Can Boston Draw & Retain Big-Budget Movie Talent? A Growing Indie-Film Community Signals Hope

By Alex Weaver
November 29, 2012

This week, The Phoenix ran an article about the burgeoning indie film community in Boston, a groundswell of actors, producers, directors and the like rallying around the increasing number of blockbusters filmed on our city’s streets in recent years. It’s a nuanced analysis of a significant local trend, and warrants a read if you’re so inclined.

Since 2005, the author, Peter Keough, notes, the Massachusetts Film Office has offered tax incentives for movies with budgets greater than $50,000—and as a result, viewers nationwide have since seen our city serve as cinematic backdrop for more and more major motion pictures. There have been masked nuns wielding machine guns in Fenway Park in The Town and a cuddly, foul-mouthed teddy bear getting the stuffing kicked out of him in, um, Fenway Park, in Ted.

That moviemakers are keen to come here to save some dough shouldn’t be too surprising given that so many big names in the game have roots here already—here’s looking at you, Affleck, Damon and Wahlberg.

The article’s focus, though, isn’t on the Msytic River’s or Gone Baby Gone’s, but the smaller films being shot here now too, and what that means for Boston’s place among the movie machines that are New York and Los Angeles.

But what about the little guys, the scrappy independents who want to make their breakout movie on a shoestring? In January, MovieMaker magazine listed Boston as the sixth-best city in the country for independent filmmakers. It based its assessment largely on the appeal of the tax incentives. But what does the film office do for the smaller films, the vast majority of local projects, whose budgets are not big enough to qualify?

To answer this question, the article looks at a local film called Day of Youth, whose director, Jared Vincenti, and most of the cast and crew live in a house in Brighton, which doubles as the set. The film enjoyed successful funding of $7,000 on Kickstarter.

“The studio movies attract talent, and you get a lot of people who are here who have the skills and are hungry for more,” Vincenti says, who adds that his movie’s budget will come in around $10,000, but free labor makes it more akin to $150,000. “So you have a lot of talent here, but they’re not getting above the line in the big pictures. That’s why everyone here isn’t doing it to make money, but to get it out there, to get recognition, to get it seen — so that we can take that step up to the next tier.”

I like the idea of acting talent coming to Boston to establish their careers, though I worry that in this respect, our city may really start to earn its nickname in a cinematic sense—serving as a hub for promising talent to come in and gain recognition before leaving for brighter lights and bigger stages promised in other cities. Keough addresses this notion as a trickle-down theory that’s tough to discount, but also cites that the number of film professionals in the Boston areas has quadrupled in the past few years, now standing at 3500 strong.

My hope is that Boston’s high ranking on lists like MovieMaker, a continued stream of high-profile movies being shot locally—The Heat, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, hits theaters in April—and the resulting “communal spirit among Boston indie filmmakers” all help our city grow as a talent training ground, and develop into a cinematic destination rather than an ephemeral creative refueling station between NY and LA.

We certainly have the youthful exuberance and innovative infrastructure in place already. Oh, and Fenway Park.

As more big movies come to Boston, an indie-film industry grows around them
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