Boston site set for silver screen

Company lines up buildings

By Donna Goodison
Boston Herald
August 30, 2009

A Los Angeles company that represents high-rise owners interested in seeing their buildings on the big and small screens has set up shop in the Hub.

Skyline Locations was lured by the growing Massachusetts film industry that’s sapped business from the West Coast thanks to the state’s new tax incentives that took effect three years ago. The breaks for in-state productions, strengthened in 2007, have brought more than 25 film projects to the state, from the already-released “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Pink Panther 2” to the still-in-production “Grown Ups” and “The Zookeeper.”

“The economic environment in Los Angeles has not been able to meet up with what Massachusetts is offering and some other states in terms of tax incentives,” said D. Sinclair Anderson II, a Skyline principal. “It’s fostered a growing filming community in Boston that’s created a need for this sort of service.”

Founded in 2004, Skyline is a location service company, acting as an intermediary between its commercial real estate clients and production companies looking for locations to shoot film and TV projects. It’s believed to be the first company of its kind to land in Boston. “We market the properties to the entertainment industry and manage the entire process, from contract negotiations to onsite production management and production accounting,” Anderson said. Building owners benefit from an additional revenue stream, and the publicity adds cachet to their properties that is enjoyed by tenants, according to Anderson.

Skyline already has signed 23 class-A office and mixed-use properties in Greater Boston and hopes to double its portfolio in the next 60 to 90 days. Current clients include South Station, 60 State St., 500 Boylston St., Rowes Wharf and One Post Office Square, according to the company’s Web site.

But longtime Massachusetts location manager Charlie Harrington, who worked in Hollywood in the 1980s and returned to Boston after a decade, says that movie studios frowned upon using location services firms.

“The major studios didn’t like us to use those services because I think they felt the prices might be inflated,” said Harrington, who’s worked as a location manager on movies including “Edge of Darkness,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “The Pink Panther 2,” “21‘ and “Gone Baby Gone.”

That’s a misnomer, according to Anderson, who said he’s already working on two studio pictures that are preparing to shoot here. “We do try and achieve the best market rates for our customers, so if everybody is playing fair the prices are not really inflated,” he said. Whether it’s Los Angeles or Boston, a location scout may be familiar with a building’s name, location and exterior, but they likely don’t know if a particular law firm has higher-end interior finishes such as glass and steel, Anderson noted. Skyline’s online property listings eventually will feature up to 1,000 photos of each client’s building.

Still, Harrington doesn’t see the need for a location services firm in Boston given the increased number of location managers and assistant location managers who are knowledgeable about properties and often have relationships with their owners. While specific types of offices may be called for as film locations, they’re required less frequently than other locations that often reoccur in films, such as police stations, jails or hospitals, he said.

But Harrington acknowledges the bounty of location work available in Bay State since the tax breaks have been offered. Five years ago, he had to travel around the country and internationally to keep working, and he didn’t have the luxury of turning down a bad comedy or horror flick. “There are weeks where I get called for four or five movies in one week now, and before the tax breaks I could go for four or five months without being called for a movie,” he said. “For the first time in my life, really, I can kind of pick my movies.”

Indeed, five years ago, Harrington was one of the only location managers working locally, according to Nick Paleologos, executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office. “In the last 24 months, we’ve kind of had to scramble to cultivate a bench, and a lot of folks have been able to move up the ranks faster, because there’s just more work than we have people to do it,” Paleologos said. “This is not just happening in the locations area, it’s happening across the board (in the film industry),” he said. “So it’s great to see new businesses coming into the state instead of going away from the state.”

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