Massachusetts film industry ‘bouncing back’

Tax breaks, Oscar buzz reel in flicks

By Dave Wedge
The Boston Herald
February 25, 2011

Massachusetts’ generous film tax breaks lured Oscar contenders Christian Bale and Jesse Eisenberg to the state, but uncertainty over the controversial perks has stalled production as studios have turned elsewhere for lucrative deals.

After an incredible run of Bay State productions that included Oscar nominees “The Social Network,” “The Fighter” and “The Town,” production slowed last year after lawmakers — led by Gov. Deval Patrick — considered capping film tax credits at $50 million. The move failed but was enough to temporarily scare off studio money men, some of whom are now giving Massachusetts another shot thanks to the Oscar buzz and renewed assurances that the tax credits are secure.

“It feels like Massachusetts is bouncing back,” said one Hollywood producer who requested anonymity. “The only hiccup was when the governor said they were going to cap the tax credit. That’s all that needs to be said for Hollywood to say, ‘We’re going to look somewhere else.’ ”

With more than 40 states now offering generous tax incentives, Massachusetts’ bid to be “Hollywood East” is a dogfight, even with the 25 percent tax breaks in place. Rhode Island-bred comedy titan Bobby Farrelly admitted to the Herald earlier this week that he chose Georgia over Massachusetts for his latest yukfest, “Hall Pass,” because of “a better tax incentive “package,” in addition to weather considerations.

“There was a little bit of an effect when we discussed capping the incentives. That kind of uncertainty became a little bit of an issue,” said local ad executive John Dukakis, who chairs the Massachusetts Film Office’s advisory board. “But it was tough all over last year . . . not just here. I would attribute most of it to the entertainment business cycle.”

Bay State business appears poised for a rebound as the Mark Wahlberg flick “Ted” and Kevin James’ “Here Comes the Boom” have begun shooting here, and more projects — including another Adam Sandler movie — are on the way.

Last month, Dukakis, along with Patrick’s economic czar Greg Bialecki and Teamsters Local 25 chief Sean O’Brien, hit Hollywood to drum up more business.

“I think we’re going to have a very good slate this year,” Dukakis said.

Critics argue the return on the state’s investment is questionable while supporters say opponents ignore the spinoff economic effect on hotels, restaurants, trades and other businesses.

Tax breaks for the U.S. film industry, which generates $57 billion annually, also have come under scrutiny in several other states, including Iowa, where a corruption scandal is unfolding, and Louisiana, where a top film official was sent to prison. Massachusetts has its own dark past that includes a 2003 federal corruption probe that landed ex-Teamsters boss George Cashman in jail.

But officials said those problems are ancient history while Movie Maker magazine recently ranked Boston the No. 1 city in the United States to make films. “It’s a very unique place in the world,” said one producer. “And a lot of New England filmmakers love coming home.”

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