Next on Mass. filmmaking checklist: Soundstage

Associated Press
Steve LeBlanc
Wednesday, June 18, 2008

BOSTON — When Steve Martin was in Boston shooting the Pink Panther, he’d routinely jump in a car for a short trip from his downtown hotel to an old warehouse in nearby Chelsea.

In a state long on historic locations but short on moviemaking amenities, the warehouse was the closest the film’s producers could come to a soundstage.
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Now with Massachusetts experiencing a mini-boom in filmmaking — courtesy of a pair of tax credits designed to lure the movie industry — the push is on to build a full-scale studio.

Already developers are vying to build studios in Plymouth and at a former naval air station in Weymouth. There’s also talk of a smaller editing space and soundstage in the South Boston neighborhood of Boston.

“It’s the next logical thing to happen here,” said Nicholas Paleologos, executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office. “We’re just hoping someone gets one built soon.”

As part of the push, Gov. Deval Patrick plans to meet with executives from three studios during a West Coast swing this week.

The soundstage is considered so critical that some are urging lawmakers to offer tax credits to spur construction of studios.

A bill under consideration at the Statehouse would offer a 20 percent tax credit to studio developers. The incentive was capped at $60 million annually over five years under proposed legislation approved by the Revenue Committee.

Its future, however, is uncertain.

Critics say the state is throwing tax dollars at an industry that could easily disappear if other states offer deeper breaks. “They are always going to be going to those places that offer the biggest bribe,” said Rep. Steven D’Amico, D-Seekonk.

Senate President Therese Murray, who supports the existing film tax credits, said she may only support post-production incentives.

“I think if they get in the ground, they get up and running, they want to come back to us and talk about post-production tax breaks, I’ll be all ears,” Murray, D-Plymouth said last week.

Patrick was even more circumspect.

“We want to see that we can craft something that makes sense not just for the sound stages … but also something that makes sense for the larger interests of Massachusetts,” he said.

Plymouth Rock Studios is one of three studios currently on the drawing board.

Developers are hoping to build 14 soundstages on a 350-acre site but are still looking for a final location for the project, which they said would employ about 2,000 workers.

Studio representative Peter Fleury called New England a “filmmaker’s dream come true” with its four seasons, ocean and mountain locations and landmark sites.

“Is this something that is going to stick? Absolutely,” said Fleury. Work on the $500 million project could begin as soon as the fall if a location is found, he said.

Fleury said Plymouth Rock Studios developers would welcome a tax break, but they aren’t banking on it.

A second film studio is being proposed for the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station. The International Studio Group wants to develop the $300 million Southfield Studio project that would include 10-11 soundstages and facilities for movies and television productions built on 30 acres.

Developers say the proposed tax breaks are key to that project.

“We’re taking an enormous gamble,” said Allan Kassirer, an entertainment lawyer and one of the developers.

Kassirer said the tax credits would convince developers that the state is serious about creating the infrastructure needed to support Patrick’s push to bolster the “creative economy,” including film and television production.

The group has enlisted the backing of some former Beacon Hill heavy-hitters, including former Senate President Robert Travaglini and former Massachusetts Film Commissioner Mark Drago.

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