Movie is a boon for biz

Filming generates economic ripples

By Martin Luttrell
September 19, 2009

WORCESTER — When set designer Jay R. Hart walked into the Putnam Hallmark store in Webster Square Plaza last week, Daniel B. LeBlanc was interested in knowing what went into filming a feature movie at Worcester Regional Airport. One thing he learned is that a big budget film can deliver a blockbuster economic spinoff for local businesses.

Mr. LeBlanc, marketing director and buyer for the Putnam card and gift store, said the production company that spent weeks transforming the mostly quiet Worcester airport to resemble Wichita Airport needed props for a gift shop being built in the terminal. Mr. Hart arranged for two visits to the store, in which merchandise worth several thousand dollars was purchased, including candy, cards, plush toys and stained-glass items.

Mr. LeBlanc would not say for the record specifically how much 20th Century Fox spent in his store, citing a confidentiality agreement, but said it was huge.

“We were just flattered,” he said. “We feel like we’re part of the movie. I’m flattered that they chose us.

“Some of the items, Yankee Candles and stained glass, were wiped out. Yankee Candle is thrilled, and they’re working with us to re-supply us. We are extremely happy they chose Worcester, and that they came into the store. We’ve very close to the airport, and we could hear the helicopters go in and out.”

The helicopters were shuttling the film’s stars, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, along with crew members. Over the last month, the airport terminal was transformed to a movie set. That means jobs for local carpenters, painters and electricians. It also results in members of the crew staying in local hotels, dining in area restaurants, and spending money in the region’s stores, said Nicholas Paleologos, executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office.

“It’s those kinds of things that ripple through the local economy,” he said. “When they come in, it’s an army of carpenters and painters.”

He did not have an estimate of how much economic impact the film, in its early stages of production at various locations in the state, could have. He pointed out the North Shore town of Essex received $150,000 from a different movie production there earlier this year, and the financially strapped Franklin Park Zoo in Boston raked in $350,000 for a feature film shot there this year.

Richard P. Walsh, spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Worcester Regional Airport, said that because Direct Air — the charter air carrier that flies out of the airport — did not have any flights scheduled during the week, there was no interruption of commercial air traffic at the airport. Filming started on Tuesday and was to wrap up yesterday.

Some of the general aviation pilots who use the airport ended up being employed as extras in the filming, he said.

The film production company is also paying fees for preparing the terminal for filming and the actual filming, as well as paying for airport labor, maintenance and operations personnel, Mr. Walsh said. He declined to estimate how much that would total, saying they expect to have a better idea of the revenues by next week. Revenues related to the filming will be used for the airport’s operating costs, he said.

Aside from the monetary windfall the local economy receives, the city and airport will benefit from good exposure as the location of a major motion picture, said Patrick Lynch, executive director of Destination Worcester, a tourism marketing entity that helps attract events and conventions.

“People will watch the movie and go, ‘Hey, that’s Worcester airport,’ We’re seeing more films shot in the state,” he said. “With the economy the way it is, it’s nice to see Hollywood here spending some money.”

The kind of publicity that goes with a high-profile movie production is priceless, said Donna J. McCabe, president of Central Massachusetts Convention and Visitors Bureau. She pointed out some of the immediate exposure with television show host Jay Leno interviewing Cruise and Diaz at the airport earlier this week.

“The movie studios are becoming more familiar with Central Mass. and what we have to offer,” she said. “This is a win-win for the city to get them here. The crew has been here for weeks, and all those hotel nights are booked. All that helps our economy.

“We’ve had films come here to Central Mass., and we’re seeing more and more coming. The state’s film office is trying to secure more of a piece of the pie.”

Mr. Paleologos agreed.

“This is the most ambitious film we’ve had here in Massachusetts,” he said. “With every one of these pictures the state handles, it changes the reputation the state has with filmmakers. Now you have high-profile filmmakers that know you can. They talk to each other, and good news travels fast.”

Martin Luttrell can be reached at:

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