Set the (Movie) Scene
By Sean Sullivan
Still acclimating to our east coast time zone, Marta Pérez-Coca responded to a text message around 5 a.m. last month.
The filmmaker had just arrived from California, where her usual sleep cycle would’ve assumed it was still just a few hours past midnight. She and Michelle Montemayor will be in Natick until the end of this month, just in time to have acclimated to the differential, when they’ll return to their homes in Los Angeles.
During their stay here, the two will be scouting for film locations in Natick, having chosen it as the setting for their latest film project, a feature-length production.
It won’t be the first time the town has been featured on film. Local residents will do a double-take when watching “Knives Out,” a recent whodunit feature film boasting an A-list cast. A final scene of that movie takes the viewer south on Main Street, driving over the bridge to enter Natick Center.
“City on a Hill” is also another addition to the canon of recent Bay State cinema, a small-screen crime drama series that follows the travails of fictional Boston police detectives. Further south, “Hightown” is a serial drama that focuses on a fictional Cape Cod underworld.
Hightown is based out of Hyannis, the town from which the series borrows its moniker. Otherwise-picturesque Cape Cod settings serve as backdrop for the seedy and bleak storylines that unfold. The Starz streaming platform hosts the show, which has been green-lighted for a third season.
Due north, the recent film “CODA” follows the lives of a hearing-impaired family eking out a living in Gloucester’s fishing community and industry. CODA won several Oscars including Best Picture, and has garnered many other accolades. Like its southern counterparts, the setting serves as a main character as the story develops.
Massachusetts has tax incentives in place that seek to spur film production in the Bay State. That incentive program was adopted in 2006 and was set to expire at the end of this year. If they meet certain criteria under the program, filmmakers can save on payroll and sales taxes, and other production costs. The program was designed to sunset in January of 2023, but lawmakers voted last year to make the package of incentives more permanent.
Those perks aren’t without their critics. A state panel that evaluated the program cited its cost to Bay State residents in uncollected taxes, and said that the exemptions weren’t the “best use of the state’s money.” Yet its proponents counter that the benefits of attracting and retaining local film production are not so easily quantified and assessed.
But tax breaks weren’t the primary incentive that brought the two filmmakers to Massachusetts, and Natick in particular. In her college years, Pérez-Coca studied at Boston University for a time, and developed a friendship with a local resident, whom she visited here over several summers as well. That friend happened to live in Natick.
Pérez-Coca maintained the friendship from Spain and Los Angeles, where she now lives, as does Montemayor. While that friend now resides in New Orleans, her mother still resides in Natick, and welcomed the two filmmakers to stay at her home while Pérez-Coca and Montemayor scout about the town for their movie.
“It’s like a second home,” said Pérez-Coca.
That film is “Here She Comes,” a dark dramedy involving a mother and daughter. Its plot will follow the strained relationship of the two, as they work together to commit and cover up a crime.
“You can laugh and gasp at the same time,” said Montemayor.
Pérez-Coca is a native of Spain and Montemayor was born in Mexico. The two filmmakers met in Spain, where they began working together in the movie-making trade. In their films, the duo tends to feature a fusion of American, Mexican and Spanish culture, and “Here She Comes” will continue that tradition, they said.
The main character will be a native-Spanish speaker, who must summon her mother from the home country to help her tie up some seriously fraying loose ends. The filmmakers plan to have the dialogue toggle between Spanish and English, and will seek local actors to fill some roles.
The movie, said Pérez-Coca, will be filmed mostly in a Natick house, though the town’s setting will play a leading role as well.
“One of the main characters in the film is the place,” said Montemayor.
The two filmmakers started their scouting on a Friday in the middle of last month, having arrived on a rainy stretch of weather that was just starting to quench an arid summer.
Filming is slated to take place in the summer of next year, as is the movie’s narrative, so the duo wanted to scout the town before winter and the white stuff moved in. Foliage was turning overhead as they drove, vivid trees that flamed up here and there among a yet-mostly green canvas.
The leaves made Montemayor muse aloud that they might consider filming in the fall instead. But Pérez-Coca shot down the idea, seeming wary of what might befall the shoot if they strayed from the script.
Integral to the story, said the two, is a body of water - a feature that would facilitate the deed that mother and daughter would be drawn into. In the short time Pérez-Coca and Montemayor emerged from the shelter of their rental car, they were drenched in the downpour while checking out the potential of the marsh bordering Pickerel Pond. Later surveying the expanse of Lake Cochituate, the two stayed inside their car.
“If I had to choose one town,” said Pérez-Coca, “I decided, let’s go to Natick. I think it’s perfect for the movie, for the story.”