Movies all over the map
As movie tourism booms, cities both big and small are offering tours of film locations.
Pop quiz: Name a movie or TV show shot or set in Boston. "Ah ... 'Mystic River'?" answers Matt Lambek of Cambridge, Mass., settling into his seat before a showing of "The Departed," the new Martin Scorsese juggernaut partially filmed here. " 'Good Will Hunting,' " adds his date, Alex Wenger.
Other movie patrons round up the usual suspects: "Boston Legal," "Ally McBeal," and that stranded-in- syndication favorite, "Cheers."
Cities such as New York and Los Angeles are associated with movie magic, not Boston, and countries such as New Zealand and Scotland are supposed to attract tourists eager to retrace the footsteps of Gollum or Mel Gibson – not Massachusetts. But movie tourism is such a thriving business – witness the planeloads of pilgrims to New Zealand in the wake of "The Lord of the Rings" – that tourist offices from Hawaii to the hinterlands are leveraging their connections to Hollywood.
Boston is the latest city to exploit movie tourism as a revenuemaker. A company called Boston Movie Tours offers a new attraction: a three-hour bus tour synchronized to on-board movie clips.
"Ready to see the celebrity and movie side of Boston?" chirps the company's enthusiastic cofounder Jeff Coveney who, with his wife, Rachel, launched their weekly bus tour this summer. While sightseers careen from the North End ("The Brink's Job") to Charlestown ("Blown Away") to Beacon Hill ("A Civil Action"), 58 DVD clips play, interspersed with Mr. Coveney's cheery banter.
Coveney estimates that over 400 movies and TV shows were shot in Boston. Still, his business must overcome two hurdles.
First, movie tourism's relative obscurity outside of, say, Beverly Hills.
Second, audience memory is fleeting. The glow of "Good Will Hunting" has begun to fade. So Coveney is counting on newly released "The Departed," shot around gritty Fort Point Channel and South Boston, to put Beantown back on the map.
Still, Massachusetts is no Middle-earth. The annual tourist influx to New Zealand jumped from 1.7 million in 2000 to 2.4 million today, a 40 percent surge, largely due to the "Rings" phenomenon.
"You can argue that 'Lord of the Rings' was the best unpaid advertisement that New Zealand has ever had," remarks Bruce Lahood, US and Canada regional manager for Tourism New Zealand. "In the last decade New Zealand has been the most successful country to benefit from movie tourism. We've been looked at and case-studied from many angles."
In September, the first-ever International Conference on Impact of Movies & Television on Tourism took place in Hong Kong as other nations rush to capitalize on the international popularity of cinema.
Buoyed by interest in "Harry Potter" and "Pride & Prejudice," British tourism officials created a "Movie Map" corresponding to "Closer" and "Match Point" locations. Paris's Le Meurice and Edinburgh's The Balmoral hotels offer "Da Vinci Code" packages. When "Casino Royale" is released later this month, Visit Britain's travel itineraries will show "how to experience Britain like Bond."
In the US, individual states have launched elaborate websites such as www.enjoyillinois.com to promote movie-linked tours, events, and giveaways.
"German backpackers would wander through our office looking for places where 'The Blues Brothers' was shot," says Richard Moskal, director of the Chicago Film Office. On Location Tours, which already runs "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos" tours of New York City, just launched a Washington, D.C., version for fans of "Wedding Crashers," "Forrest Gump" and "The West Wing."
Alleluia, Tom Hanks lovers, that the well-known movie-hub of Monterey, Calif., has finally recognized a forgotten star in cinema's firmament: "Turner & Hooch."
Sometimes a single movie, be it high-brow or lowbrow, will transform an unlikely location into a mecca for movie fans. The Santa Ynez Valley wine country of California is overrun with "Sideways"-inspired oenophiles. "Witness," 20-plus years later, still lures visitors to Pennsylvania's Amish country. And 65,000 people a year visit Dyersville, Iowa (population 4,000), home to the "Field of Dreams" farm and baseball diamond.
"In the millions," says Julie Kronlage, assistant director of Dyersville Area Chamber of Commerce, assessing the economic impact of the 1989 Kevin Costner film. "You know, people have been married out there; people have spread ashes in the cornfield." During the playoffs, she adds, "Someone came to do a dance or a chant so their team would win."
Preston, Idaho, held its second Napoleon Dynamite Festival this July, featuring dance contests and tetherball games in homage to key movie scenes. The town's website sells T-shirts and tote bags, and the Idaho legislature commended local filmmakers Jared and Jerusha Hess "for showcasing the positive aspects of Idaho's youth, rural culture, education system, athletics, economic prosperity, and diversity." (The legislature failed to mention Napoleon's contributions to fashion or choreography.)
North Carolina's Chimney Rock Park was a location for 1992's "The Last of the Mohicans," resulting in a manageable 25 percent increase in park attendance.
But sometimes locals wish someone would yell, "Cut!" When Home & Garden Television's "Dream Home 2006" featured a house nearby Chimney's Rock, 30,000 tourists in just four months shelled out $20 each to tour the house. "That exposure from the HGTV show has resulted in an explosion of development here," says Valerie Hoffman, public relations director for Chimney Rock. "The world discovers how incredibly beautiful your place is, and everyone wants to live here."
Back on the Boston Movie Tour, four women from Wisconsin and Illinois are curious to glimpse the law firm buildings from "Ally McBeal" and "Boston Legal."
For some, though, seeing the actual locations is an anticlimax.
"I wanted to see which bench was used in 'Good Will Hunting,' " Erin Paske wrote in an e-mail, recalling the Public Garden chat between the characters played by Robin Williams and Matt Damon. "I was pretty neutral when I saw it."
Mary Ann Schmitt was slightly disappointed. "The 'Cheers' bar let me down," she wrote, once back home, "because it looked so different, and they charged you to go in."
As for one of the last stops on the Boston Movie Tour, "Good Will Hunting" hangout L Street Tavern in Southie, no one knows your name here, either. After Hollywood rolled into town, the place got a face-lift: a gleaming sign, new furniture, and plasma-screen TVs.
And if you're looking for the Harvard bar where Damon dressed down the snobby college brat, try Toronto. Now that's Hollywood magic.