By Leslie Brokaw
June 29, 2008
At the halfway mark in 2008, business for the Massachusetts film industry is, in a word, booming. Booming, at least, relative to its anemic past.
Seven major feature films have been shot here in the first half of 2008 (two are still filming), and another two are scheduled for the second half, according to Nick Paleologos, executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office. “If the actors don’t strike we could end up with 10 or more for this year – which would be a new record,” he says, noting that eight films were made in the state for all of 2007 and just two in 2006.
More movies have meant more temporary and long-term jobs.
“By the end of July, the number of Local 481 members [of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees] living in Massachusetts will have more than doubled to over 500,” says Chris O’Donnell, local business manager for the union that represents film production crews. “There are more local craftspeople and technicians staffing key and second positions in all departments on motion pictures now than ever before,” he adds, crediting state tax incentives for filmmakers that went into effect in 2006.
Private film-related businesses have surged as well. Dave Waller, whose effects company Brickyard VFX has been in Boston since 1999, says that staffing at his Newbury Street office has almost doubled this year. “We’re doing the visual effects work on the Sandra Bullock film ‘The Proposal’ and Bruce Willis’s ‘The Surrogates,’ ” Waller says. “We’ve got a dozen new artists and a few [new] support staff.”
The current challenge is making sure that staffing can keep up with demand. Joe Maiella, president of the Massachusetts Production Coalition, a group that has advocated for ways to bring more film work to the state, says that “we’re putting in place some programs to build on our crew base.” Maiella says O’Donnell and Paleologos recently visited New Mexico, another state that has seen a boom in film production. The goal: Look at programs it’s using to train production crew members.
The coalition is also participating in a Workforce Development Group, which is working to keep Massachusetts communications students in state by acquainting them with real world skills and local opportunities, says Maiella, who is also senior vice president of marketing and sales for CrewStar, a Southborough payroll company specializing in film production work. The coalition is looking at ways to cross-train tradespeople such as carpenters and electricians through state career centers.
Has there been difficulty keeping up with crew needs? Sure, O’Donnell, says. “Are we more ready now to deal with increased demand in the future? Absolutely. With more productions come more members and more experienced local crew.”
Trying to lure film business to the state is a relentless task. A New York Times article earlier this month about the Massachusetts film industry noted that last summer’s boost in the Massachusetts film tax credit “was part of a fierce competition among a growing number of states to entice Hollywood to make films within their borders.”
The Massachusetts tax credit is strong at 25 percent, but this year Michigan raised its tax credit from 20 percent to 42 percent. And earlier this month, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger urged the California Legislature to get into the film tax credit game, too. California is “losing billions of dollars in revenues” because it cannot get its “act together” regarding tax incentives, Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying during a public meeting about his state’s troubled economy. He added that film tax incentives are a strong way to stimulate the economy. “We’re filming around 200 films here in this state, but we should be filming 600,” said the actor-turned-governor.
Meanwhile, the website for the Massachusetts Film Office has bulked up. In addition to housing an easy-to-use directory of contact names for getting permits, it has a production guide that provides information on production companies across the state. There’s also a growing list of “Useful Links” to regional support organizations and a page that lists all Academy Award winners and nominees from Massachusetts-made films. The site is online at mafilm.org
The Massachusetts Production Coalition, which is online at massprodcoalition.com, elected 22 members to its board of directors in May, and the list is something of a Boston-area film industry who’s-who. Among them: Julie Arvedon of Boston Casting, Tom Field of The Field Organization, Mark Hankey of Picture Park, John MacNeil of Moody St. Pictures, Kathy O’Toole of National Boston, Mitch Rosenwald of Magic Box Films, Dona Sommers of AFTRA-SAG, and Tim Van Patten of Central Booking.