By Chris Bergeron
The MetroWest Daily News
Jun 02, 2008
SOUTHBOROUGH —Though he loves movies, Joseph Maiella doesn’t care about schmoozing with Matthew McConaughey next time he shoots a film in the Bay State. After 30 years working with moviemakers, the Southborough resident would rather see more jobs for local actors, camera operators, technicians and makeup artists.
As the state economy sputters, Maiella heads the Massachusetts Production Coalition, which represents more than 100 companies doing business with moviemakers. The MPC is asking lawmakers to continue tax credits for the film industry to attract projects that create jobs and stimulate growth.
“It’s time to recognize this state has lots of good people trained to work in the film industry,” he said. “Making movies is a recession-proof, clean growth industry. The (financial) benefits of bringing more movie business to Massachusetts could touch virtually everyone.” Elected MPC president in 2005, Maiella has seen “a tremendous influx” of smaller media projects and big budget movies like “The Pink Panther” and the Disney film “Game Plan” as good news spreads about state incentives for filmmakers.
From his Southborough office, Maiella attributed the upswing in movie and media projects to the reopened Massachusetts Film Office that had been closed by former Gov. Jane Swift. He also cited growing numbers of trained film and technical professionals, and most importantly, recent tax credits for filmmakers that let the Bay State compete for projects with movie-friendly New York.
“Not long ago Massachusetts wasn’t seen as a desirable location to make a movie. It’s not because we didn’t have gorgeous scenery or competent people,” said Maiella. “We lacked the infrastructure movie production companies wanted to deal with.” Maiella knows the movie business. He works with his wife, Lily Maiella, president of CrewStar, which handles employment details and payroll services for companies doing business in Massachusetts and around the world. Even before the foundation of the MPC, he’d been working with others to make a more business-friendly environment for filmmakers.
The impetus came in 2006 with passage of a tax credit plan of 25 percent on a film’s payroll and production costs. Maiella credits the incentives package for a dramatic increase of major in-state film projects.
According to the MFO, since the incentives began, Walt Disney Company shot four major features here and a total of “17 major productions have been made in Massachusetts in less than three years.” Those incentives, Maiella said, helped bring between 2,300 and 5,500 film industry jobs and more than $550 million in revenue to Massachusetts last year.
However, some legislators like state Rep. Steve D’Amico, D-Seekonk, feel the state is giving away too much potential revenue. According to published reports, Department of Revenue spokesman Bob Bliss said the tax credit will cost the state nearly $140 million by the end of 2008.
State Film Office Director Nicholas Paleologos countered Friday that critics “perhaps unintentionally” misunderstood the DOR report, which he believes confirms the program’s success. Issued this month, the report predicted tax incentives for movie companies “could generate $700 million in new investments and more than 5,000 new jobs with annual salaries between $40,000 and $70,000,” he said.
“My heavens. I’ve never see anything work so successfully so fast,” said Paleologos, who served 14 years as a state representative. He said critics seem to be ignoring the essential purpose of tax credits which are designed “to put money in the state economy” rather than bring tax revenues. Citing the DOR report, Paleologos said the cost of state film credits “is 14 cents for every new dollar generated in the state’s economy.
Angela Peri, founder and president of Boston Casting Inc., said the tax incentives have created in-state opportunities for actors and improved the business climate for movie-related businesses like hers. She said her company has seen a “30 percent increase in business since January 2007,” when the tax credits took effect.
During that same period, Peri said her roster of actors increased from 25,000 to 28,000, reflecting general optimism about the local movie scene. As incentives brought more movie projects, Peri hired six new staffers who helped her place 10,000 extras in Gillette Stadium for the movie “The Game Plan” and find work for 4,000 actors and extras for “The Pink Panther,” starring Steve Martin.
“Now they come here and we put them to work,” she said. Citing a trickle-down effect, Peri said amateur and professional actors are enjoying significant financial benefits from the new movie business.
“In the past if SAG (Screen Actors Guild) members were acting part time, they were lucky to bring in an extra $15,000. Now they’re bringing in $65,000 a year,” she said. “Union actors who’ve been paying dues for years now can actually make a living acting without working another job as a waiter or bartender.”