Boston called ‘the new Toronto of the film industry’

By David Liscio
The Lynn Daily Item
June 21, 2008

LYNN – Massachusetts is fast assuming a new image as a place where Hollywood-style motion pictures are made, but it could be simply a trend as filmmakers frequently change locations, benefit from tax codes or avoid high labor and production costs.

Over the past six months, at least five films have been in various stages of production along the North Shore or in Greater Boston, including “Surrogates,” the Bruce Willis thriller that includes several scenes shot in downtown Lynn in May and June.

Last week, filmmakers descended on Nahant to shoot coastal scenes from “Shutter Island,” directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Actress Kate Hudson was in Salem during the spring for the filming of “Bride Wars” while actress Sandra Bullock spent plenty of time in Gloucester in April while shooting scenes from “The Proposal.” While in Gloucester, the car Bullock and her husband were driving was rammed by a drunken driver.

“Hollywood is no longer Hollywood because movies are no longer exclusively made there,” said Ernie Malik, a publicist on the downtown Lynn set for “Surrogates.”

For the past two decades, Vancouver and Toronto have attracted moviemakers, but with the devaluation of the U.S. dollar, Canada holds less appeal and American cities appear ripe for location shooting.
An article in the New York Times last November put it this way, “Boston is the new Toronto of the film industry.”

New agreements forged with the Teamsters’ Union, whose members drive trucks and operate other heavy machinery needed for movie production, have helped cut costs. The introduction in 2006 of tax breaks for film production companies working in Massachusetts has also played a key role.

In cities like Lynn, where the commercial real estate vacancy rate is well over 50 percent, storage and stage space can be rented cheaply. For instance, location scouts for the Willis movie say downtown Lynn is rich with potential sets.

Outlying cities in Massachusetts also confront film producers with fewer hassles when requests are made to block off street traffic and obtain permission for air space, the latter a necessity for helicopter chase scenes like those filmed in Lynn earlier this week.

Nick Paleologos, executive director of the State Film Office, said the state’s new tax-break law for filmmakers makes Massachusetts more attractive. “Because under our new law, studios, major producers and filmmakers – who either shoot at least half of their movie or spend at least half of their production budget in the commonwealth – are eligible for a tax credit equal to nearly 25 percent of their total spending in Massachusetts, inclusive of any salaries over $1 million. No caps. No limits. No pre-authorization. No pre-certification. No lines. No waiting. No muss. No fuss.”

Paleologos also noted that beginning with the start of pre-production and continuing for a period of 12 months, filmmakers are eligible for 100-percent sales tax exemption on any production related items purchased in the state.

Massachusetts is also the only state in the country that allows filmmakers to take their credits either as a direct rebate at 90 percent of the face value, or sell them at market rate – whichever is more favorable. The tax breaks are available to both Hollywood moguls and small studios that spend less than $50,000 on so-called digital media projects. The latter category includes small, independent and documentary filmmakers – key elements of the state’s creative economy initiative.

Evidence that Boston is becoming a Mecca for filmmakers can be seen through a compilation of films made in and around the city since last year. Among the films: “21”, which was shot in Boston at the Boston Public Gardens, Back Bay, Newbury Street, and in the nearby communities of Chelsea and Cambridge.

“The Women” was filmed in Boston, Georgetown and Gloucester, specifically at Lighthouse Beach and along the Annisquam River.

“The Lonely Maiden,” “The Great Debaters,” “The Game Plan,” “Pink Panther Deux” and “Real Men Cry” were all shot in Boston in 2007, as was “The Box,” which also filmed in Ipswich, Milton, Quincy and North Andover.

“My Best Friend’s Girl (Bachelor No. 2)” was shot in 2007 on Boston Harbor, the North End, East Boston High School, Brookline, Brighton, Belmont, and on Crane Beach in Ipswich. “Gone Baby Gone” featured locations in Boston, Lynn, Cambridge, Medford and at Quincy’s rock quarries.

Interestingly enough, “Pink Panther Deux” was shot in Boston but is set in France, while “Wanted” is set in Chicago but was filmed mostly in Czechoslovakia.

Paleologos said plans are under discussion to build a sprawling movie studio and sound stage in Massachusetts that would allow filmmakers to shoot indoors and ignore the weather.

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