Posted Nov 2, 2016 at 10:05 AM Updated Nov 2, 2016 at 12:03 PM
By Aaron Leibowitz
When a major motion picture films in your neighborhood, it can feel like a tornado touching down, cleaning up its own mess, and disappearing without a trace.
For the filming of Patriots Day in Malden earlier this year (2016), the baggage included 4-5 tractor-trailers, 60-80 crew cars, and about 100 extras. One minute the streets were clear; the next minute there were 30-plus SWAT vehicles descending to film a shootout scene.
“We’re a big operation,” said Michael Judge, a location manager who spent over a month in Malden working on Patriots Day. “We need a lot of real estate.”
But while movie shoots can be disruptive, Malden officials have decided they’re worth accommodating. Six major films have shot scenes in Malden since 2013: American Hustle, Ted 2, Central Intelligence, and three movies yet to be released – Patriots Day, Bridgewater, and an untitled project about the Algiers motel incident in Detroit.
The most obvious benefits are financial. For Patriots Day, which filmed in eight locations in Malden in May, the city received about $200,000. Tens of thousands more went to residents, particularly in the Edgeworth neighborhood, where fake gunfire rippled through the streets for a week. And local businesses were compensated when the film crew used their buildings to shoot a scene, park their cars, or eat their meals.
“It really is like an economic stimulus package,” said Kevin Duffy, the city’s Strategy and Business Development Officer. “Why wouldn’t you say yes?”
With Duffy running point, and with support from Mayor Gary Christenson and Police Chief Kevin Molis (who appeared in the 2007 film Gone Baby Gone), Malden has become a hotbed for blockbusters.
“It’s the attitude that the city has, from the residents to the businesses to City Hall,” said location manager Josh Youman, who worked on American Hustle, Ted 2 and Patriots Day. “A positive attitude.”
Who you gonna call?
When the makers of the recently released film Ghostbusters were looking to shoot a scene in a boiler room, a location scout called Duffy, and Duffy went to work.
He found 6-8 boiler rooms around Malden that might fit the bill, and then the scout came to take a look. Ultimately, the designer chose to go in a different direction, but Duffy still saw it as time well spent.
“I make their job easy so they keep coming,” Duffy said. “Either we have what they’re looking for or we don’t, but by getting first option, a lot of times we do.”
Duffy has become a valuable resource for location scouts in Greater Boston, who work on a freelance basis hopping from project to project every six months or so. Youman and Judge both said that, whenever they get a script, Duffy is one of the first people they call.
“We make it work in any town, any city, but there’s definitely some places that are easier to work with than others,” Youman said. “Malden is one of those.”
Judge said the reason for Malden’s rise on the movie scene is likely an even split between architecture – designers are drawn to the city’s older buildings – and people.
“When you ask [Duffy] for a 1960s office space, next thing you know you’re with Kevin shooting three of four locations that might meet the description the designer likes,” Judge said.
Duffy certainly did not expect to spend so much time on movies when he started working for the city in 2012, but he is reveling in the experience. Having grown up in customer service and the restaurant business, Duffy knows how to make sure everyone’s needs are met.
“It’s actually quite serendipitous,” Duffy said of his movie work. “Turns out, we as a city are good at it.”
Sometimes, the location scouts don’t even need to approach Duffy first.
“I sent text messages to location managers this morning, saying, ‘We’re just about out of City Hall, if you need a building to blow up,’” Duffy said last month, referring to the government building on Pleasant Street that will be demolished next spring. “Imagine if we could save the demolition costs. We’ve always joked about that.”
During filming for Patriots Day, the Immaculate Conception Parish in Malden became a parking lot for extras. The plaza behind Crunch Fitness, just over the Medford line, housed 18-wheelers.
Mystic Valley Regional Charter School served as the crew’s nighttime catering headquarters. Anthony’s of Malden was used when the church and charter school were unavailable. The Ancient Order of Hibernians Club housed more extras and catering.
Location scouts negotiated with the users of each of those spaces, including the volunteer-run Malden Institute of Korean Karate that rents a room above the Ancient Order of Hibernians Club. Ingrid DiPersio and Donna Roberts agreed to give up the room and cancel classes for a week, which turned into two weeks when filming was delayed due to rain.
“If there was any inconvenience, it was certainly because of the weather,” DiPersio said. “[Judge] was very conscious of the fact that we were trying to run a business.”
To make up for the hassle, Patriots Day covered the cost of a van and entry fees for 15 karate students to attend a tournament in Connecticut in early October.
“They paid for every single student to go there,” DiPersio said, noting that the students earned a total of 34 trophies at the tournament. “It was a win-win for everybody.”
Over the course of filming, some decisions were made almost on a whim. When director Peter Berg wanted to shoot a scene featuring “two young people with the rest of their lives ahead of them,” Duffy recommended Hugh O’Neill’s Restaurant and Pub on Pleasant Street.
A location scout reached out to the restaurant’s owner, Shane Smyth, to work out an agreement. A few days later the crew came in to set up a pool table, lighting and other props, and filming lasted about an hour. The crew cleared out in time for the restaurant to reopen for dinner around 6 p.m.
“They bused loads of extras in, and we went from having maybe 20 people setting up to having maybe 150 people on-site within 15 minutes,” Smyth said. “As soon as they did the one-hour shoot, the place was empty again 10 minutes later.”
At one point, Berg asked where two people might go at the end of a night to hang out. Duffy looked over his shoulder and saw the lights of New York Pizza on Main Street. The entire crew picked up its bags and marched across the street; the location manager spoke to the owner of New York Pizza about filming in the front of the store; the owner filled out a W-9 form; and the filming process got underway.
“It’s a lot of money that gets spread around,” Duffy said. “We’re just a conduit.”
‘There were a lot of tears’
In the Edgeworth neighborhood in the southwest part of Malden, Judge was tasked with convincing residents to temporarily give up their lawns, cars, garages and homes so that the crew of Patriots Daycould recreate one of the more traumatic scenes in Boston’s history.
An area between Pearl and Highland streets, including Whitman Street, became the site of a reenacted shootout in Watertown between police and the Tsarnaev brothers, who perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombing in April of 2013.
Three nights of fake gunfire turned into a week because of the weather, but most residents declined to be put up in a hotel and the crew agreed to finish up by midnight.
Judge went house to house, talking through it all with about 50 residents. One woman let the crew film in her garage, and her kitchen became the site of an impromptu meeting with Berg when it was raining outside. Another family agreed to have their apartment transformed into the set of the Tsarnaev brothers’ apartment.
When the crew built a shed on someone’s property, they gave it away to the resident after filming. When they wanted to take down a homeowner’s old shrubs and a dying tree, they paid for the removal and the subsequent replacements.
For one resident, compensation for Patriots Day helped her fix up her car.
“That meant a lot to her,” Judge said. “Her car needed to get back on the road.”
Total payouts ranged from about $500 to about $15,000.
“I bet if you look at that Edgeworth neighborhood since that movie is done filming, you see new windows, you see new roofs, maybe some flat-screen TVs – all because the movie came,” Duffy said.
Judge, meanwhile, became fast friends with many of the Edgeworth residents. Some invited him over for coffee and dinner. When Judge became a father in July, people gave him gifts.
“They became another extension of my family,” Judge said. “There are some special people in that neighborhood. There were a lot of tears down there.”
And, of course, there were times when the whole process moved at breakneck speed.
One night around 9:30 p.m., the location manager asked Duffy to line up potential houses for an indoor shoot the next morning. Duffy called his neighbors and came up with six different options. From 10-11:30 p.m., the crew scouted out the homes and picked one they liked.
They returned at 6 a.m. to finalize negotiations, started filming at 10 a.m., and stayed all day until 3 a.m. In the wee hours of the night, the crew cleaned up and left.
“When you woke up the next morning, it was like the fog had just dissipated,” Duffy said. “The streets were clean. Everything was gone.”