Filmmakers eye Greater Lowell for location sets 

movies lead
Actors Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg loved being on set in Lowell for The Fighter.  

By Nick Stilianos

Lowell may not be the movie capital of the world but Mill City remains hot on the radar of Hollywood directors making films in Massachusetts.  

“It’s gritty and authentic and looks unlike any other place in the world,” says Deb Belanger, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We’re still seeing a lot of interest from location scouts.”

Recently Belanger — who had her own small role in 2010‘s boxing biopic The Fighter — showed filmmakers hunting for a look alike of Southie’s infamous Triple O’s Bar, Lowell’s White Eagle Cafe (an acre neighborhood bar), as well as the stylistic Nesmith Street condominiums that have an early 1980’s California vibe.        

Their mission: find  the perfect locations for filming a movie about Boston’s infamous gangster, James “Whitey” Bulger, that was supposed to star Johnny Depp as a young Bulger.

Cross Creek and Exclusive Media’s Black Mass was set to be a box office hit with Depp and Joel Edgerton as former FBI agent John Connolly. The biographical story of Bulger’s life over the decades would come just after the long-awaited trial. But budget cuts caused producers to offer Depp $10 million, only half of his standard quote for the film causing Depp to back out.

While the Bulger film remains on hold for now, rumors have Ben Affleck and Matt Damon also looking at making a film about one of America’s most notorious crime bosses.   

In the meantime, several movies made in Massachusetts are set to debut in theaters this year and more are in the process of filming.

movie RIPD
Largely filmed in and around Boston, R.I.P.D. hits theaters July 19. 

The action comedy R.I.P.D, starring Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges as two “undead” police officers tasked with apprehending bad souls who escaped judgement, opens in theaters Friday, July 19.

Movie goers just might recognize familiar places in scenes that were filmed in areas of Boston, Charlestown, Chelsea and Raynham. The filming experience might have also  triggered deja vu for the actors, including co-star Kevin Bacon, who previously shot movies in some of the same locations.

Back in 1994, Bridges starred in the movie Blown Away where he plays a member of the Boston Bomb Squad who is the target of an Irish bomber. Then in 2003, Bacon starred as a police detective in the Academy Award-winning movie Mystic River, which was filmed in Boston, Canton, Dorchester and many other familiar parts of Massachusetts. And in 2009, Reynolds starred opposite Sandra Bullock in the romantic comedy The Proposal, in which Manchester By The Sea and Rockport were dressed up to look like towns in Alaska.

Now shooting in Massachusetts, The Judge tells the story of a successful lawyer (Robert Downey Jr.) returning home for his mother’s funeral only to discover that his estranged father, the town’s judge (Robert Duvall), is suspected of murder. 

Due to hit theaters September 26, 2014 is a film version of the 1980’s television hit, The Equalizer, starring Denzel Washington as the veteran covert operative who helps people in trouble. Film crews for this project shot in Haverhill in June. 

And according to the Massachusetts Film Association, The Fighter director David O. Russell wrapped up his second Massachusetts movie, American Hustle starring Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper, scheduled for release in December.

movies hustle
Actor Christian Bale sports a combover next to Amy Adams for the upcoming American Hustle.

Many attribute the Massachusetts movie boon to the  25-percent tax credit for local production work that was put into effect at the start of 2006. The state’s tax film credits were created in part due to Martin Scorsese. Much of the director’s Boston-set movie The Departed was actually filmed in Brooklyn to take advantage of New York’s tax credits. 

The Departed won an Oscar for best picture in 2007, among other awards.

If watching any of these movies at home or in the theater still leaves you wanting more, movie buffs can hop aboard a “Behind The Scenes Wicked Cool Movie Tour,” from Wolfe Tours of Newburyport, that provides up-close and personal looks at movies made in Massachusetts, including The Perfect Storm, Good Will Hunting, The Town, The Proposal and, of course, The Fighter. 

Ramalho’s West End Gym on the Lowell tour stop — where former Welterweight champ Micky Ward got his start in boxing — is something any fan of the movie will appreciate seeing in person, Belanger says.

movies fighter
Police Officer Mickey O’Keefe with actors Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale at Ramalho’s Gym.

Lowell, she adds, is also being eyed by a group of independent film producers from Cape Cod who are looking for locations to shoot a movie about the former Bruins hockey star Derek Sanderson (1968-1972), known by fans as “Turk.”

Lowell’s gritty neighborhood bars, sweeping river views, historic buildings, cobblestone streets, culturally rich enclaves and interesting list of characters all make Lowell stand out in Massachusetts for movie makers.

“But it always comes back to the money,” Belanger said. “There’s a lot of good ideas and storylines but the movie folks are looking for what’s going to sell.”

Learn more about Massachusetts’ wicked cool movie tours at Wolfe Adventures & Tours of Newburyport by clicking here or visit the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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HOWL Street Team

Exploring everything from food and shopping to arts and entertainment so you can experience the best of what Greater Lowell has to offer.