Film Union membership up in Mass., Incentives drive jump

Calls of “Lights, camera, action!” are boosting the membership of the Woburn-based union local that represents behind-the-camera motion picture crew members.

Local 481 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts has seen a 37 percent surge in members since Massachusetts’ new film tax incentives took effect last year. More than 140 new enrollees have signed on, bringing its membership to a record 537.

IATSE represents all motion picture craftspeople with the exception of camera, hair and makeup, production office, continuity and painting personnel. Local 481 covers members from Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

“The (membership) increase is substantial because the numbers had been static or falling for the previous three to four years,” Local 481 business manager Chris O’Donnell said. “We took in a sizeable piece of the motion picture workforce that were not yet members of the union.”

New members are being enticed by the increasing number of
motion pictures that are shooting in Massachusetts to take advantage of the tax credits. Major studios shot a record 20 weeks of principal photography here last year, and Local 481 members made 50 percent more in wages than they did in 2005. The state, now hosting crews for “The Women,” “Bachelor No. 2” and “Pink Panther 2,” will far exceed and perhaps double that number this year.

“There was about a month period (in August) when I received at least 10 calls from producers looking for rates for productions to be shot either this year or next year,” O’Donnell said.

The largest number of Local 481’s new members had been working in the industry on nonunion productions such as corporate or noncommercial projects. Another segment of recruits hadn’t worked in films, but had related experience that could be applied to the industry, such as carpentry or set-dressing skills. A smaller number moved back here from Los Angeles or other parts of the country where the levels of film production had dropped.

“That’s the whole point of the tax incentives: to create more investment in Massachusetts and more jobs,” said Nick Paleologos, executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office.

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