Across North Central region, more ‘lights, camera, ACTION!’

By Peter Jasinski
Sentinel & Enterprise
September 3, 2017

When the location scouts first approached Lancaster resident Hollis Petri, they said they were looking for a house with “masculine” features and that his Neck Road multifamily fit the bill.

Production lasted a only few days and Petri, as well as the three tenants who live in his building, were paid for their involvement, but as Petri explains, he didn’t let his house be used as a filming location just to make a quick buck.

“It’s more about the excitement,” he said. “I’m not complaining about the money, but really there are only so many unique experiences you have, and that was certainly one of them.”

Those unique experiences are becoming more and more common for local residents in recent months.

The Lancaster area has already seen the production of the horror film “Slenderman,” the Will Ferrell-fronted comedy “Daddy’s Home 2,” and the ongoing production of the short film “Lifted” in the past four months.
Perhaps most notable of these recent local productions is the shooting of the new Hulu series “Castle Rock,” which is based on the works of Stephen King and has been filming throughout the summer in Orange and Lancaster, using Petri’s house as one of its filming locations.

It’s all a sign of the state’s growing film industry and one of the new side-effects of that growth. Projects are moving farther west as New England becomes more popular with filmmakers.

“This has sort of been a concerted effort of mine and a few others,” said Chris Byers, director of marketing and operations for New England Studios in Devens. “It’s better if the work gets spread out through the state, and that’s what the past 18 months have been.”

Byers attributes the growth of the state’s film industry to a well-trained population of local film professionals and the state’s accommodating tax credit, but he said the recent push out of Boston has come as filmmakers realize the low costs and untapped backdrop potential of more rural areas.

As a result, smaller-budget productions are moving westward, and Byers said he only expects more to follow.

“I think what we will see is the expansion of filming around the state because of the smaller film potential people are becoming aware of,” he said. “I think we will see way more films being shot and at a smaller budget, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have the big budget productions either.”

The state’s film office reported 23 film and TV productions took place in Massachusetts last year, mainly in Boston and its surrounding communities. As of Sept. 1, 21 productions have taken place and have reached farther-flung communities such as Orange, Greenfield, Clinton and Ayer.

As the number of projects continues to rise, so does the amount of revenue the state is seeing.

For 2014, the most recent year reported by the Department of Revenue, film and TV productions generated $75.5 million in new net spending in the state’s economy, the most Massachusetts has seen thus far.

Lancaster Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco says a lot of his town’s popularity has to do with its proximity to New England Studios, but he also said it’s had a lot to do with the good relationships that town officials have started to form with filmmakers.

“I do think that once you develop a good rapport things tend to continue to develop,” he said, adding that he’s optimistic that Lancaster will continue to be used for future projects.

Though the town does get paid for volunteering its services and buildings for productions, Pacheco said the benefits of becoming a popular filming location go beyond that as the town gains more exposure to outsiders.

This was echoed by Petri.

“Lancaster is just a sleepy town, so we thought this was great,” he said. “I particularly liked seeing the process, seeing how it was all done. It was a massive crew of 150 people running around here, but they’re all experts at what they do.”

Rockland based filmmaker Evan Schneider is frequently among the crowds of trained professionals that can be found running around a film shoot. The 2011 Boston University film school graduate originally entered the industry looking for work as a cinematographer but has since gone on to establish his own production company, Hop Top Films, in 2016.

“There are literally tons of people who are either trying or currently doing the same exact thing right now. It’s a lot of competition, but friendly competition,” he said. “We’ve gone from nothing to having a crew of people who are now sought after in the film community.”

Crew members hired by Schneider usually all work for free, however the experience they gain from it has allowed many to move onto larger productions like the 2016 “Ghostbusters” reboot filmed in Boston and a new movie in the “X-Men” franchise currently filming in Medfield.

Schneider said he’s seen the number of job opportunities grow for Massachusetts’ film professionals in the past few years, as more and more productions are being scheduled.

“I think people are finding that New England is such a diverse area. We have the Cape, or we have inland, and then there’s always Boston. There are a lot of different atmospheres,” he said.

While the new interest has been a boon for up-and-coming talent, it’s also helped solidify larger businesses like New England Studios.

After opening in late 2013, the studio handled only a few small productions and several commercials during its first year, as the facility’s staff tried to “work all the bugs out,” Byers said.

Although the studios had anticipated more work in their second year, debate over the state’s film tax in the Legislature meant several productions that had been considering filming in Massachusetts moved elsewhere.

“We missed out on a couple opportunities in that second year, but our third year was great. We’ve hit our stride,” he said.

A big part of that stride was being chosen as the filming location for “Castle Rock,” the largest production to shoot at New England Studios so far. It’s a partnership that Byers said he hopes will continue for the next few years.

“We try not to bank on everything because tomorrow things could always change,” he said. “But we are fairly hopeful and the people at ‘Castle Rock’ are too, though I don’t speak for them, everyone is expecting a longer rather than shorter run with this.”

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