Indie filmmakers choose Berkshires for picture-perfect productions
WEST STOCKBRIDGE -- It took Don Johnson eight years to completely reassemble the 19th-century barn -- brought in pieces from its original location in Monterey -- at his home on Great Barrington Road. He eventually wants to turn the space into a museum to display the vintage tractors and engines that he collects.
But right now, Johnson's barn is serving a different purpose: movie studio.
Bull Moose Productions, a small production company consisting mostly of recent Ithaca College graduates, has been using Johnson's barn to shoot scenes for "Worlds We Created," a short, independent film they plan to market to film festivals.
It's picturesque locations like these in the Berkshires that lured the filmmakers.
"It's beautiful," said the film's director, Nicholas Santos.
The group scouted locations in Cape Cod and New Jersey before settling on South County. Filming is also taking place at a private residence in North Egremont.
"It seemed like the right location that fit the story," Santos said.
Santos' company is not the only group that's made the choice to shoot here recently.
Over the last year, several independent filmmakers have chosen the Berkshires to be the backdrop for their work, including Sam Handel, whose film, "I'm Coming Over," shot in South County, was included in the seventh annual Berkshire International Film Festival last month. He recently finished shooting a second movie in the Berkshires, "The River," at locations in Great Barrington and Housatonic.
Diane Pearlman, the executive director of the Berkshire Film & Media Commission, a nonprofit that promotes and facilitates filmmaking and media opportunities in this area, isn't sure if the recent influx of independent filmmakers choosing the Berkshire is more of a coincidence than a trend.
"I'm hoping it's growing," she said. "I'm hoping our efforts are not for naught. [We're] letting people know that we're here.
"One of the things that people like about the Berkshires is that we already have an incredible tourism industry here," she said. "There's lots of hotels and places to stay. It's easy to film here, and it's close to New York City."
"The Berkshires is a creative community that appeals to the sensibilities of the independent filmmaker," said Lisa Strout, director of the Massachusetts Film Office, "and the Berkshire Film & Media Commission is there providing a great resource to help navigate the region."
Unlike major motion pictures, small films tend to hire more local people, Pearlman said. They can also provide a significant economic impact to local communities. According to Pearlman, a study done by the University of Massachusetts found that one-and-a-half to two times a film's budget can go back into the local economy.
"Whether it's a $30,000 film or a $300,000 film, that goes back into the towns," she said.
The state also provides a payroll credit and sales tax exemption for any project that spends more than $50,000 in Massachusetts. Locally, the Berkshire Film Commission works with local officials to make it easier for independent filmmakers to film here, Pearlman said.
"She went out of her way to help us," said the Bull Moose Productions' producer, Alison Walter, referring to Pearlman. "You're like a small fish in a big pond in New York or Los Angeles. It would have taken a lot time to do what Diane has done."
Blue Moose Productions found Johnson's barn after his wife, Catherine, responded to an advertisement the group had posted on Craigslist. According to Johnson, the barn was originally constructed before the Civil War, with the oldest portions dating back to the 1820s.
The film's assistant director, Matilda McFall, whose brother has shot two independent films in the Berkshires, said the structure made a perfect backdrop for the film, which veers between imagination and reality. They finished three days of shooting in and around the barn on Wednesday.
"Some of it reminds me of my grandfather's barn when I was a child," she said. "There's plenty of nooks and crannies and amazing pieces of equipment."
Johnson said he was "tickled" when he learned that Bull Moose Productions wanted to use his barn.
"I actually like to see this stuff," he said. "I didn't know how you shot a movie. I thought it was like what you see on television."
Johnson also learned one more thing about filming.
"You have to be real quiet," he said. "I think I ruined about three shots."
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