News & Events

Fight over flicks turns mudbath

By Rachelle Cohen
March 31, 2009
Boston Herald, Op-Ed

The fight over those state film tax credits is getting to have a kind of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” vibe about it.

Now there’s a philosophical case to be made against tax credits. But by all accounts the one passed in Massachusetts in 2005 and expanded in 2007 seems to be working well in an otherwise down economy. The two production companies filming here now – and the competing plans for soundstage capacity – are on-going testament to that.

But the argument advanced by a purported Cornell University “study” reported on Saturday in the Herald has somewhat suspicious origins as alluded to by one of today’s letter writers (see article below).

It seems that the very same Susan Christopherson at Cornell University who told the Herald, “It’s very unlikely Massachusetts will be able to create a sustainable industry on the level of Los Angeles or New York” has, shall we say, issues. She argues against the “lunatic competition” by 40 states all going after the same pot of business.

Well, at the risk of being somewhat parochial, we are Boston, not Keokuk. But that aside, Christopherson’s Web site ( gives a rather different – and more candid – view of the nature of her research:

“An industry coalition, The New York Film, Television and Commercial Initiative, including New York studio owners, producers, and representatives from labor unions and guilds, has joined together to sponsor a study that will enable policy-makers to ensure New York’s [emphasis ours] role as a major center for media production in the world.”

Christopherson also notes, “There is substantial anecdotal evidence that production is decreasing in New York . . . we need to know why the location of production is changing and to devise a policy agenda that places New York at the center of these industries . . .”

Of course, New York still has a cap on its film credits, similar to the one removed here in 2007 – which might explain its problem.

And don’t even get us started on the idiocy of a “study” that compares film tax credits to government spending on the arts (a figure that didn’t, of course, include the benefits of tax-exempt status for the many nonprofit arts organizations in our community).

Yes, the competition for film business is fierce. But doesn’t it behoove academics to put away the chainsaw and stick to facts?

Film buffs reel over drama of tax subsidies

By Dave Wedge
Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bay State film biz backers say a new study slamming movie industry subsidies is tainted because the authors once worked for New York film moguls, but the researchers are standing firmly behind the report.

Study authors Ned Rightor and Susan Christopherson, a professor at Cornell University, were paid by Big Apple film execs for a 2006 study that examined “the reasons behind the decline in commercial production in New York in the past 15 years.”

This week, the pair released a separate, independent report that criticized government tax credits for the industry and said states such as Massachusetts are wasting precious tax dollars trying to keep up with New York and Los Angeles.

“This is the equivalent of someone in New York saying, ‘Don’t bother spending any money on a baseball team up there because how in the world are you ever going to beat the Yankees?’ ” said Massachusetts Film Office head Nick Paleologos. “I don’t agree with the result and I don’t agree that Massachusetts can’t compete in this $60 billion industry. We’re doing it.”

Forty-three states now give film industry tax incentives, but Massachusetts has one of the most generous packages, which has led to 20 major productions shooting here in the past 18 months. There are also three studios in the planning stages in Weymouth, Plymouth and South Boston. “What we’re doing here is right,” state Rep. Brian Wallace (D-S. Boston) said. “New York is now chasing us.”

But Rightor said the new study is critical of all taxpayer giveaways for the film industry – including in New York. “In the end, we are not in favor of the whole game of offering subsidies to finance film projects,” Rightor said. “I think everyone is being played equally.” The new report, titled “The Creative Economy as ‘Big Business: Evaluating State Strategies to Lure Film Makers,” was not funded by any industry entity and is the result of “years of research,” Rightor said.

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‘Blart’ Part 2 scouts in Mass.

The king of screens

By Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa
Boston Herald, The Inside Track
March 26, 2009

Blart is back!

Overachieving made-in-Boston comedy “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” made a whopping $141 million at the box office, so it should come as no surprise that production peeps are already scouting Massachusetts for a sequel.

The Kevin James flick about a policeman wannabe who foils a heist at the mall he is sworn to protect was filmed at the Burlington Mall and South Shore Plaza last year. It cost just $36 million to make and stunned the studio when it pulled in a way-better-than-expected $39.2 million in its opening weekend.

The total domestic haul for the flick was waaaay above the pundits’ wildest dreams for a low-budget comedy with a leading man who, while a success on TV with “King of Queens,” was a big-screen dark horse.

Which is why, we assume, the Happy guys at Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison are rushing into production on “Blart II.”

Word is, location scouts already have scoped out car czar Ernie Boch Jr .’s Ferrari dealership for the flick, which has Paul Blart being fired from his mall cop gig and being forced to find work as a zookeeper at the Franklin Park Zoo.

“One day this beautiful girl comes to the zoo and he asks her out,” Boch told the Track. “She tells him, ‘I can’t go out with you, you feed animals at the zoo for a living!’ So he asks his brother, who runs the Ferrari/ Maserati dealership, for a job and he hires him.”

Both James and Sandler are scheduled to be in Massachusetts to shoot the tentatively titled “Lake House” starting in May. Boch says he’s been told they’ll start “Blart Two” in June or July.

Looks like it’s shaping up to be a rather funny summer!

Stoked for Stooges

And speaking of movies, word from the Left Coast is that the Farrelly Brothers and MGM are closing in on a cast for the Rhode Island filmmakers’ nyuck-nyuck-nyuckfest, “The Three Stooges.”

Variety reports that Sean Penn will follow up his Oscar-winning role in “Milk” by playing middle Stooge Larry. Jim Carrey, who did “Dumb & Dumber” with Bobby and Peter Farrelly, is in negotiations to play Curly and is making plans to gain 40 pounds for the role. The studio is eyeing Benicio Del Toro to play Moe.

The Farrellys have said they hope to film the movie in New England.

Woo, woo, woo!

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Op-Ed: The show must go on

By John Keenan and Brian Wallace
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Boston Herald, Op-Ed

With a multibillion dollar budget deficit looming and unemployment at 7.8 percent and rising, Massachusetts is desperately seeking growth industries. Fortunately, we have one in our own back yard that has generated $545 million in direct new spending over the past three years. Biotech? Green energy? Try again – it’s film.

In late 2005, Gov. Mitt Romney signed into law the Massachusetts Film Tax Credit (FTC), a production incentive that made Massachusetts competitive enough to draw producers who had previously confined their filming to the New York-California circuit.

In 2007, Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature improved the dynamic by extending the tax credit’s expiration date, lifting the credit cap for larger features, and modifying it to include more independent films and digital media productions.

Today, we’re benefiting from the results with more than 25 major motion pictures, films and TV projects produced in state since 2006, and the number of people employed in the Massachusetts film industry growing by 11 percent in the same period.

With film attendance up this year, developing Massachusetts’ motion picture, TV and digital media industry is a hedge against the recession and a good investment. According to figures released last spring by the state Department of Revenue (DOR), the cost of the film tax credit is only 14 cents for each new dollar generated in the state’s economy by the film industry. DOR also estimated that the credit could bring in more than 5,000 new jobs with annual salaries of between $40,000 and $70,000.

DOR’s figures are even more impressive because they did not include local taxes, fees and business generated for cities and towns during production, such as the $150,000 that Essex will reap in property use and parking fees from an upcoming Adam Sandler movie.

DOR’s figures also don’t include promotion and tourism dollars generated by local motion picture projects. How many of your out-of-town guests demanded to visit the L Street Tavern after “Good Will Hunting” came out? Finally, DOR’s projections did not include the half-billion dollars of new private investment likely to be generated by the construction and operation of several new proposed sound stages. In short, the benefits to the local economy far outweigh the costs.

“Hollywood East” isn’t just a clever sales pitch. It means getting our fair share of a $60 billion industry that every year enjoys a balance of trade surplus of $10 billion – even in bad economic times. It means creating private sector jobs with private sector pension and health care benefits at a cost of pennies on the dollar.

And it means desperately needed revenue for cities and towns. In addition to Boston, communities as diverse as Salem, Andover, Burlington, Gloucester, Haverhill, Hull, Lawrence, Lenox, Lowell, Medfield, Plymouth, Rockport, Taunton, Woburn and Worcester have benefited directly from spending generated by the Film Tax Credit.

The Bay State’s success has even riled California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who – despite the traditional allure of Hollywood – publicly fretted last year that Massachusetts is luring away tens of thousand of jobs.

Because of this incentive, and the new economic activity it has already generated, Massachusetts is well on its way to becoming the Northeast regional center for film, television and digital media. The question, therefore – especially now – is not whether we can afford the film tax credit. The question is, can we afford to lose the jobs and revenue the film tax credit has brought to Massachusetts.

Rep. John Keenan (D-Salem) is chairman of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development. Rep. Brian Wallace (D-South Boston) is one of the original authors of the tax credit legislation.

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Costner, Jones are ‘Company Men’

Actors join independent drama starring Affleck

March 19, 2009

Kevin Costner and Tommy Lee Jones are set to star in “The Company Men,” an independently financed drama about the impact that a corporate downsizing has on both its casualties and survivors. They join Ben Affleck, who was set last fall.
John Wells wrote the script and will direct. Production begins in April in Boston.

Wells, Claire Rudnick Polstein and Paula Weinstein are producing. Barbara Hall is exec producer.

Affleck plays a corporate hotshot whose Porsche and six-figure salary vanish after he gets laid off. Costner plays his brother-in-law, a salt-of-the-earth drywall installer who gives him a construction job.

Jones plays a senior partner in the firm, a principled man who struggles with the greedy actions of his partners.

Costner takes the role as he works to set up “The One,” a film he will direct from a script he penned with “Dances With Wolves” writer Michael Blake, based on an idea by Blake. Costner will star as a free-spirited man who inherits $3 billion, leading him on an adventure and an eventual collision with pirates in the Cayman Islands.

Jones is working on a directing project as well, talking to financiers about “Islands in the Stream,” an adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway tale that Jones wrote, will direct, star in and produce through his Javelina Film Co. banner.

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Disney’s Iger to Speak at Harvard Business School

Disney's Iger to speak at Harvard Biz School

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TV biz flees California

Pilots flying outbound despite tax plan

March 16, 2009

Pilot season is all over the map this year as the majors squeeze budgets and chase production incentive coin throughout the country and up north in Toronto and Vancouver.

Of the 39 hourlong pilots and presentations that have been ordered by the Big Four and CW, at least 20 are skedded to shoot outside California’s borders.

The pilot flight comes just as the Golden State has approved a $500 million, five-year production tax credit incentive program (Daily Variety, Feb. 20). But that program is seen by many in the TV biz as too little too late, and with too many strings attached.

Indeed, broadcast net execs are grumbling about the decision to limit California’s incentives for new TV series to hourlong skeins for basic cable (with episodic budgets of at least $1 million). Producers of gameshows, talkshows, news programs, reality skeins, docus and porn need not apply; those types of productions are not eligible for the credit.Below-the-line workers in Southern California were already bracing for a down year as networks slash development budgets and studios pull back on pic production. But the steady migration of pilot work to other time zones promises an even bigger hit to the local job market; then there’s the ripple effect on the local economy from those lost studio dollars and lost paychecks for local workers.

This year, Providence, R.I.; Baltimore; Boston; Atlanta; Chicago; Richmond, Va.; and Pittsburgh are among the unusual locales where broadcast net pilots are being produced, and all are in states that offer production tax-incentive carrots. Twentieth Century Fox TV has traveled as far as Prague for its “Da Vinci Code”-esque thriller “Masterwork” for Fox, though that decision was made as much for storyline purposes as anything else.

New York has lured a lot of TV production out of Los Angeles County over the past few years with its rich tax-incentive program, but the much-publicized uncertainty about the future of those credits for new productions, amid the state’s $14 billion budget deficit, sent studios shopping for lures in the other 48 states.
New Jersey, which recently greenlit its own incentives, has benefited from Albany’s paralysis, landing the NBC/Universal Media Studios drama pilot “Mercy” and CBS/CBS Paramount’s 9/11-themed drama “Back” (portions of which are also shot in Toronto).

One reason the California incentives targeted basic cable hours is that those shows are among the most likely to head across the border for the savings. California’s plan, which formally kicks in July 1, offers a 20%-25% tax credit on below-the-line expenditures (capped for features at $75 million).

“This bill very specifically targets those types of productions that have been leaving for years,” said a spokesman for state Assemblyman Paul Krekorian (D-Burbank), who sponsored the legislation.

As a way of taking aim at successful tax credit programs in other states, the plan does offer a 25% incentive to shows, broadcast or cable, that were previously produced in other states but relocate to California. But studio execs note that there are enormous moving costs that come with relocating a show, not to mention the hassle factor for stars and key production staffers.

Top brass at one of the Big Four networks recently asked state officials whether a pilot shot outside California would qualify for the credit if it relocated to the state for its regular episodic production. The answer was no.
Biz insiders with an interest in keeping production in California say they’re frustrated by the notion in Sacramento that a tax incentive program is a giveaway to Hollywood. Studies of programs in other states have shown that film incentives more than pay for themselves in generating tax revenues that wouldn’t otherwise exist, plus they drive spending in local businesses not directly tied to showbiz.
An Ernst and Young study of New York’s incentive program found that its production incentives will have generated $2.7 billion in tax coin between 2005 and 2010, of which $685 million will be refunded to producers through the credits (Daily Variety, March 2).With so many other states getting aggressive, California can no longer afford to take the film and TV production business for granted, said Paul Audley, prexy of the FilmL.A. permitting org. The stats aren’t in yet, but the anecdotal evidence is clear that filming days in L.A. will be down significantly this year during the January-April pilot season, usually a peak period for local lensing.

“What really happened is the doors opened a crack in California (with the incentive program). If they want it to have real impact, they need to open the door a lot wider,” said Audley. “The (state) legislature needs to recognize that production has just gone from this state. What’s left will be gone unless they do something to help preserve it. We are in grave danger of losing the business.”
Net and studio execs have become adept at monitoring the status of productions from afar through digitally delivered dailies and other tech tools, though many admit that in a perfect world they’d prefer to have their productions closer to home. Dramas are typically the projects to travel because they cost so much more than half-hours, but this year ABC and NBC have a handful of single-camera laffers set up in other cities.

At the same time, for pilots ordered to series, execs admit it can be a struggle to persuade established thesps to relocate to off-the-beaten-path locales, so there is sure to be some pressure on shows to settle down for episodic production in more cosmopolitan locations.

Canada, with its local production incentives and currency exchange-rate advantages, also made a big comeback as a pilot hot spot after cooling off in recent years for all but lower-budget broadcast and cable fare.

Warner Bros. TV is doing three pilots in Vancouver (Fox’s “Human Target,” ABC’s “V” and CW’s “Vampire Diaries”); CBS Par has four hours spread among Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal (CW’s “Light Years” and “A Beautiful Life”; CBS’ “The Good Wife” and untitled U.S. attorney drama). ABC Studios has ABC drama “Happy Town” and 20th Century Fox TV has its Fox drama “Maggie Hill” in Toronto.

Warners is also at work in Baltimore with its “Reincarnationist” drama pilot for Fox; CBS Par has CBS medical drama “Three Rivers” lensing in Pittsburgh and the Beltway-centered “Body Politic” presentation for CW filming in Richmond.
ABC Studios has two of its single-camera half-hours in Vancouver: ABC’s “No Heroics” and “Pulling.” Universal Media Studios has single-camera buddy cop comedy “Off Duty” pounding the pavement in Gotham and the single-cam romantic comedy “State of Romance” unfolding in Chi, both for NBC.

Overall, ABC Studios has been among the most active in exploring its options outside of Gotham and Canada. It has two flags planted in Providence with the ABC drama “Empire State” and CBS drama “House Rules,” both of which hail from Mark Gordon Prods., so it made sense to keep them close together. Beantown is home to ABC Studios’ ABC hour “See Cate Run,” while the studio headed south for an Atlanta backdrop to ABC’s untitled Daniel Cerone cop drama.

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Hollywood shoot to bring $150,000-plus to Essex

By Robert Cann

Gloucester Daily Times
March 10, 2009

ESSEX — Adam Sandler’s comedies are known for producing grins.

His next movie, to be filmed this summer in Essex, has already brought smiles to the faces of residents. “It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened in many years,” said Bob Coviello, owner of Main Street Antiques and member of the Essex Merchant group. Selectmen entered into an agreement Monday night with Lakefront Productions Inc. to film a feature movie starring Sandler at the town’s Centennial Grove this summer. “It brings a lot of energy to our town during difficult economic times,” said Selectman Chairman Ray Randall, who added that there will be financial benefits for the town.

The agreement, which gives the production company the right to use Centennial Grove, the Field of Dreams baseball field and “Grove Cottage,” from this week until Sept. 15, will bring the town $150,000 in property use and parking fees. That money, divided evenly into three payments, will go into the general fund for the year in which they’re received, said Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki.
The first two payments — one due this week and a second due May 1, will go into the fiscal 2009 general fund and will be used as free cash, Zubricki said. The third payment will come when the filming is finished.

“It could not come at a better time for us,” said Finance Committee Chairman Jeff Soulard. “This becomes a huge bonus for us that can really help us bridge the gap between now and when we get back to some better economic times.”

Beyond the “financial boon to the town to lease the Grove,” said Coviello, “there will be considerable spill-off, I assume, to local businesses, restaurants and antique shops.”

“It’s a great uplift in terms of spirits,” Coveillo said. “It’s been a long winter.”

Bob Hastings, executive director of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, hailed the film agreement as “a great story not only for Essex, but for all of Cape Ann.” He said that not only will news of the movie bring more tourists to the area, but movie crews will also be renting houses and spending “a tremendous amount of money in the area to support the film.”

The last movie to be shot in Essex was “The Crucible,” which was filmed on Hog Island in 1995. Kurt Wilhelm, of the Essex Historical Commission, said that during filming, Winona Ryder, who starred in the film, lived on Western Avenue.

Hastings said that the agreement to shoot this movie, as well as other recent films that have been shot in the area, are examples of the positive impact of the commonwealth’s recent incentives — most notably an upgrading of the Massachusetts Film Tax Credit in 2006. That package makes companies that spend at least half of their production budget in the state eligible for a tax credit of 25 cents for every dollar of spent in Massachusetts.

“When the government provides economic incentives, you get economic benefits out of it,” Hastings said. Most recently, Mel Gibson was in Rockport filming “The Edge of Darkness” last September and Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds shot many scenes for “The Proposal” — due out in June — in Rockport and other locations throughout Cape Ann last spring.

Randall and Zubricki both said that they do not yet know the movie’s title, or much detail about it. However, Randall said the movie is about “a group of guys who are hanging out together at a summer cottage, and they play basketball and baseball. I assume it’s a comedy, because Adam Sandler’s in it.”

A spokewoman for Happy Madison Productions, which was founded by Adam Sandler and is affiliated with Lakefront Productions Inc., said she could not comment on the movie. The Internet Movie Database ( is reporting that an Adam Sandler project due for a “summer start date” also includes Chris Rock, David Spade, Kevin James and Rob Schneider, but that has not been confirmed.
Lakefront Productions Inc. will turn Grove Cottage into a movie set and will have “exclusive rights to Centennial Grove during the production of the film,” said Randall.

Town officials said selectmen will be contacting any groups that will be displaced by filming to help them find alternative facilities. Randall said that the summer recreation program and teams that use the baseball fields are likely to be impacted by this. The town’s statement also said that Lakefront Productions Inc. will be providing “support and donations for all those affected.” According to the agreement, this includes $6,000 to relocate the Essex MusicFest and $7,000 to relocate seven other Centennial Grove users. The production company will also be donating $3,000 to the Essex Youth Commission, $1,000 to the Essex Council on Aging, and $25,000 to Manchester Essex Little League.

The agreement also specifies that the production company must return the property to the town “in as good condition as when received.”
“It’s a positive benefit to the town of Essex,” Randall said. “A little Hollywood stimulus.”

Robert Cann can be reached at

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NECN: Plymouth Rock Studios takes major step forward – March 09

March 11, 2009

(NECN:Alysha Palumbo) – Plymouth, Massachusetts is celebrating a new project that should create hundreds of jobs. Today, plans to build a new movie studio took a major step forward.

The script is written, the stage is set, and now Plymouth Rock Studios appears to be on the fast track to opening night.

Sen. Therese Murray, President of Massachusetts State Senate: “This is our future – not only for Plymouth, but for Massachusetts.”

After years of planning, it looks like Massachusetts will finally get its 500-million dollar film and television studio complex. The environmentally friendly project will be the first of its kind on the east coast.

Sen. Therese Murray, President of Massachusetts State Senate: “Wise infrastructure investments and the creation of jobs is going to get us on to the road to recovery.”

This is the Waverly Oaks Golf Club – it’s 240 acres of rolling hills and beautiful scenery and it’s soon to be the home of the Plymouth Rock Studios.

David Kirkpatrick, Chairman of Plymouth Rock Studios: “This isn’t just a bricks and mortar operation, this is really a life style – a life style we think can bring tremendous economies to the commonwealth.”

Organizers say this project will not only continue the commonwealth’s current trend of becoming an increasingly desirable place to make movies, but it will provide work in a time when the state’s unemployment rate hovers at 7.4%.

William DeMello, Brockton Building Trades Council President: “They’re going to put 1500 people to work, they’re going to put more people to work after it’s built, they’re going to bring in people to work when they’re making movies, it’s just going to help out the economy in Massachusetts tremendously.”
In an economy when builders have arguably been hit the hardest, this type of work is ray of light in an otherwise dark time.

Frank Callahan, Mass. Building Trades Council President: “It means an awful lot to us, we have roughly 18% unemployment in the construction industry all across the state and to put any of our members to work it would be good even in a good economy, but to do it in an economy like this is really something else.”

And beyond that, State Senate President Therese Murray says green projects like this one will create green collar jobs far into the future.

Sen. Therese Murray, President of Massachusetts State Senate: “If we work together and we make the investments to train current and future generations for these types of jobs, and industry that’s just starting to bloom is going to explode in this state, and more importantly will keep those jobs in Massachusetts for our residents.”

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In Downturn, Americans Flock to the Movies

New York Times
March 1, 2009

LOS ANGELES — Hollywood could get used to this recession thing.

While much of the economy is teetering between bust and bailout, the movie industry has been startled by a box-office surge that has little precedent in the modern era. Suddenly it seems as if everyone is going to the movies, with ticket sales this year up 17.5 percent, to $1.7 billion, according to Media by Numbers, a box-office tracking company.

And it is not just because ticket prices are higher. Attendance has also jumped, by nearly 16 percent. If that pace continues through the year, it would amount to the biggest box-office surge in at least two decades.

Americans, for the moment, just want to hide in a very dark place, said Martin Kaplan, the director of the Norman Lear Center for the study of entertainment and society at the University of Southern California.

“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “People want to forget their troubles, and they want to be with other people.”

Helping feed the surge is the mix of movies, which have been more audience-friendly in recent months as the studios have tried to adjust after the lackluster sales of more somber and serious films.

As she stood in line at the 18-screen Bridge theater complex here on Thursday to buy weekend tickets for “Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience,” Angel Hernandez was not thinking much about escaping reality. Instead, Ms. Hernandez, a Los Angeles parking lot attendant and mother of four young girls, was focused on one very specific reality: her wallet.

Even with the movie carrying a premium price of $15 because of its 3-D effects — children’s tickets typically run $9 at the Bridge — Ms. Hernandez saw the experience as a bargain. “Spending hundreds of dollars to take them to Disneyland is ridiculous right now,” she said. “For $60 and some candy money I can still be a good mom and give them a little fun.”

A lot of parents may have been thinking the same thing Friday, as “Jonas Brothers” sold out more than 800 theaters, according to, and was expected to sell a powerful $25 million or more in tickets.

Other movies kept up their blistering sales pace, too, including “Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail,” about a gun-toting grandma. Even “Taken,” a relatively low-cost thriller starring Liam Neeson, is barreling past the $100 million mark this weekend.

Historically speaking, the old saw that movies do well in hard times is not precisely true. The last time Hollywood enjoyed a double-digit jump in attendance was 1989, when the unemployment rate was at a comfortable 5.4 percent and the Gothic tone of that year’s big hit, “Batman,” seemed mostly the stuff of fantasy. That year, the number of moviegoers shot up 16.4 percent, according to Box Office Mojo, a box-office reporting service.

In 1982, theater attendance jumped 10.1 percent to about 1.18 billion (the top seller was “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”) as unemployment rose sharply past 10 percent. Then admissions fell nearly 12 percent, an unusually sharp drop, in 1985 (the “Back to the Future” year), as the economy picked up — suggesting that theater owners have sometimes found fortunes in times of distress, and distress in good times.

Academic research on the matter is scant. One often-quoted scholarly study by Michelle Pautz, of Elon University, was published by the journal Issues in Political Economy in 2002. Over all, it said, the portion of the American population that attended movies on a weekly basis dropped from around 65 percent in 1930 to about 10 percent in the 1960s, and pretty much stayed there.

The film industry appears to have had a hand in its recent good luck. Over the last year or two, studios have released movies that are happier, scarier or just less depressing than what came before. After poor results for a spate of serious dramas built around the Middle East (“The Kingdom,” “Lions for Lambs,” “Rendition”), Hollywood got back to comedies like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” a review-proof lark about an overstuffed security guard.

“A bunch of movies have come along that don’t make you think too much,” said Marc Abraham, a producer whose next film is a remake of “The Thing.”

Certainly exhibitors are looking for a profit lift in the downturn. A new report from Global Media Intelligence on Friday predicted that the fortunes of movie theater operators like Regal Entertainment and Cinemark Holdings would be “increasingly favorable against a backdrop of highly negative economic news.”

Cinematic quality has little to do with it. The recent crop of Oscar nominees has fared poorly, for the most part, at the box office. Lighter fare has drawn the crowds. “It would take a very generous person to call these pictures anything other than middle-of-the-road, at best,” said Roger Smith the executive editor of Global Media Intelligence.

The box-office surge started just before Christmas with the comedy “Marley & Me,” in which Jennifer Aniston was upstaged by a dog. And it has continued, weekend by weekend, with little sign of let-up, analysts say.

“Watchmen,” a dark superhero film, opens March 6 and is expected to do megawatt business. It is to be followed by “Monsters vs. Aliens,” a 3-D behemoth from DreamWorks Animation that analysts expect to have the biggest March opening ever for a nonsequel.

Movie theaters are already adding 3 a.m. screenings for “Watchmen” next week, and advance sales by online ticket companies like Fandango and have been strong. “Fandango is experiencing the best first quarter in its history for ticket sales,” said Rick Butler, its chief operating officer. “I see no signs of a drop-off.”

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Plymouth movie studio on track, executives say

By Christine Legere
Boston Globe
February 25, 2009

PLYMOUTH – Until now, Plymouth Rock Studios has been little more than a vague vision of a “Hollywood East” being promoted by a team of California film executives interested in building a mega production campus in America’s Hometown. But details of the $422 million facility, which skeptics doubted would survive the economic downturn, are becoming more concrete.

“Funding for the project was tougher than we thought it would be,” Plymouth Rock Studios executive Earl Lestz said yesterday during a presentation at the studio site for a Globe editorial panel. “But we think we’ll make our schedule.”

Rock officials say they are holding the 240-acre Waverly Oaks golf course site with a “seven-figure deposit,” and they expect to close on the land deal in July. The initial plan was to pass papers on the property at the end of 2008.
The target date for opening remains some time in 2010.

Although it is too early to book for movie production, company officials say they are rapidly filling the campus’s million square feet of building space. “We already have the amenity village 80 percent booked, and we’ve got a couple spectacular restaurants,” said Plymouth Rock executive Bill Wynne. The village will feature commercial operations and services, including pharmacies, cleaners, restaurants, hair stylists, a hotel, and more.
Other areas on the film campus are at least 60 percent booked, Wynne said.

Among the future tenants is the MIT Center for Future Storytelling, a graduate program focusing on moviemaking in an increasingly digitized world that will offer a satellite location at the Rock. And the New England Institute of Art also will open a satellite campus there, Susan Lane, the institute’s president, said yesterday at the meeting.
The initial construction phase, set to begin this May or early June, will focus on infrastructure, including an $8 million access road from Route 3 to the studio. Plymouth Rock is awaiting a response from the state to its application for $50 million in state funding to help with those costs.

The company expects to spend $200 million on labor during the construction phase, using union workers. At build-out, the studio predicts it will offer 2,500 jobs on-site and generate another 1,500 in the area, in services related to the studio.

Plymouth Rock has won financial support from C Change Investments LLC, a venture-capital firm based in Cambridge that invests in environmentally friendly and energy-efficient projects. The studio is expected to be certified by the US Green Building Council for its dedication to reduced use of energy and water and reduction of harmful emissions, Plymouth Rock officials said. “It will probably, for the first time, define the meaning of sustainability,” C Change official John Picard said.

Christine Legere can be reached at

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This state’s got star quality

Hollywood film boom a boon for the North Shore

By Ethan Forman
Salem News
February 25, 2009

Filmmaker Erik Nikonchuk of Marblehead stood in a long line with his business card at the ready, waiting to meet the star of yesterday’s North Shore Business Expo. It wasn’t a movie star the 27-year-old producer of commercials, weddings and events wanted to shake hands with at the Sheraton Ferncroft Resort in Danvers, but Nick Paleologos, a former Woburn state representative, now the executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office. Paleologos, as well as a tax credit put in place in 2006, helped bring a boom of blockbusters being shot on locations all over the state, including many on the North Shore.

The film work has pumped hundreds of millions directly into the Massachusetts economy. “The filmmakers find their way out to Taunton and Medfield and Burlington and Rockport and Beverly and Gloucester and Woburn and Lowell and Lynn,” Paleologos said. “So the more they are here, the more they find, the more money they spend.”

*Kate Hudson could be seen in Salem during the shooting of “Bride Wars.”

*Sandra Bullock shot scenes from “The Proposal” at Beverly Airport, Rockport’s Bearskin Neck and in South Hamilton at the Myopia Hunt Club, according to the film office.

*”Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” used the Crane Estate in Ipswich and parts of Beverly as backdrops.

*Producers of the “The Joneses” shot scenes in Peabody, among its many North Shore locations.

Nikonchuk, like others waiting to meet Paleologos, wants a piece of this action. “I thought it was very good to hear what he had to say,” Nikonchuk said, “As a local filmmaker, it validated my decision not to move to New York or California.”

Paleologos credited the state’s film tax credit for the recent spate of filmmaking. With it, studios get a 25-cent tax credit for every dollar they spend here, Paleologos said. From just one movie and $6 million in direct spending in 2005, Massachusetts saw 13 projects totaling $359 million in spending last year, according to figures Paleologos cited from the state Department of Revenue. With the help of the tax credit, Massachusetts has an economic stimulus package all its own, he said.

What’s more, Massachusetts no longer only serves as a backdrop for films set in the Bay State, like “Fever Pitch,” “The Departed,” “The Perfect Storm,” “Mystic River” and “Jaws,” Paleologos said. “‘The Proposal’ is an example of a movie that has nothing to do with Massachusetts, and yet it was shot right here on the North Shore and it’s coming out in a couple of weeks with Sandra Bullock,” he said.

Last year, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” used the Burlington Mall as its backdrop for a mall in New Jersey. Locations in Boston, Bedford and Winchester stood in for Paris and Rome in 2007 for “Pink Panther 2.” “That means millions and millions of dollars being spent here that would have been spent in Vancouver or New York or Connecticut of somewhere else,” Paleologos said.

Last summer for two weeks, the Bruce Willis film “The Surrogates,” staged at North Shore Community College in Lynn, said the college’s president, Wayne Burton, the North Shore Chamber of Commerce chairman. Burton declined to say how much the producers paid to rent the campus for two weeks.

The North Shore may also have some added clout in the state’s budding movie industry as Paleologos lauded the choice of state Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem, as the new chairman of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development on Beacon Hill.
“John will end up being the most important person on Beacon Hill for our industry, the film industry, as well as the tourist industry in Massachusetts,” Paleologos said as the standing-room-only crowd applauded. “It’s a hugely important responsibility, and they couldn’t have picked a better guy for it.”

For Marblehead’s Nikonchuk, the hope is the film industry will continue to call Massachusetts home once the contract dispute between the Screen Actors Guild and the major movie studios is settled. “It won’t be as sporadic, it will be more consistent in the near future,” he said.

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Film office exec describes state as Hollywood East

By David Liscio
The Daily Item
February 25, 2009

DANVERS – Back in the old days, before 2006, Hollywood executives scarcely looked toward Massachusetts as a place to make movies, unless, of course, they were in need of lobster boats, clam shacks and the open sea.

Things have changed dramatically, with film production companies arriving every other month to shoot not only on location but inside vacant buildings used as temporary studios for movies that have nothing whatsoever to do with Massachusetts.

“We’re becoming Hollywood East,” said Nick Paleologos, director of the Massachusetts Film Office and guest speaker Tuesday at the annual North Shore Business Expo at the Sheraton Ferncroft hotel. “Our film tax incentive has made a difference.”

According to Paleologos, the state Legislature in January 2006 sanctioned a significant tax break for film production companies – the Film Tax Incentive Bill. The impact was almost immediate as evidenced by the number of films made in Massachusetts before and after the law was passed.

Citing a state Department of Revenue study, Paleologos said only one movie was filmed in Massachusetts in 2005, feeding about $6 million into the local economy.

In 2006, two films were made, worth about $60 million each in impact revenue. By 2007, the number had jumped to eight and the related local spending to $125 million, but the biggest increase was seen last year, when 13 film projects brought about $359 million into the state’s economy.

“It has been very gratifying,” he said, noting that as directors and producers explore beyond Boston, many towns and cities benefit as they become selected for set locations, Lynn and Salem among them. “The more they’re here, the more they find.”

The tax-break was simply constructed. Studios were told for every dollar spent in Massachusetts they would receive a 25-cent tax credit. More than $90 million was spent on the movie Ashcliffe, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and the state receives income tax revenue from the famous actor’s salary as well as his residuals and royalties, which could continue for 20 years, Paleologos explained.

The cast, crew, extras, and thousands of carpenters, painters, electricians, and other tradesmen and technicians all pay income tax, eat in area restaurants, stay at local hotels, and fill up their vehicles at area gas stations. Movies with big box office stars, like DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro and Bruce Willis, typically spend $2 million a week, according to the film office director whose resume includes experience as a movie director, producer and Tony Award winner.

“Before we had the tax credit, the films made in Massachusetts were about Massachusetts,” he said, referring to titles such as The Perfect Storm, Mystic River, and The Departed. Once the tax credit was allowed, all kinds of movies were made here, most recently Pink Panther II, starring Steve Martin, shot in a Boston warehouse, the interior of which was transformed into scenes from Paris and Rome.
Although Massachusetts is gaining momentum as a center for film, television and new media productions, it faces two major obstacles – seasons of foul weather that make shooting outdoors difficult, and the lack of state-of-the-art sound stages.

Paleologos said three private investment companies are currently competing to spend $500 million to build a sound stage on the South Shore. If successful, the project would position Massachusetts as the strongest center for film and television production in New England, given that the Boston area offers a wide array of natural and urban settings and is home to a large pool of college-educated residents interested in related careers.

Rather than move to California or New York to pursue careers in film and television, they can stay here, Paleologos said.

In New England, only Connecticut poses as stiff competition. Rhode Island was once in the running, but since the state reduced its film tax credits, production companies have shied away, said Paleologos, adding that Louisiana and New Mexico remain tough contenders because they benefit from stable climates.

Paleologos showed a short promotional film about movie-making in Massachusetts, what he likes to call a small sliver of a bright light amid a gloomy national economy. Clips from movies locally made were spliced together, offering a poignant look at just how big a player the state has become in the film industry. Among them: Good Will Hunting, Jaws, Mystic River, School Ties, The Perfect Storm, The Departed, The Cider House Rules, With Honors, Fever Pitch, A Civil Action, and Mona Lisa Smile.

Unmentioned were others, such as Ashcliffe, the DiCaprio film that includes many scenes shot in Nahant; Surrogates, the futuristic thriller starring Bruce Willis, and Edge of Darkness, starring Mel Gibson, the latter two with scenes filmed in Lynn; Bride Wars, starring Kate Hudson, which includes many settings in Salem; The Proposal, starring Sandra Bullock, with Gloucester as a backdrop; Gone Baby Gone, directed by Ben Affleck; and The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, not yet released.

“We’re extremely well positioned for the next 3-4 years,” said Paleologos, explaining that if the ongoing labor dispute between the major studios and the Screen Actors Guild is settled by mid-March, anywhere from eight to 12 movies will likely be made in Massachusetts in 2009.

The business expo, hosted by the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, attracted over 100 exhibitors, thousands of visitors, and featured speaking presentations by U.S. Rep. John F. Tierney and state Senate President Therese Murray, both of whom used the occasion to talk about the economy.

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Film crews may be back in Silver City

By Charles Winokoor
February 7, 2009


Who’s to say Steven Spielberg won’t make his next movie here?

Although it’s too soon to state with any degree of certitude that it will come to pass, the fact is parts of Taunton and North Dighton are being considered as location sites for a major cinematic production about the Civil War and the 16th president of the United States.

As for it possibly being a Spielberg production, the famed director in the spring of 2008 went on the record that he was seriously considering making a movie based on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.”

Liam Neeson — who had acted in Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” — reportedly was anxious to portray Lincoln. Sally Field, it was also reported, was being offered the role of his wife, Mary Todd.

A little over two weeks ago, a Boston-based, professional film-location scout met up with Dick Shafer, Taunton’s economic development director, and spent the better part of the day looking at potential movie set locations in Greater Taunton.

These included Riverfront Park in the Weir Village, the Gertrude M. Boyden Wildlife Refuge off of Cohannet Street and the Three Mile River near the former Dighton Industries complex on Spring Street in North Dighton.

It was the latter, Shafer said, that most interested Jeff MacLean, the proprietor of New England Locations — a company whose résumé boasts of having found sites for such movies as Martin Scorsese’s gangster tale “The Departed” and the Disney Pictures drama “A Civil Action.”

Shafer said Three Mile River’s natural setting behind the industrial complex — with Taunton on one side of its banks and North Dighton on the other — impressed MacLean as a place where a famous Civil War scene involving Lincoln could be recreated.

According to Shafer, the timeline is connected to the historic burning of Richmond, Va. in 1865 by Confederate troops, as they abandoned what had been the Confederacy’s center of government.

Less than two days after the devastating blaze, President Abraham Lincoln landed on the banks of the James River to inspect the smoldering ruins of that once grand, Southern city. 

Shafer noted that MacLean especially appreciated the extent to which the Three Mile River and its surrounding woods at that juncture remain unadorned. 

The only sign of modern technology are some power lines, but those, Shafer said MacLean told him, could easily be removed from the finished product by means of digital technology. 

And by the time shooting starts in the spring, Shafer added, leaves on the trees will have grown back in, further obscuring any sign of contemporary 21st century existence.

MacLean, Shafer said, didn’t make any bones about the fact that the movie in question is to be a Civil War-era saga, and that the director is someone who is quite well known.

“A famous director, somebody as big as Scorsese,” Shafer said, referring to the director who in 2008 recreated a Nazi concentration camp in Taunton’s Whittenton Mills industrial complex.

That Scorsese movie, initially titled “Ashecliffe,” is scheduled to be released next October under the name “Shutter Island.”

Also in 2008, actor Bruce Willis was in the Silver City on the grounds of the state-owned Paul A. Dever School off of Bay Street, shooting scenes for a movie to be called “The Surrogates.”

Shafer said MacLean was referred to the Taunton region by the Massachusetts Film Office — and Taunton, in particular — because of Scorsese having worked here.

He also said it’s no surprise that more big budget movies are being filmed in the Bay State. In 2008 Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a 25 percent film credit; since then “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and “Ashecliffe”, among others, have been made in Massachusetts.

Mayor Charles Crowley has turned into something of an advocate for more movies being filmed here in Taunton. 

Besides the usual publicity, he points out that small businesses on the periphery of those movie sets benefit financially, when crew members spend money on food and other products and services.

“We welcome it,” Crowley said about the possibility of scenes in a movie about Abraham Lincoln could be shot in or near Taunton.

But he was quick to caution that the project is still “in its infancy stages.”

Crowley, a local historian of note, claims that he is a distant relative of Lincoln, whose bicentennial birthday will be celebrated on Thursday, Feb. 12.

Before he was elected president, Lincoln visited Taunton as a congressman in September of 1848, while campaigning for presidential candidate General Zachary Taylor.

He spoke at two locations in the city, most notably in Mechanics Hall at the intersection of Danforth and Hopewell streets in Whittenton, across from where the Reed & Barton company stands, Crowley said.

Shafer said that MacLean also paid a brief visit to the city’s Old Colony Historical Society, where he inspected documents and memorabilia related to Lincoln and his visit to the city.

Peter Merrigan, facility manager of 620 Spring Street Industrial Complex — the North Dighton propoerty that once contained Mount Hope Finishing and, following that, Raytheon Co. — said that he met with MacLean and gave him a tour of the site.

Roughly half of the sprawling complex, including a section directly facing out onto the river, is now being demolished, he said, as a means of cutting energy costs. 

Merrigan said he assumes “there’d be no problem” if a movie company wanted to negotiate an agreement with the owners (known as Landman Omnibus 13 LLC), so that they could rent the land in order to film there.

“We’re in the business of making deals,” Merrigan said

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Oscar Party 2009-1
Oscar Party 2009-3
Oscar Party 2009-2

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MFO Variety Ads celebrating two Massachusetts productions that opened at the top of the national box-office.

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Tom Menino
Mary Lou Crane
Mary Ann Hughes
Andy Given
Cities and Towns 2008

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Movie Production Incentives Are Said to Help New York

New York Times
January 28, 2009

LOS ANGELES – Costly state incentives to lure film production and
jobs may be paying off, at least in New York.

A study of New York’s tax breaks for movie and television production
suggested that a 30 percent credit offered by the state, with an
additional 5 percent offered by New York City, could be expected to
keep or create about 19,500 jobs while yielding $404 million in tax
revenue, at a cost of $215 million in credits.

But the benefits were heavily weighted toward New York City, which
attracted by far the largest share of production with New York-based
television series like “Ugly Betty” and “30 Rock” and movies like
“Notorious,” a rap music drama released by Fox Searchlight this
month. The city collects about 6.4 times as much in taxes from film
as it spends on incentives, the study said.

The study, completed last week, was conducted by the accounting firm
Ernst & Young for both the Motion Picture Association of America and
the film office of New York State.

In recent years, states like New York, Michigan and Louisiana have
used aggressive subsidies to compete for film jobs, but comprehensive
reviews of their impact have been few and far between.

In 2005, a study by the chief economist of Louisiana’s legislative
fiscal office said that state’s incentives, among the country’s
highest, created only a modest number of jobs and did not generate
enough tax revenue to offset their costs.

New York State’s subsidies were raised from 10 percent of qualified
expenditures to 30 percent in April 2008, in a move to stem the flow
of productions to competing states, including Connecticut and

In its assessment, Ernst & Young noted that New York State’s film
office received 100 applications for movie and television shoots from
April 23, when the new subsidy became effective, until the end of the
year. Spending on those projects was estimated at $1.8 billion, up
from $940 million in all of 2007.

Applying the new 30 percent subsidy rate and current tax rates to the
level of activity that occurred in 2007, Ernst & Young figured that
the state would have spent $184.4 million, while getting $208.7
million back in taxes. New York City, meanwhile, would get $195.3
million from a tax credit expenditure of only $30.7 million.

Ernst & Young said it figured about 7,000 jobs were gained or
retained in direct film employment, while an additional 12,500 came
from related economic activity, not counting any increase in tourism

If the subsidies are indeed working for New York, that can only be
bad news for California, the film production capital, which has seen
jobs and income flee and which offers no major subsidies.

Last year, according to FilmLA, which tracks location shoots in Los
Angeles, days of feature film production outside of studio walls fell
14 percent, to 7,043 days, the lowest level since the count began in

(A recent report on the New Mexico film tax credit–also by Ernst & Young–reached similar conclusions. Click here for the full text of the New Mexico report. —MFO)

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Hub films could be ready to roll

By Inside Track
Boston Herald
January 28, 2009

The buzz in the Massachusetts movie biz is that yesterday’s ouster of Screen Actors Guild prez Doug Allen is good news for the locals.

Word is, now that Allen, who was pro-strike, is out of the way, there’s hope for two TV series and a bunch of motion pictures to film in the Bay State.

“We have a handful of planes circling the runway waiting for SAG to ink a deal with the studios before coming in for a landing,” Massachusetts Film Office chief Nick Paleologos told the Track. “I’m expecting somewhere between 8 and 12 major projects this year – depending on how fast SAG re-ups with the studios.”

Roll ’em!

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A cast of hundreds

By Mark Shanahan and Paysha Rhone
Boston Globe
January 26, 2009

Judging from the 700 or so people who showed up at Saturday’s job fair, there’s no shortage of Hollywood hopefuls in the Hub. The daylong forum organized by the Massachusetts Film Office included industry reps, casting agents, and union officials. One panel featured Angela Peri of Boston Casting and Todd Arnow, co-producer of the Bruce Willis film “The Surrogates.”

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Lights, action, Boston jobs

By Laura Crimaldi
Boston Herald
January 25, 2009

A sell-out crowd of 700 people dreaming of a Hollywood ending for their recession job search yesterday got a close-up with film industry professionals hoping to create 3,000 to 5,000 jobs in the Bay State in the coming years.

“This is the one glimmer of hope in an otherwise gloomy economy,” said Nick Paleologos, director of the Massachusetts Film Office.

The daylong exhibit at the InterContinental Boston marked the first time that the state hosted a film industry career fair since tax credits brought Hollywood to the Hub in 2006, Paleologos said. “We are trying to prepare for the next wave of business,” said Paleologos. “We’ve been scrambling to develop the workforce to meet the job demand.”

In 2005, “The Departed” was the only movie filmed in the state. Last year, 13 movies filmed here. Represenatives from Boston Casting, soundstage developers Plymouth Rock Studios and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (Local 481) were on hand.

“Unemployment is rampant, but Hollywood is not going out of business,” said Matt McCormack, 29, an unemployed writer from Hudson, N.H. “It’s good that they are growing here.”

A steady crowd stopped by the Boston Casting table to inquire about a database of 30,000 actors. Feature films need extras of all ages and pay about $100 for a 12-hour work day, said Boston Casting’s Carole Souza.
Jim Baker, 35, a Starbucks barista from Londonderry, N.H., said he’s worked as an extra on the set of “Bride Wars” and “My Best Friend’s Girl.”

“I haven’t had a bad experience as an extra,” said Baker. “It’s very hard to complain about.”
Boston University film student Sara Stenchever, 21, said that she’s interested in a production job when she graduates in May.

“I’ve contacted a lot of companies and sent resumes places,” Stenchever said. “People say, ‘Keep in touch,’ but that’s about it. It doesn’t seem to be a good time right now.”

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