye Bye America, with John Corbett (“Northern Exposure”)
and Twentieth Century Fox’s coming of age film, Here
on Earth
. Penny Marshall and Drew Barrymore are also reportedly
scouting the state for their upcoming feature Riding in Cars
with Boys
.

The theory that you must go to Los Angeles to
make movies is becoming an antiquated one because of cities
like Boston, where a lot of independent film activity is going
on, much of it fueled by institutions such as Boston University,
Emerson College and the Museum of Fine Arts School, which are
cranking out a lot of film majors who are sticking around to
make movies. Organizations like The Massachusetts Media Alliance
have provided forums for independents to network with each other,
and the community is growing each year.

“With the advent of DV, there are a lot of
men and women who are able to make good pictures for a low budget,”
says Frank Kerr, president of Boston Pictures, who adds, “there’s
a good talent pool of crew here to staff those pictures, who
have for large part honed their skills on commercial or industrial
work, so that helps a lot.”

As with Rhode Island, labor here is heavily unionized,
so you’ll want to check in with the Labor Board (617-565-6710)
before hiring crew, and then with the film office for referrals
at (617) 973-8800. The Boston Film Bureau (617-635-3245) is
also a good resource to start with.

Kerr says the skill level here is rising rapidly,
as are pay scales for those with experience, but there are still
a lot crew available for low budget films who are looking for
their first credits. “Boston is a good entry into the industry
for those looking to move on, as opposed to staying independent
and poor,” he says.

And “move on” is exactly what Kerr plans
to do—while staying put in Boston. A product of NYU Film
School, he was signed by William Morris after winning a national
Focus Award (the “Oscar” for student filmmakers).
He worked for Morris in LA for eight years writing screenplays
and directing for such notables as Chuck Gordon and Jerry Weintraub.
“Call me a ‘softy,’ but I wanted to be with my
family, so I sacrificed the volume of projects I had in LA to
come back here.” Now Kerr wants to move up to the big leagues
and make films with known actors. “If you want to survive,
you’ve got to move your budgets up and fill some of the
leads with known actors, because the reality of it is when you’re
trying to get a distributor, the first question they always
ask is ‘Who’s in it?’ It’s hard to overcome
that hurdle.”

The East Coast presents some additional funding
problems for indies, admits Kerr. “It’s not like LA
where everybody knows what the game is. First, you can’t
get banks to loan money for motion pictures because they don’t
understand the concept of lending on film. You’ve got to
find individual financiers.” According to the Film Office
(617-973-8800), forums are being developed to school bankers
on the finer points of film financing, though, so hopefully
that’s about to change.

Thus far, Kerr’s company has made two films
here. Patriots, about a young woman who becomes involved
in gun-running to the IRA, was picked up by Motion Picture Corp.
and later, Orion. The other, Last Night at Eddie’s, a “twenty-something” comedy, is currently being shopped
around.

“It’s a fertile ground out here,”
says Kerr. It’s so un-LA and NY that it sets itself apart—it’s
Boston and it’s got its own look, feel and perspective
that comes through on film. You can’t get a lot of these
‘looks’ anywhere else in the world,” he says,
adding that the weather is actually an asset for those who are
after that sort of ‘look’ for their picture. While
he admits much of the attention being paid to the area is due
to its trendiness, he also believes there is good reason to
think the trend will develop into a burgeoning film scene. Kerr
is now considering two projects in the $2 to 3 million range,
one of which has a New England feel and is about a lobster fishing
colony set in Maine.

Bostonians may fret about hurricane season, pahkin’
the cah’ in Hahvahd Yahd, the Cheers set having actually
been located in Hollywood and, of course, the heartbreaking
Red Sox plan to rebuild Fenway Park, but there’s no fretting
about the growing film scene here. It’s a sure bet to go
all the way. MM

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