Op-Ed: The secret to our movie success

Business View

By Joel Olicker & Tug Yourgrau
Boston Business Journal
July 23, 2010

There has been much confusion in recent months about the costs and benefits of Massachusetts’ film and television tax credit program.

Here is what every business leader should know: The credits have been like Miracle-Gro for our industry. Over the past five years, there has been a national race — a fierce competition to attract the high-spending film and TV industries, with states across the country vying to create incentives to lure movies and TV companies and their lucrative spending to their states. The surprise winner: Massachusetts. We’re fighting way above our weight class. We are in third place behind California and New York in revenue generated by film production. In spite of what the naysayers would have us believe, we can grow a strong film and TV industry here that can pump millions more into the Massachusetts economy.

The secret to Massachusetts success to date, and to truly solidifying the industry here is three-fold.

First: Our workforce. Everybody intuitively understands the many scenic attractions of Massachusetts for movie producers — beaches, mountains, historic areas and cosmopolitan cities. What not everyone realizes is that we have a world-class workforce as well. We have the third largest media student body in the country. We graduate incredible talent not only in acting but in production, design, lighting, graphics, sound, and online media production Our state is a leader in media industry education, and clearly it is paying off. Unlike elsewhere, job demand is high, and so is the supply.

Second: a reliable, well-planned and executed tax credit package. The Legislature did it right when they implemented the tax credit in 2005 and expanded it in 2007. It is set at the right percentage and is designed to give the producers maximum flexibility (the credit attracted a record number of productions to Massachusetts in 2009). As soon as it looked less reliable in 2010, due to discussions of capping the credits, the number of movies in negotiation to be shot here plummeted. We need a firm and reliable commitment to the tax credit as it is today because that reliability will draw others.

Third: If we really want this industry to thrive, we need to encourage the creation of privately funded infrastructure, specifically sound stages. Massachusetts is already a leader in the production of nonfiction television programs and documentaries, through the output of companies like ours, as well as the PBS producer WGBH. Once a modest suite of soundstages is built, studio-based film and TV projects can take up long-term residence here, leading to potential long-term employment for thousands.

So far, we’re doing well, attracting increasing dollars of film and TV production. But if this success is to continue, we will need to continue to demonstrate to the larger industry that Massachusetts is a committed partner with a stable program of credits in place.

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