By: Valentina I. Valentini
P3 Update Magazine
New England offers a plethora of backdrops for productions looking to shoot in the northeast. And with a tempting bevy of additional perks, like tax credits of up to 25 percent in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and fee-free locations in Maine, New England can accommodate a wide range of productions with budgets running the spectrum. Not only that, New England’s local crews have been described as being on par with the professionals in New York City and Los Angeles, which may be one of the reasons Hollywood heavyweights like Ben Affleck, Mark Wahlberg and the Farrelly brothers keep coming back to the region.
From Jaws in 1975 to The Social Network in 2010 and Moneyball in 2011, Massachusetts has remained a top New England destination for film productions looking for a choice selection of location packages. It offers the ocean and seaside, forests and mountains, and architecture that range from the 1600s to modern day — and the state often doubles for the English countryside, New York City and, for the hit film The Proposal, Alaska.
According to Lisa Strout, director of the Massachusetts Film Office, Massachusetts has one of the strongest tax incentive programs in place for New England (rivaled only by Rhode Island), and it’s the only state that guarantees 90 cents on the dollar with no caps (for all below- and above-the-line crew, vendors and postproduction) as well as a sales-and-use tax exemption, transferable 25-percent payroll credit and production-expense credit. “We’ve have had 52 major productions in the last five years, with last year’s direct spend at $220 million [without a multiplier],” says Strout. “The ABC pilot ‘Gilded Lilys’ recently shot here, doubling for 1895 New York City, [and] we feel Massachusetts is very ready for a major TV series.”
Cinematographer Alex Vendler shot the cult horror film The Woman in western Massachusetts in 2010, and he was extremely pleased with the beautiful and lush surroundings for the price. “[The director] Lucky [McKee] was also really happy with the look of the area, and it never felt too remote, even though the location was really rural,” says Vendler. “There was good crew availability and it was close enough to New York City for us to get special equipment, if need be.” Massachusetts is known for being Hollywood friendly while hosting films like The Departed, Shutter Island, The Town, The Fighter, Knight and Day and Edge of Darkness. More recent projects include Ted (starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis), That’s My Boy (starring Adam Sandler) and In Your Eyes (written by Joss Whedon).
Sometimes tax incentives aren’t the sole purpose a production is drawn to a certain state. Vermont has found its niche by accommodating projects with its postproduction facilities. The state has recently been on the radar of independent filmmakers as the go-to hub for efficient and low-cost post services.
Colin Trevorrow’s new feature Safety Not Guaranteed, which won an award at Sundance and played SXSW, was scored by the filmmaker on a really tight budget last year. When he called the Vermont Film Commission to find out how to cost-effectively finish the movie, Joe Bookchin, the director of the state’s Office of the Creative Economy, turned him on to Egan Media Productions. “We recorded our entire score in Vermont,” Trevorrow reports. “We had some home-studio work and a few sessions at Egan Media. We mixed everything at the Tank [studio] in downtown Burlington. The musicians, all locals, doubled and tripled over each other to sound like an orchestra. It was scrappy and loose and intensely creative, which is the best way to work, and we couldn’t have done it if the local facilities weren’t able to operate on the professional level that they did.”
Industry companies like Lake Champlain Productions, Subatomic Digital (with a lot of its work done with codex and imagery processing), Urban Rhino Visual, Dreamlike Pictures and Edgewood Studios have all found homes in Vermont. While bigger markets like New York City get a high volume of jobs (and don’t have to work as hard to keep them coming in), the Green State can be more flexible with tight production budgets and make things work for clients, perhaps because it offers a smaller market. One Vermont production company raising the bar in the quality of work (instead of quantity of dollars) is Green River Pictures LLC. Helmed by Filmmaker Derek Hallquist, Green River is an award-winning, full-service production company specializing in non-fiction, documentaries and social justice issues. “I think the age of fancy couches and coffee machines for production offices is gone,” says Hallquist, who shot the Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning documentary The House I Live In. “Now, it’s low overhead and more temporary work, similar to big production companies in L.A. I honestly think that is the way you can create the best product for your client for the best amount of money. Small and more is better than big and less.”
In addition to offering efficient post houses, Bookchin says that Vermont is eager to accommodate productions as speedily as they can, since it doesn’t yet have tax incentives like Massachusetts’ and Rhode Island’s to lure productions in. “Because Vermont is a small state and most of us know each other, we really are good at expediting things like turnaround on permits or getting meetings with people dealing with transportation or fish and wildlife,” explains Bookchin. Recent films shot in Vermont include Star Trek, Changeling, Grave Encounter, Dumping Lisa and Visionary.
According to the Office of Film, Television & Digital Media, the number of union crewmembers living and working in Connecticut is increasing. But, because they fall within the jurisdiction of New York IATSE and Teamster locals, a large percentage of crew working on studio features are traveling to the state from New York and Los Angeles. “The syndicated television series and talk shows based in Stamford, [like ‘The Jerry Springer Show,’ ‘Maury,’ ‘The Big C’ and ‘Are We There Yet?’], have also led to an increase of talented professionals relocating to Fairfield County,” notes Mark Dixon, head of location services. “The state also sponsors the Connecticut Film Industry Training Program, with the graduates of this intensive professional program going on to industry positions in the state’s steadily increasing workforce.”
In 2011, Connecticut had about $300 million in direct production spending, thanks to films like Hope Springs (starring Meryl Streep, Steve Carell and Tommy Lee Jones) and The Wedding (Robert De Niro and Katherine Heigl) which chose to shoot in the state. That year Connecticut hosted 15 features, 8 documentaries and 33 television projects. Current productions include the films The Midnight Game, Dead Souls and an untitled family drama starring Katie Holmes and William Hurt.
According to Ed Reggiero, a film tax-credit administrator, the state’s tiered production-tax incentive took action on January 1, 2010. Tax credits of 10 percent of preproduction, production and postproduction expenses for $100,000 to $500,000 budgets; 15 percent for $500,001 and $1 million budgets; and 30 percent for budgets over $1 million are offered as long as at least 50 percent of principal photography or postproduction spending occurs in the state. In addition, Connecticut has a 20-percent infrastructure tax credit for film and digital-media facility projects spending at least $3 million.
It’s well known that the Farrelly brothers are from Rhode Island, mainly because they have always filmed their movies in the state or in New England, including There’s Something About Mary and Me, Myself & Irene. For such a physically small state, having such production heft makes a statement. Rhode Island also has a 25-percent tax incentive in place for productions shooting 51 percent of a project there, with a $15 million cap annually. For projects to qualify, a minimum of $300,000 needs to be spent on the ground in Rhode Island. Recent productions to shoot in the state include Hall Pass, Loosies, Tanner Hall and Lifetime Television’s “Dance Moms.”
This past year, Wes Anderson’s much-anticipated Moonrise Kingdom was filmed entirely in Rhode Island, and ABC’s “Body of Proof” shot its first season in Providence in 2010. “‘Body of Proof’ is set in Philadelphia,” says Jim Klever-Weis, one of the show’s producers. “Due to some issues with the Pennsylvania tax credits, coupled with Rhode Island’s attractive tax-incentive program and being able to double for Philly, it was an easy choice to shoot there.” Klever-Weis, who has worked on TV hits like “Ugly Betty,” admits that the crews in Rhode Island are just as savvy as the crews in New York and L.A. “They have a lot of heart and soul and they give their all to make the show look and run as efficiently and beautiful as possible,” he notes.
Because Maine still hasn’t quite built the infrastructure needed to support bigger productions, crewmembers that live in and around Portland — one of Maine’s fastest up-and-coming hip hubs — often work out of town but reside in the state because “the quality of life is so great,” according to freelance Producer/Director Ben Kahn, who has lived in Portland for the last 12 years. Kahn feels that the area has a burgeoning independent scene involving not only film, but also food, arts and music, which have all found niches in Portland. In the last five years, three films have gone to Cannes from the 48 Hour Film Project were made by Portlandian filmmakers, including Kahn’s 2009 short A Brief Case of Love. Only 14 projects get picked nationally each year to go, so, per capita, that’s a pretty significant number considering Portland is a relatively small market.
Portland is close enough to Boston and Providence, so crewmembers who feel that they’re not getting enough steady work in Maine can easily work in those bigger markets. “The crews here are forced to be diverse in their knowledge because the market is smaller than others,” explains Kahn. “We bring a rich background of experience to the table, since we’re working across the board [in] reality, documentary, feature, short, Web and commercial [production].”
Maine boasts such a bucolic look with its lush woods, pristine waters and breathtaking sea border, so it’s no wonder that films like Shutter Island and In the Bedroom showcased the state as one of their locales. More recent films include The Living Wake, Bluebird, Couples and Little Children. Maine offers fee-free locations that include most of its land and state parks, and productions can save money because there’s no need for police assistance or crowd control. To be eligible for the state’s tax credit, a project must spend $250,000 or more on production-related expenses in the state. Productions are also encouraged to take advantage of the Certified Media Wage Reimbursement, which grants companies a reimbursement of 12 percent of the amount paid as wages for Maine residents and 10 percent for nonresidents.