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Boston Plays Key Role in ‘Patriots Day,’ ‘Live by Night’

Variety logo Variety 2/3/2017 Valentina I. Valentini
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Boston has been a star in two recent high-profile films. In Peter Berg’s “Patriots Day,” the director’s latest collaboration with Mark Wahlberg, the city and its surrounding towns become a labyrinth of potential danger as police search for the two brothers responsible for the 2013 marathon bombing. Ben Affleck’s “Live by Night,” meanwhile, vividly portrays the Boston of the Prohibition era. The two films have more than the city in common, though — they share the same location manager, Mark Fitzgerald, a native of Framingham, Mass., whose deep knowledge of the area helped both projects.

In “Patriots Day,” the filming of the shootout with the marathon bombers took place close to Watertown, the actual neighborhood in which it happened. “[We] hadn’t planned on filming it there at first,” says Fitzgerald, “but we wanted to scout it for reference.”

When a production team arrived to take pictures, people started coming out of their houses and expressed their enthusiasm for Berg to film there — happy that a movie was being made about their ordeal. But, Fitzgerald recalls, “A few in the neighborhood adamantly didn’t want it to happen, when the town held a vote. We completely understood. It opened too many wounds.” They shot in nearby Malden instead.

When it came to the race itself, the film shot the 2016 marathon in real time. Pre-bombing scenes were shot in Hopkinton, where the race starts, and the crew set up cameras along the route.

“The Boston Athletic Assn. allowed us to be at the finish line,” says Fitzgerald. “They’ve done the race so many times that they know when the lulls are.” When those lulls came, Wahlberg (who plays a Boston cop), Berg, camera, and boom would have about 15 minutes to get their shots. They’d repeat that each time there was a lull.

The crew shot no explosion or post-explosion scenes because “that would have been extremely insensitive and probably impossible while the actual marathon was going on,” Fitzgerald explains. “Instead, I found an area at a naval base in Weymouth where we re-created the finish line and worked with special effects for the bombs.”

For “Live by Night,” finding a period look in Boston wasn’t difficult, says the location manager. While it’s the art department’s job to dress a particular location for a time period, “the North End is already a throwback to the 1920s — so much of it looks exactly the way it looked the day they built it.”

Another prefect location: the Copley Plaza Hotel. “For a party scene in the film,” Fitzgerald says, “it was pretty much just taking out the computers at the front desk. Again, the art department did an amazing job dolling it up, but it’s just one of those places that’s lost in time — straight out of the ’20s.”

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