By Aviva Gat
February 12, 2010
BOSTON — Buoyed by big-budget movies like The Fighter, Massachusetts has one of the fastest-growing film industries in the United States, according to a study released yesterday by UMass Boston.
Since the Legislature adopted a film tax credit in 2005, employment in the film industry has risen 33 percent, from 4,530 jobs to 6,048. That is the largest percentage growth of any state during that time period, according to the study.
Movie-industry boosters say numbers like that show why Gov. Deval Patrick should drop his plan to slash film tax credits. The governor has proposed cutting tax credits for production companies from about $125 million to $50 million a year to help close the $2.7 billion deficit in his budget for fiscal 2011.
If Patrick’s proposal goes through, “filmmakers will take their films and go elsewhere,” said Mary Fifield, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Production Coalition.
The 64-page study also found that job growth in the film industry has helped offset state unemployment, especially in “hard-hit trades like construction and transportation.” The jobless rate in December reached 9.4 percent in Massachusetts.
“This industry is outperforming virtually every other industry in the state,” said Fifield. “The state is losing jobs across the board, and the film industry is creating jobs.”
Massachusetts still trails silver-screen meccas like California and New York, and claims just 1 percent of the overall film industry.
The study was conducted by management and marketing professor Pacey Foster and economics professor David Terkla, and was paid for by UMass Boston’s Creative Economy Initiatives.
It also estimates that the film industry spent $247 million between 2006 and 2008 on nonwage items, such as location fees, transportation, hotels and housing, set construction and food. Those expenses are “significant sources of revenue for local merchants,” the report states.
In the past two years, about 30 films and television shows were shot in Massachusetts, including Ricky Gervais’ The Invention of Lying and Boston native Mark Wahlberg’s soon-to-be-released The Fighter, telling the life story of Lowell boxer Micky Ward. Both films were shot in Lowell.
Mel Gilbson’s new movie, The Edge of Darkness, was also shot in several locations in the Merrimack Valley, including scenes along the Merrimack River in Merrimac.
Asked during filming last year why he chose Lowell, Gervais said, “I wanted the East Coast, for starters, and obviously Massachusetts is giving good tax rebates compared to New York, which saves some money. We looked around at eight different towns, and it was definitely Lowell. It looks so good on film.”
Deb Belanger, executive director of the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, estimates that Gervais’ movie generated $2 million in revenue for Lowell from hotel stays, supplies and food, and local jobs for hairdressers and extras. The city also benefited because the film paid for police details and parking permits.
“It’s not only the economic impact that keeps small businesses operating,” Belanger said. “It’s also the enthusiasm of the people in the area. Lowell has never looked so good.”
Advocates of the film industry, however, worry that the success of the past few years could become Hollywood history if the state starts to shy away from the tax-credit program that has lured producers and directors.
“Any kind of cap (on tax credits) is not going to hurt Hollywood. It’s going to hurt Massachusetts,” Belanger said. “I’m hoping that the Legislature will see the wisdom of supporting this industry.”
But Fifield said the tax credit is not the only incentive for producers to bring their films to Massachusetts.
“In our experience,” she said, “productions come to Massachusetts to film because we have a good crew base, natural beauty and historic sights that can’t be reproduced.”