Massachusetts: A Hollywood goldmine


Bianca Oppedisano

Caricature of Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. Illustration by Bianca Oppedisano / Mass Media Staff

Katrina Sanville, Arts Writer

    New films and television series are released practically every week. With this influx of content comes a demand for filming locations, often beyond the capacity of California’s boundaries. For many companies, this means outsourcing to other filming locations, whether this would be Vancouver, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, or recently Boston. As more film companies begin the move to Massachusetts to make their projects, many Massachusetts locals are left to ponder if the Bay State is keeping its small state charm or headed toward becoming a Hollywood film factory.

    Filming in other parts of North America—or even the globe—is nothing new for Hollywood. Out-of-state shooting has been a norm in the film industry for years; however, it has only accelerated in the last five to ten years. There are plenty of reasons why movie production companies choose to gravitate toward filming out of state—tax benefits being the most prominent—but the ambiance and atmosphere can also be a large selling point, especially in Massachusetts.

    As one of the original thirteen colonies, and one of the original settlements for colonists, Massachusetts is filled with rich history spreading from Boston to Amherst. In addition to this, films in search of an older aesthetic can easily find historic buildings ranging from 1960s homes to churches and brownstones from the early days of the iconic cities of Massachusetts. Boston especially has become a popular filming spot, as seen with Ryan Reynolds, Will Ferrell and Octavia Spencer filming a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol, called “Spirited”, for Apple TV+ in downtown. Even Cape Cod has gotten its time in the spotlight, as seen by the filming and setting of season ten of “American Horror Story” in Provincetown. As Carlo Rotella for Boston Magazine writes:

    “Modern Boston certainly has its own iconic features—Fenway, Harvard Yard, the triple-decker block—but its age and multilayered architecture also allow it to easily stand in for a wide range of other places and periods: Rust Belt, Sun Belt, and Old World cities; Colonial or Civil War-era America; visions of the near future or alternate realities; Paris, Tokyo, New York, Mars.” (1)

    Massachusetts also provides plenty of nostalgia for the New England area. Greta Gerwig’s 2019 remake of Louisa May Alcott’s famous novel “Little Women” was filmed in several locations around Massachusetts, including Boston, Concord—where Alcott was from—Waltham, Lancaster and Groton. “Spotlight”, which told the true story of The Boston Globe leading an investigation into the sexual abuse of many boys within the Catholic Church, was filmed in Boston, including shots at B.C. High.

 2019’s murder-mystery smash hit “Knives Out”, centers around an extremely wealthy family from Massachusetts purely because the director felt that fall in New England as having a perfect murder mystery feel. Adaptations of Stephen King’s works have been known to be filmed in Massachusetts since King bases many of his works on small New England towns. As Craig S. Sermon for Worcester Magazine said:

    “Not only is B-Man’s 140 Tavern at 344 Redemption Rock Trail (Route 140) in Sterling being featured as Dell’s, a roadside bar in Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine, aka ‘Salem’s Lot,’ in the latest film treatment of Stephen King’s vampire epic ‘Salem’s Lot,’  it also serves as ‘The Crystal Bar,’ a local hangout for an incognito serial killer with a conscience Dexter Morgan (aka Michael C. Hall) in Showtime’s ‘Dexter: New Blood.’” (2)

    Massachusetts—and Boston especially—also falls victim to the heavy glamorization of the city, the colleges and the life. Countless movies and television shows feature Harvard and its surrounding area, while some films or shows that depict a darker, grittier side of the city occasionally fall into the trap of romanticizing crime and Boston’s history of mobs and violence.

    While all of these film credits bring in more money and plenty of publicity for the state—as well as bragging rights for small towns and their residents—some pros and cons certainly come into play. Massive film crews and hordes of actors can cause traffic on Boston’s already busy main roads, and filming can shut down locations for days or even weeks at a time.

    However, the movie industry’s interest in Massachusetts has a few upsides. Filming in Boston, or Massachusetts as a whole, brings good publicity to the state. Seeing successful movies being filmed in Massachusetts will most likely cause even more films to make a home for their sets here. This will, in turn, bring in more money for the towns and states. As Laura Krantz for MA Film Office said:

    “‘The filmmakers gave the town $30,000 for being in town for a week. That’s not bad,’ said Southborough selectmen Chairman Sal Giorlandino.”

“In May 2009, Columbia Pictures filmed portions of ‘Grown Ups,’  an Adam Sandler film, at a church in Southborough. The shooting lasted six days and the church was paid over $25,000, in addition to the money paid to the town. Restaurants, floral shops and coffee shops also benefited during the week the crews were in town, according to the selectman.” (3)

Filming in Massachusetts also creates more temporary jobs for Massachusetts natives. Whether these jobs are catering, toiletries, background actors or security, jobs move to Boston as the filming does. Though these jobs are not permanent, they would last for a few weeks, which would allow some people to pay their rent or bills. As Steve Annear for Boston Magazine wrote:

“[A] study, titled ‘Economic Impacts of the Massachusetts Film Tax Incentive Program,’ found that since the tax breaks came to the state in 2006, total production employment has increased by 46 percent, from 1,630 jobs in 2006 to 2,380 jobs in five years later. The study also noted that, ‘upon its completion, the construction of New England Studios will have supported 440 full-time equivalent jobs across all industries, generating $35.6 million in personal income and $62.3 in economic output for the Commonwealth.’” (4)

The film industry’s affinity with Boston doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Whether its movies or TV shows filmed in Massachusetts, based off Massachusetts, or anything in between, film companies don’t seem to be moving out any time soon. What the future holds for Massachusetts’s film industry remains unknown, but the possibility of Boston becoming part of the Hollywood of the East Coast certainly lingers in the near future.