BOSTON — Boston has built it — a powerful celebrity electromagnet, that is — and they have come. Since Labor Day alone, the city has greeted (and gawked at) the likes of George Clooney, Whoopi Goldberg, Clint Eastwood, Steve Martin, Meg Ryan, Mick Jagger, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, Kate Hudson, Jason Biggs, Dane Cook, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Michelle Williams, Kirk and Michael Douglas, LL Cool J, Bob Newhart, Joan Rivers, Andy Garcia, Maya Angelou, Eva Mendes, Alec Baldwin, Annette Bening, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher, Rene Russo, Bette Midler, Cloris Leachman, Deborah Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Jake Gyllenhaal.
"Has Boston become a more exciting city? You bet," says Betty Riaz, owner of Stil, a Newbury Street clothing store that Meg Ryan dropped by recently. "It's not New York and probably never will be. But it's getting hipper day by day."
Businessman and community leader Darryl Settles says
Boston's ability to attract the red-carpet crowd is neither fleeting nor inconsequential. "It's always been a first-class city in terms of cultural attractions," he says, "but now famous people are coming here on a regular basis, not just for special events." In the near future, predicts Settles, "we won't be talking about all the celebrities here because they'll be here all the time. And that will attract even more people to the city."
Many of the stars shining over Boston lately have been attached to the three big-budget movies filming here this summer and fall: "Pink Panther 2," which stars Martin, Garcia, and John Cleese; "Bachelor No. 2," featuring Hudson and Cook; and "The Women," which boasts a star-studded cast headed by Ryan, Bening, Mendes, and Messing. With two more major productions headed to Boston before year's end — "The Box," starring Cameron Diaz, and "The Lonely Maiden," with Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken, and William H. Macy — the parade of showbiz royalty promises to continue. And that doesn't take into account the luminaries drawn to Fenway Park as the Red Sox continue their march through baseball's postseason.
Why here and why now? If there is one factor driving the current influx of "Access Hollywood" types, it would be the tax-incentive package passed by the state Legislature in 2005 that gives filmmakers a 25% credit on their production expenses here. The impact on film budgets has made shooting here an attractive alternative to locales such as New York and Toronto. Wherever movie crews go, movie stars follow.
It's not a complex formula, but it can raise the heat index for a city like Boston, which has been traditionally regarded as more a net celebrity exporter (think Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Denis Leary, Jay Leno) than an importer or destination point.
"For major studios and independents, it's all about the cost," says Robin Dawson, the former Massachusetts Film Office head who now directs the Boston Film Festival, which brought Clooney and producer Jerry Weintraub here last month. "If Boston is on the map more than ever, and I think it is, that legislation is the main reason. The more filming that goes on here, the more visibility Boston gets, too."
While working with Affleck on his film "Gone Baby Gone," which also filmed scenes in the Boston area, says Dawson, "Ben told me the paparazzi factor is out of control in LA. People here are pretty respectful of [stars'] space, so that's an attraction, too."
Developer Richard Friedman, whose Liberty Hotel has housed "The Women" cast during its stay here, agrees that the efforts of the Massachusetts Film Office and its Beacon Hill allies have played the biggest role in Boston becoming a mecca for movie stars.
"But Boston is hot right now in lots of ways," Friedman points out. "The restaurant and bar scene is happening. The sports scene is happening. There's new leadership at Harvard and MIT. There's a presidential campaign underway, which brings political leaders and fund-raisers into the city all the time. A lot of things have been lining up" to make the Hub more celebrity-friendly, he maintains.
Not all the activity has been in the public eye, either, according to Scott Solombrino, president of Dav El Chauffeured Transportation Network, a limousine service used by many visiting VIPs.
"The number of top-tier rock and roll stars coming in to do private events is incredible," says Solombrino. "The über-rich will spend a million dollars on a private event nobody hears about." Add this kind of traffic to the normal flow of touring authors, musicians, and filmmakers, and "Boston has become almost a required stop for celebrities visiting the East Coast, which it wasn't before," Solombrino says.
What Boston was before, says nightclub czar Patrick Lyons, was a city of limited options when it came to the care and feeding of VIPs.
"A lot of big things happened, from Back Bay real estate taking off to a changing restaurant and club culture," says Lyons, who managed his first Lansdowne Street club in the late 1970s. During the '80s and '90s, Boston's foreign-student population helped set "European-service standards" for the club and restaurant business, he says. And don't discount the Damon-Affleck effect, Lyons says.
"New York has Spike Lee and the Knicks, in Los Angeles it's Jack Nicholson and the Lakers," he says. "It's not odd to see A-listers jetting in to watch the Red Sox now as Red Sox Nation spreads far and wide."
David Linck, publicist for "The Women" during its stay here, says Bostonians should not be surprised if more stars alight here permanently.
"The days when stars like Lucille Ball and Red Buttons lived in Hollywood are over," says Linck. "Now, they're moving to Montana and Idaho, Connecticut and Vermont. Or nice suburbs near cities like Boston." After 30 years in the movie business, Linck adds, he and his wife are thinking about moving here themselves.
SOURCE: The Boston Globe