PITTSFIELD — Get Diane Pearlman talking about visual effects and she will provide several stories about cutting-edge techniques that were created in the Berkshires for many well-known movies.
For six years in the 1990s, Pearlman served as executive producer and general manager of Mass.Illusion, a visual effects movie studio that had an office in Lenox. Two movies that Mass.Illusion worked on in the Berkshires, "What Dreams May Come" and "The Matrix," received Academy Awards for visual effects in 1999 and 2000, respectively.
Mass.Illusions no longer exists, but Pearlman remained in the Berkshires after the company was sold. She now serves as executive director of the Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative, an organization that promotes and facilitates film and media production in the Berkshires.
Want to make a movie in the Berkshires or Western Massachusetts but need to know what is required to do so? Calling Pearlman is a good start.
We spoke with the Great Barrington resident recently about the Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative's function, how someone who majored in American culture in college got involved in filmmaking, her career in visual effects, and why the Berkshires are becoming more attractive to independent film and reality show producers.
Q: There's a pretty broad description of the Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative's function on its website, so, what exactly does the organization do?
A: We really started out to be an economic driver.
Our mission is to create workforce production and education opportunities for economic impact in the film and media industry to create economic impact in Western Mass. So, what does that mean? It means we train people to work on film sets; we do production classes; we've done classes at BCC [Berkshire Community College]; we've taught our own workforce production classes, like how to be production assistants.
I help productions when they come here. I find crews and locations and catering and anything else they need and encourage them to employ local professionals, which they do.
Some of the big Hollywood movies bring their own crews, but right now we have an indie film ("The Secret Art of Human Flight") coming to Pittsfield in September. We have two shorts [short films] coming in October, and I just spoke to another group that will be shooting a documentary in North County in September, and another indie film that wants to come in November. So, it's been pretty busy. ...
The other thing is, we've been fighting to get the [film] tax incentive program formalized [in Massachusetts], and it just was by Gov. [Charlie] Baker. So, we have a very lucrative tax credit [now] in the state for films and television.
Q: In Massachusetts, we always hear about films being shot in Boston, but based on what you just said, it seems that things are really picking up in the Berkshires and Western Massachusetts. Is that the case?
A: That is the case, and I think it's for two reasons. There's been a couple of big films shot here recently. "Daddy's Home 2" was shot in Great Barrington a couple of years ago, and we had "The Judge" and "Labor Day" in Shelburne Falls. ... We work very closely with Lisa Strout, who is the head of the Mass. Film Office. She is really looking to have films all over the state, not just in Boston. ...
We also tend to attract indie films, which, I would say, are [films] under $1 million.
Q: What attracts the indie filmmakers to the Berkshires?
A: It's a little less expensive than New York or LA ... and it's easier to shoot here.
A: Well, if they call me, I can tell them if they need permits or how to get permits. If you go to the city, you have a lot of red tape to go through, and here, even though we operate on Berkshire time, as I call it, we can get things done relatively quickly. ... I get calls from a lot of reality shows that want to be here for a day and film.
Q: Which ones?
A: There's a show shooting right now about a guy who does stuff in his garage [the second season of "The Garage with Steve Butler" has been shooting in New Marlborough]. I think producers find out about content that's happening up here through social media, which they didn't in the past, and they'll think, "Well, that's a cool thing to put on our show, or to do a reality show about."
Q: What attracts everybody else in the film industry to the Berkshires?
A: It's beautiful. ... I think with the film that's coming to Pittsfield, they were going to shoot in Chicago but they went online and the director found the right house in Pittsfield and came out here and secured it. ...
I think the Berkshires are becoming a lot more accessible online. People like to come here, [and] because of the tourist industry we have all the services that they need. You're not coming to the middle of nowhere. You're coming to a place that has hotels and restaurants and caterers. ... There's a lot of diversity in terms of locations, and we're in close proximity to New York.
Q: How did you become involved in the film industry?
A: Oh, let's see. How much paper do you have?
I majored in American culture at Vassar [Pearlman originally is from Scarsdale, N.Y.]. All of my friends became bankers, my roommates all had jobs and I worked for a theatrical producer. He ran out of money, and then I went into advertising. ... I was in an amateur modern dance company. I actually spent a summer in the Berkshires at Jacob's Pillow when I was 16. ...
When I was at the ad agency, I got a call from the older sister of somebody I had danced with who said they had heard about this job at a movie trailer company. So, I went to work for a company called Tony Silver Films, which did trailers for the three movie studios that were in New York at the time — Paramount, Orion and Vestron. ... After that, I worked for R/Greenberg & Associates. They were the only company that was really doing high-end visual effects. ...
I went back to NYU [New York University] and took a couple of production courses and basically learned visual effects on the job.
Q: What do you like about working in visual effects?
A: Because it's cool to create new stuff. ... I think being a producer is an incredibly creative job. It's my job to get the script, sometimes see the storyboard, budget the schedule, work with the client to get it approved, then work with the client to get it done. ...
What's amazing about visual techs and visual techs [in the Berkshires] is that we were constantly inventing new technologies that became the norm in the industry.
Q: Why have visual effects become so popular in films?
A: I think in filmmaking, or in certain kinds of films, there's always the challenge to create something that's never been done before, and I think visual effects allows you to do that. It allows you to manipulate laws of gravity and things that we know in a way that augments storytelling.
So, it can take us to outer space. It can take us underwater. It can alter time. It can create talking animals that look realistic. There's something pretty magical about that. It's just sort of creating more magic in storytelling.
Q: You've created, directed and produced content during your career. Which do you find more rewarding?
A: I'm a person that really likes a smorgasbord. I like doing a variety of things. No matter how I'm involved ... even sometimes when I'm just recommending crew.
I love it when people come to me with a script or a storyboard or something and see it come to fruition well because there are a lot of moving parts to creating a film or even a short video.