The Scenic Route

Harvard filmmaking flourishes despite industry troubles

Damien S. Chazelle ’08, a VES graduate, took advantage of what Boston had to offer in a different way. He worked the energy of the Boston jazz scene and cityscape into a full-length feature film. His film, “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,” began as his senior thesis and showed at New York City’s celebrated Tribeca Film Festival in 2009.

Chazelle could not have realized his project without continuing support from the Harvard community. A fellow VES concentrator, Jasmine A. McGlade ’07 produced “Guy and Madeline,” while his former roommate Justin G. Hurwitz ‘08 composed the score. Even now in Los Angeles, Chazelle is living with other students from Harvard. “There’s still a kind of community that continues after gradu “Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about: finding collaborators whom you trust and who are going to make you a better filmmaker.”


While nurturing students’ personal development, the Harvard community can also isolate them from the outside world. The “Harvard Bubble” is a commonly acknowledged problem amongst students. Although Boston is a center for nonfiction film, many students feel they have not experienced it as such. “Boston’s a really cool film community, and I wish students took more advantage of it,” said John P. Harrison III ’09. “It’s kind of hard to escape the Harvard campus.” Eliora M. Noetzel ’10 has had exactly that difficulty. “I’ve not been to many film festivals, because getting off campus is not something I do often,” she said. “We’re lucky to have the HFA [Harvard Film Archive] here, and we have a lot of people that come here specifically to present work, so we don’t really have to leave.”

In some ways, this shelter effect can be beneficial; as students, Harvard filmmakers do not have to face the harsh realities of the suffering film industry. As a newcomer, McGlade has already encountered difficulties in finding a distributor for “Guy and Madeline.” “This year, last year, financially everyone’s taken a hit, and distributors aren’t taking the same risks that they used to,” said McGlade. “It’s been a really tough year for independent film.”


Film industry professionals feel similarly. Patrick Jerome, Director of the Boston International Film Festival, reported that many film festivals—like CineVegas and the Hollywood Black Film Festival—have been cancelled this year. “Film festivals depend on a good economy to survive,” Jerome said.

In response to the economic downturn, the number of films produced a year has been dropping. In 2008, 520 films were produced by the major studios. The projection for 2010 is between 300 and 400. From the point of view of a distributor, the bar has been raised. “You’re making fewer films, and being more careful about the ones you’re choosing, so it’s harder to get funding,” McGlade said. “People aren’t getting the same amount of money for deals.”

Robin Dawson, who was Massachusetts State Film Commissioner for 10 years and is now the Executive Director of the Boston Film Festival, has a more optimistic view for the future of independent film. “I think the independent industry will start to maybe benefit from the studios putting out less films a year,” she said. “I anticipate that more indies will be picked up and distributed by the studios.”


Boston itself, however, has been somewhat sheltered from this effect due to the Film Tax Credit, which was instated in 2006. Since its implementation, there has been a steady increase in the number of films produced in Boston. “Boston, as a result of a tax break for films, is kind of crazy. It’s become this huge haven for feature films,” said Horovitz. Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” and “Shutter Island” are two such films shot in Boston since the tax credit.

From Horovitz’s perspective as a Production Assistant working on high-budget fiction filming in the area, shooting has noticeably taken off in the last year or two—but not only due to tax credits. “People are realizing it’s much easier to shoot in Boston than in New York,” he said. “In New York, there’s so many permits you have to get, and it’s so bureaucratic.”

Moreover, productions are ironically smoother in Boston because Bostonians are so unused to them. “In places like the Village, people are so overloaded by film shooting there, they just hate it,” Horovitz said. “Boston [is the] opposite. People are so excited to have films here, they just love it. Last year, people were like, ‘Oh, my God, Mel Gibson’s coming here, that’s awesome!’ The people are great.” It seems that film in Boston—and at Harvard—will continue to thrive.

—Staff writer Abigail B. Lind can be reached at

—Staff writer Rebecca A. Schuetz can be reached at


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