BOSTON — Our tour guide is about to give us the scoop on John Kerry's 12-room townhouse, here at the corner of the city's tony Louisburg Square, when a gray head pops out from the Democratic senator's ground-floor window, flashing a watering can and a smile.
"Hello," she says in our direction, tilting the can over a row of windowsill flowers.
We wave awkwardly to this woman we don't recognize but know for sure is not Teresa Heinz Kerry. Shucks. And then the wobbly, broken window screen slams down.
It startles us; it startles her. And as she fumbles to push it back up, our tour guide — momentarily and uncharacteristically speechless — motions us farther along and out of earshot.
"We'll just come over here, and I'll talk really quiet," Nicole Mayne tells us on this cinematic stroll through the city with Boston Movie Tours.
In a hush, Mayne tells us the house is estimated to be worth $9.8 million. "At least," she says, her eye on the woman who is now leaning out of a second window, "that's what's in my script." As is the tidbit of how the Kerrys succeeded in having the city move a pesky fire hydrant from their front sidewalk to a less visible spot just around the corner.
But wait — this is a movie tour. Lovely as it is, what's John Kerry's house got to do with Boston moviemaking?
Well, nothing, really. It's the house across the street that brings us here. No. 22, the backdrop for a scene in the 1968 movie "The Boston Strangler." There it is, looking near exactly the same in Mayne's handy binder of photo stills — a red-brick building, yellow fire hydrant and all. (Apparently not everyone has the same pull with hydrants as the Kerrys).
Onward we go this Friday afternoon, in search of the next bit of Hollywood history tucked away in the nooks and crannies of Boston's cobblestoned streets and storied buildings.
It's a lively 90-minute walking tour that, for $20, tests our knowledge of cinematic trivia while showcasing the city's past and burgeoning new film scene.
And it is burgeoning. While movies referenced on the tour date back to the 1960s (Think "The Thomas Crown Affair" starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway), the string of movies filmed here in recent years is striking: "Good Will Hunting," "Mystic River," "The Departed," "Fever Pitch," "Gone, Baby Gone."
In fact, the tour company reports that Boston has been home to more than 400 movies and television shows. Add to that the seven major movies that have been shot in Massachusetts just this year alone — a boom credited to the aggressive tax incentives the state passed to lure filmmakers — and suddenly it doesn't seem so crazy that Boston fancies itself Hollywood East.
"Boston is really becoming a movie-making destination," says Jeff Coveney, who launched the Boston Movie Tours in 2005. "The branding of Boston and Massachusetts is starting to [evolve] as more than just a history-based location. It's now also a Hollywood- and celebrity-based location."
Which means Coveney and his roster of six tour guides aren't lacking for fresh material. They keep up with the reported comings and goings of celebrities, and scout every film crew that rolls into town for new tidbits to infuse into the dozen or so walking and bus tours the company leads in a week.
"As they make more movies, we have more stuff to talk about," says Mayne, 23, a Massachusetts native and herself an aspiring actress. (Look for her brown, curly ponytail in a stunt scene in the upcoming, Boston-based Kevin James movie, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop.")
"And I think what we're doing kind of goes hand in hand with that. It makes this whole idea of this filming movement that's coming to Boston — of this Hollywood East — seem a little more permanent."
Bogus BucksWe begin our tour in Boston Common, with Mayne first defining for us the term "Boston movie." On this tour, that could mean one of three things: a movie filmed and set in Boston; a movie filmed in Boston but set elsewhere; or a movie filmed elsewhere but set in Boston.
It's at this point that she also introduces the concept of Boston movie bucks — bogus money earned for every trivia question answered correctly, with the biggest bucks-holder winning a prize (usually movie tickets or film-industry swag).