News & Events

Plymouth town meeting approves $400 million studio project

By Tamara Race
The Patriot Ledger
October 28, 2008

PLYMOUTH — The town is closer to being the home of Hollywood East now that town meeting voters have approved zoning and tax agreements that will allow construction of a movie and television production studio on Long Pond Road.

The $400 million project includes plans for 14 sound stages, a 10-acre back lot, a theater, a 300-room hotel in a small village center and an education center. It is planned for the site of the 240-acre Waverly Oaks golf course.

Only three town meeting members opposed the zoning bylaw.

No one opposed the 20-year property tax break agreement that starts with a 75 percent reduction in taxes and gradually decreases over the life of the deal.

Nearly 1,000 people attended the meeting, although only town meeting members could vote.

After brief presentations by planning board members and studio officials, town meeting members voted without discussing the proposals.

They overwhelmingly voted to drop a special-permit requirement from the zoning bylaw. That action will speed the permitting process and eliminate the specter of lengthy legal appeals from neighbors.

The move angered town meeting member William Abbott, who supported the studio project but was adamant about preserving the special-permit provision.

“It’s a very dangerous precedent to eliminate the special-permit process and especially without debate,” Abbott said. “Normally the spirit of town meeting is allowing people to speak. I think (studio supporters) were afraid to hear the arguments for the special-permit process.”

Town Moderator Steve Triffletti disagreed, saying town meeting members were educated about the bylaw and the amendment and were prepared to vote.

Town meeting member Pat Adelmann voted against dropping the special permit, but did not oppose the bylaw once it was amended.

“I’m very disappointed the special permit didn’t pass, but I support the studio project,” she said.

The speed of the approvals confounded Plymouth Rock Studios founder David Kirkpatrick, who expected more of the lengthy debate and discussions that have marked months of community and town board meetings.

“I’m new to the town meeting process,” he said. “I’m flabbergasted. I don’t know why there was not all the debate.”

Kirkpatrick credited all the community meetings that laid the groundwork for the vote.

“We took the town’s temperature and committed to build a New England village development of the 21st century instead of bringing in Hollywood,” he said.

In the end, Kirkpatrick said it was the industry itself that may have swayed the vote.

“Everyone loves movies,” he said.

Studio developers still need state environmental permits for road, water and sewer improvements and the Plymouth Planning Board’s site-plan approval for the studio and access road.

Plymouth Rock Studios development director William Wynne hopes to have those permits in hand by next spring and begin construction late next summer.

He will be filing design plans for site plan review early next month.

Studio officials hope to be operating by 2010.

Tamara Race may be reached at trace@ledger.com.

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Welcome to Hollywood East!

By Tamson W. Burgess
Brockton Enterprise
October 28, 2008

PLYMOUTH – It took a couple of years to get the question to Town Meeting but only a few minutes for Town Meeting to answer.

Inside of the town’s storied Memorial Hall Monday evening, only three of the town’s 126 Town Meeting representatives stood in opposition to the new zoning – the Movie and Entertainment Production Overlay District or MEPOD – that clears the way for Plymouth Rock Studios to build a 240-acre movie studio complex on the land now home to Waverly Oaks Golf Club on Long Pond Road.

The question not only passed with flying colors, it did so with a new twist. Precinct 14 Rep. Michael “Buster” Main asked the meeting to amend the MEPOD to include the traffic plans, which were originally excluded from the as-of-right development provisions created by the new zoning.

Had the traffic plans been left out of the bylaw and subject to the special permit process, some feared – and some threatened – those permits would be appealed, delaying construction for years. That delay, many worried, would drive Plymouth Rock Studios, its plans and its potential promise to another more easily developed location in some other town.

After a lengthy and very “Hollywood” series of presentations from PRS, as well as the Planning Board, the School Department, local business and tourism organizations, all singing the praises and promise of the project, it was clear the meeting had already made up its mind.

Following little to no discussion, Precinct 11 Rep. Ken “I Move the Question” Howe did just that, and representatives voted to close debate on the amendment (81-34) almost before those who had anticipated a serious discussion realized that window of opportunity had closed. The amendment passed easily with an even 100 in favor, 14 opposed and two abstentions. And while the crowd, which filled about a third of the seats surrounding the action on the floor and stage of the hall, reeled at the speed of that vote, the next, even more important decision was completed in record time.

With no discussion, Howe rose again and made the motion to close debate on the amended MEPOD article, and his fellow representatives supported his notion unanimously.

Precinct 12 Rep. Bill Abbott challenged Town Moderator Steve Triffletti on the process. But when Triffletti backtracked to ask if there were any representatives who desired to be heard on the question, only three or four stood and the rest of the meeting let them know they’d already heard enough by again voting to close debate.

There was no need for a roll call vote on the main motion. The ayes were loud and strong, followed by a few random nos, clearly meeting the two-third’s support required for a zoning change. So, as the town’s charter allows, Triffletti merely asked those in opposition to stand and be identified for the record.

Precinct 5 Rep. Laurien Enos and Precinct 8 Rep. Ann Marie Flanagan rose side-by-side near the back of the hall, as all eyes moved toward to the front row and Abbott, who hesitated briefly before rising to his feet to make the count three against.

There was silence for a few seconds as the impact of what had happened sank in. Then a single, random  set of hands began to clap shyly, but the crowd, as if awakened from a stun, caught the wave and the clapping grew into a roar as the public rose to its feet to offer its representatives a rousing standing ovation.

“The spirit of Town Meeting is normally to allow people to speak, “ Abbott said after the meeting adjourned for the evening. He said the decision to remove the special permit process from this project sets a dangerous precedent, particularly without any discussion.

“I voted no because I believe a special permit should be in that article,” he said. “That’s the process that every developer goes through.” He reiterated that he supported the overall project with the special permit provisions for the traffic component.

Immediately following approval of the MEPOD, representatives voted unanimously to approve a Tax Increment Financing (or TIF) agreement for the project. The agreement will grants PRS a 75 percent break in local property taxes for five years beginning in 2011, then dropping incrementally over the next 20 years.  

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Hundreds cheer yes votes for Plymouth film studio

By Christine Legere
Boston Globe
October 28, 2008

PLYMOUTH – Town Meeting easily passed two articles last night that will allow Plymouth Rock Studios to move forward with the construction of a $400 million film studio on a 240-acre golf course, after months of negotiation between local officials and studio executives.

The votes were enough to bring the hundreds of residents who came to watch the deliberations to their feet with raucous cheers and applause.

“I’m flabbergasted,” said Plymouth Rock Studios cofounder David Kirkpatrick. “I’m new to the experience of Town Meeting so I was surprised there wasn’t a lot of debate. We were all out there giving each other high-fives.” Kirkpatrick pledged the studio campus will have the feel of a “New England village in the 21st century rather than Hollywood.”

The first article created the zoning necessary for the film operation, and made the studio an “as-of-right use,” which means no special permits are required. That concession will greatly reduce the chance of appeals being filed that could slow construction at the site on the Waverly Oaks golf course.

Town meeting representatives approved a zoning change to allow for a film studio with only three of the 116 present voting against it. An earlier vote approved the removal of a special permit requirement that was in the package, related to traffic and access, with 100 in favor, 14 opposed, and two abstentions.

The Globe had mistakenly reported the main vote on the zoning change vote had passed with 100 in favor and 14 opposed.

The second article afforded the studio a series of exemptions from local real estate taxes over the next 20 years.

The Tax Increment Financing package passed quickly on a voice vote with no debate. The package will give the studio a 75 percent tax break on its real estate taxes for the first five years. That exemption will gradually decrease to 10 percent by the 20th year of the deal.

“We knew it was going to be a good night for us because everyone on both sides had worked so hard,” said Plymouth Rock executive Thom Black. He and Kirkpatrick promised news of “some very big plans” by mid-November.

Studio officials, who will now prepare a formal site plan for Planning Board review, hope to begin construction by the spring.

A study done for the town by a consulting firm estimates the film operation will generate 3,160 full-time jobs and an annual payroll of $168.6 million. The studio is also expected to bolster tourism for the town.

“This isn’t just a great thing for the town. It will be major, from an economic perspective, for the whole region,” said Pasquale Ciamarella, executive director of the Old Colony Planning Council.

Loring Tripp, a former chairman of the Planning Board and a supporter of Plymouth Rock Studios, said, “I think the Town Meeting representatives realized the momentum was there, that the public wanted this.”

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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NECN: Plymouth, MA residents approve plan for movie studio – Oct 08

(October 28, 2008 NECN) – People in Plymouth, Massachusetts say they want their town to become Hollywood East. By a nearly unanimous vote Monday night at the Plymouth town meeting, residents approved a plan to build a movie studio at the site of Waverly Oaks golf course. They also supported a series of exemptions from local real estate taxes.

Plymouth Rock Studios says the $400-million project will create thousands of jobs and that they hope to begin construction by the spring.

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WCVB: Small Town May Become Hollywood Hub – Oct 08

Officials Set To Vote On Movie Studio Project Monday
(click here for video story)

Click on the link above to see NewsCenter Five’s Lynn Jolicoeur’s October 26th 2008 report that officials in Plymouth will vote on Monday on a proposed $500 million project to construct a movie studio in the town.

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MASS. MARKET: Film industry infrastructure is key to attracting TV productions to the state.

By Jon Chesto
The Patriot Ledger
October 26, 2008

QUINCY — The protagonists of the new science fiction show on Fox recently investigated bizarre deaths in a Worcester office tower, a grimy warehouse in Stoughton and a cozy diner in Milford. All these gruesome scenes that have opened various episodes of “Fringe,” an offbeat hybrid of “The X-Files” and the CSI franchise, should be translating into big bucks for the local film industry. But we’re not seeing any of the production company’s money because the Boston-set series is being shot in Brooklyn.

Massachusetts has enjoyed a renaissance in movie production in the last two years because of aggressive tax incentives that the Legislature created. But this state has gone more than a decade without a full-scale TV series production – despite the fact that it seems like a new show debuts every year that’s set in the Bay State. Sure, a few building exteriors might appear in a David Kelley show such as “The Practice” or “Boston Legal,” but that’s not much help for the area’s economy.

Local industry leaders are crossing their fingers that the dry run could be coming to an end now that two TV pilots are expected to be shooting here by the end of the year. One of them, Spike TV’s two-hour pilot based on an Irish mob, seems definite. The other, a TNT drama known as “Bunker Hill” and starring Donnie Wahlberg and Bridget Moynahan, also looks likely.

Chris O’Donnell, business manager of IATSE Local 481, says the last series that was shot here was the short-lived cop drama “Against the Law” in 1990. Of course, nearly everyone in the local film industry talks with great reverence about the days in the 1980s when “Spencer: For Hire” crews were as common on Boston streets as duck boats are now. O’Donnell isn’t the only person who refers to that series as the “Holy Grail.”

Securing a TV series is important because it creates a steady stream of employment for film workers in the area. Movie productions can come and go in a feast-or-famine style, but anywhere from a dozen to two dozen episodes for a given TV series will be ordered at a time. A series could eventually help ensure there’s a surplus of potential crew staffers on hand and an expanded infrastructure to help when a movie company is considering shooting a film here.

The already-established crew base, sound stages and sets in L.A. and New York are key reasons why most TV shows are shot in those two cities. But there are important exceptions in every TV season. For example, the Showtime series “Brotherhood,” which was originally envisioned for Boston, has wrapped up a third season in Providence, where the city is as important a character as any of the ones played by the actors.

O’Donnell says the tax incentives that many states have put in place – Rhode Island and Massachusetts both offer film companies a 25-percent tax credit on production spending – in recent years make it much more affordable for TV shows to be produced where their scripts actually take place.

Nick Paleologos, executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office, says he’s not worried about the growing competition from other states that are trying to outdo Rhode Island and Massachusetts by increasing the size of their own credits. New York recently tripled its film and TV tax credits to 30 percent, and Michigan raised its maximum credit to 42 percent. Paleologos says the current level in Massachusetts is more sustainable than Michigan’s because it properly balances the interests of taxpayers with those of the movie industry.

But he says that construction of a major sound-stage project – like the one that will be considered at Plymouth’s town meeting Monday – could play a crucial role. Such a project, he says, would help prove that this area has the infrastructure to support a TV series, especially during New England’s infamously unpredictable winters.

We shouldn’t get our hopes up just yet. Most pilots don’t get picked up to be full-fledged series, and not all series return to the location where their pilot was filmed. (The pilot for “Fringe,” for example, was shot in Toronto before the series moved to Brooklyn.) But Paleologos says a pilot’s location is often a crucial factor for determining the eventual home of a successful series.

This area has long been a popular setting for TV shows, from blockbusters such as “Cheers” and “St. Elsewhere” to less successful programs like “Boston Common” and “It’s All Relative.” Hopefully, the next time producers come up with a way to portray Boston on the small screen, they’ll also find a way to get it right – by making their stories come to life right here.

Jon Chesto, The Patriot Ledger’s business editor, may be reached at jchesto@ledger.com .

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As Massachusetts Development Begins to Fold, Hollywood and Casinos are Next Safe Bet

By Scott Van Voorhis
Banker And Tradesman
October 13, 2008

Construction is slowing down around Boston and across the Bay State after an historic boom. You can wave goodbye to grandiose plans for skyline topping towers, until the next boom that is. But there are two things I wouldn’t bet against, especially in a downturn: Hollywood and casinos.

As the office tower builders pack it in, another crop of developers is waiting in the wings. One group wants to make Massachusetts Hollywood East. The other would like to bring Las Vegas, or at least a replica or two of Foxwoods, to the state.

And as the general economy tanks, the fortunes of aspiring movie studio chiefs and would-be casino builders is likely to rise.

Let’s start with the movie business.

Tim Pappas, an amateur film producer and South Boston condo builder, is pushing ahead with his ambitious plan for a movie production complex in South Boston.

After having briefed City Hall on his plans, he is now preparing to take his plans to the South Boston neighborhood for a crucial community hearing on his plans, state Rep. Brian Wallace (D-South Boston) told me.

In the works is a sizeable movie production complex, with at least a couple sound stages and the opportunity to expand as business grows. One of South Boston’s more prolific developers, Pappas is looking to build on a vacant lot he owns at the corner of West First and E streets.

Wallace said Pappas’ plans are especially refreshing after a steady stream of meetings with developers whose plans to build in once–booming Southie have stalled.

“He is planning a good–sized project,’’ Wallace said. “He has the money.’’

Not alone, former top Paramount executive David Kirkpatrick is forging ahead with his plans for a sprawling, $300 million-plus movie complex in Plymouth.

Both projects, however, are better bets than office buildings or, even worse, another luxury condo project.

It’s hard to see demand growing anytime soon for more office space, especially with a likely round of layoffs coming after the market madness starts to hit home.

But hard times have traditionally been a boon to the movie industry. The 1930s were a golden age for Hollywood as millions sought escape from the harsh realities of Depression-era life in darkened theaters.

The same logic should eventually help would-be casino developers, though that industry has seen its own revenues decline amid the economic downturn.

Still, some of that fall-off has been tied to high gas prices. Gamblers have been turning to slot machine halls closer to home, such as Rhode Island’s Twin Rivers, over Connecticut’s more distant casinos.

Imagine, then, what kind of business a casino at Suffolk Downs in East Boston, or out on Interstate 495, might do?

Whatever the case, there are at least four different prospective casino developers quietly at work across Eastern Massachusetts.

It’s a lineup that includes Sheldon Adelson, the Dorchester boy who heads one of the world’s largest gaming companies, Las Vegas Sands, and veteran casino developer Richard Fields, the lead investor at the Suffolk Downs racetrack. Other groups are taking out options on land in New Bedford, Palmer and in the Milford area.

It may be hard to get the financing to build a mega resort given the meltdown on Wall Street, but a slimmed down casino might fit the current market just right, said one developer exploring plans for a Massachusetts casino.

And the casino crowd is betting that recalcitrant Bay State lawmakers, with state finances now in freefall, will finally see the light and roll the dice.

“Everything tells you if you don’t put a proposal together now, you are a making a big mistake,’’ the would-be developer said.

Back when times were better, the anti-sin-and-fun crowd was busy dismissing the idea of casinos and movie studios in the boring old Bay State.

Bills to provide tax credits to help a proposed, $300 million-plus studio complex to get off the ground in South Weymouth were slammed as a bad deal for the public.

Casinos were derided by State House jobs as bad bets as well.

While that was just a few months ago, it is also now a world and a stock market crash away.

And with jobless rates rising and construction sites silent, neither idea looks so bad right now.

The Entertainment Industry During a Recession

The stability of the entertainment industry in times of economic stress has been proven time and again dating all the way back to its first test, the Great Depression. It seems inconceivable that a time when 25% of American families had no income could spawn such hits as King Kong and Gone with the Wind, the highest grossing domestic movie of all time (when adjusted for inflation).[i] It is a well known fact that when times get tough people find other areas to cut back such as travel, preferring to hold on to less expensive escapes and experiences.

According to Market Tools 2008 Insight Report on American Spending, 54% of those surveyed said they planned to cut back this year on travel and vacations. Julia Boorstin from CNBC explained the term “staycation,” to mean more people staying close to home, playing video games and watching TV. And the statistics seem to bear this out with airlines slashing routes in 2008, like Southwest and US Airways cutting back Las Vegas flights by a dozen and thirty respectively. Delta and Northwest also cut capacity by 10 percent and 5 percent.[ii] Yet, North American television shipments in the second quarter of 2008, jumped 28% from the previous year. And video games are being referred to as the new recession proof industry with a gain of 27% in 2008.

In 2001, the last time the economy slumped, monthly aircraft departures plummeted by 15 percent from the previous year’s totals. However, during this same period, post 9-11 and in the midst of the dot-com bubble burst, movie attendance, after suffering an intitial dip, rebounded strongly, outdoing the $7.7 billion of 2000 with 2001’s tally of $8.5 billion. This success is not owed to a rise in ticket prices either. The actual number of movies people see in a year tends to rise in recessionary periods.[iii]

Whether it is in spite of or because of the recession, there is a great need for people to escape to the comfort of social experiences and family outings. Indeed, the Great Depression, the attacks of September 11, and the recessions of the early 1980s and 2000, all drove people to the box office in great numbers, showing that the movie business may be “countercyclical to the economy.”

Throughout the years the business of entertainment has come to be known as a “recession proof” industry, with box office grosses rising during five of the last seven economic downturns, including the 70s oil crisis, when movie-ticket sales went from $1.9 billion in 1974 to $2.1 billion in 1975. And during the energy crisis of the early 80s, sales still climbed steadily from $3 billion in 1981 to $3.5 billion in 1982.

One study, conducted over the summer of 2008, by a cultural trend tracking firm found that nearly half of adults reported cutting back on health foods and products, yet 43% reported spending more on their homes with consumer electronics at the top of the list, including televisions and video games. Even DVD player penetration continues to rise, doubling over the past five years, reaching 87% in 2007.[iv]

As people increasingly monitor their spending, movies continue to reign at the top of the entertainment list as a good value, especially when compared to sporting events or concerts. In fact, in 2007, movies continued to attract more people in the United States than either theme parks or the major sports combined.[v]

And in a business that is product driven, meaning, “Money concerns typically haven’t been what keeps people glued to their sofas. People decide whether to go to the movies based on how compelling the films are,” says Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers, a box office analysis firm. Again the numbers bear this out with the domestic box office continuing its climb, up 5.4% in 2007, reaching $9.63 billion.[vi] What you will see, if anything is people cutting back on concessions. And 2008 is on track to be another record year with first quarter revenues running 4% ahead of last year’s, according to Media By Numbers.

For production companies it is still business as usual. Media Rights Capital, a prominent independent production company, closed in September on a $350 million revolving credit fund. “In a credit climate that on its surface has completely shut down, this deal proves there is money available. Banks are still in the business of putting money to work,” says Marni Wieshofer, a senior vice president of Media Rights Capital. And Steven Spielberg just secured $700 million in credit to start a new production company in partnership with Reliance Big Entertainment of India.[vii]

Statistics

· North American television shipments in the second quarter of 2008 jumped 28% from the previousyear, the largest leap in at least four years – Danny King, TVWeek.com, August 15, 2008

· Digital cable subscriptions grew 5% in 2007 – 2007 Additional Theatrical Statistics, MPAA

· In 2002, after the dot-com bubble burst, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 22%, yet videogaming revenues increased 43% — istockanalyst.com

· Employment in the Motion Picture Industry in the midst of the recession grew 6% during the period from 2001 to 2002 – Additional Theatrical Statistics, MPAA
· In 2007, movies continue to draw more people than either theme parks or the major sports combined in the U.S. – 2007 Theatrical Market Statistics, MPAA

· Domestic box office grew 5.4% in 2007, reaching $9.63 billion – 2007 Theatrical Market Statistics, MPAA

Average Ticket Prices:

Football Game $65.25

Basketball $46.75

Hockey $44.60

Theme Park $35.30

Baseball $23.50

Movie $6.88

· In 2007, worldwide box office reached an historic high with a 4.9% increase, reaching $26.72 billion – 2007 Theatrical Market Statistics, MPAA

· Domestic theater admissions held steady at 1.4 billion tickets in 2007, on par with 2006 – 2007 Theatrical Market Statistics, MPAA

· The Dark Knight, released July 2008, set an all-time opening weekend record with $158 million – BoxOfficeMojo.com

· During the Great Depression box office receipts soared 22% — istockanalyst.com

· Released in 1933, Gone with the Wind went on to be the all-time top grossing domestic film (adjusted for inflation) – BoxOfficeMojo.com

[i] Micahel Lev-Ram, “The box office indicator: When times get tough consumers bee line to the movies,” CNNMoney.com, August 22, 2008.
[ii] Daniel Gross, “Clear Skies, Empty Runways,” Slate.com, April 12, 2008.
[iii] Rebecca Winters Keegan, “Hollywood to Recession: Bring it!” Time, March 21, 2008.
[iv] Motion Picture Association of America, “2007 Additional Theatrical Statistics.”
[v] Motion Picture Association of America, “2007 Theatrical Market Statistics.”
[vi] Motion Picture Association of America, “2007 Movie Attendance Study.”
[vii] Brooks Barnes, “In Hollywood, credit remains, at least for a few big names,” New York Times, September 22, 2008.

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Plymouth studio consultants predict millions in taxes, wages and fees

By Tamara Race
The Patriot Ledger
October 08, 2008

PLYMOUTH — Thousands of jobs, millions in tax revenue and few demands on town services. That’s what Plymouth’s financial consultants say the town can expect from the proposed Plymouth Rock Studios project.

Town officials now have to decide how much to give up in a property tax break to secure state funding for infrastructure improvements. Town meeting must approve a property tax break for the studio project to make it eligible for the state infrastructure funding. The property tax break also qualifies the studio for a 5 percent income tax credit.

Plymouth Rock Studios officials want to build a movie and television production studio on 240 acres of the Waverly Oaks golf course property.

The project, they said, will include 14 sound stages, a back lot, a village center with hotel and an education center.

Communities Opportunities Group of Boston and Jeffrey Donohoe Associates in Manchester, N.H., drafted an economic analysis of the project using industry data, information from other studio developments in New Mexico and Wilmington, N.C., and the Plymouth Rock Studios development plan.

Donohoe on Tuesday night told selectmen and members of the town finance committee that the project would likely generate more than 3,000 jobs and $168 million in wages.

Those workers, in turn, would generate about 2,500 more jobs and another $147 million in wages, Donohoe said.

But it may take several years for the studio to realize its full economic potential, he warned.

Based on a $400 million value at buildout, the project would generate nearly $4 million in property tax revenue annually and cost the town about $786,000 in services, mostly police and fire, the report states.

More revenues would flow from hotel room taxes and permit fees.

The project would bring $30 million to $50 million in state funding for road, water and sewer improvements, much of which the town already needs without the studio project.

Numerous other commercial projects in Plymouth have received similar tax breaks.

Pinehills developers received an 85 percent property tax break for a proposed hotel and conference center in their 3,000-acre mixed use development not far from the studio site, but the hotel was never built.

Economic Development Director Denis Hanks says most other project received a tax break of 25 percent or less.

The tax breaks are negotiated based on jobs, wages and property values created by each project, Hanks said. Any tax break town meeting votes would gradually decrease over the course of the term, usually 20 years, and disappear completely at the end of the period.

If the project does not deliver on its estimate the property tax break can be rescinded or renegotiated. Town officials are negotiating the terms of Plymouth Rock Studios’ property tax break.

Tamara Race may be reached at trace@ledger.com.

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Mass. movie studio could generate millions

Associated Press
October 8, 2008

PLYMOUTH, Mass. (AP) – Financial consultants say a proposed $300 million movie studio in Plymouth could generate thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue while putting few strains on town services.

Consultants on Tuesday presented their findings to town officials, who are trying to decide how much to give up in a property tax break to secure state funding for infrastructure improvements.

Plymouth Rock Studios officials want to build a movie and television production studio on 240 acres in town. The project includes 14 sound stages, a back lot, a hotel and an education center.
Consultants say the project would likely generate more than 3,000 jobs and $168 million in wages, although it could take several years for the studio to realize its full economic potential.

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No vacancy: Plymouth Rock Studio’s Oct. 15 jobs forum is filled

By Tamara Race
The Patriot Ledger
October 08, 2008

PLYMOUTH — Plymouth Rock Studios says an Oct. 15 jobs forum for people interested in working at the proposed film studio is booked to capacity. It will be held in Plymouth’s 1,400-seat Memorial Hall. All spots for the presentation were taken after just three days of online registration, the company said.

After turning away hundreds at their last job forum at Plymouth South High School, studio officials moved to Memorial Hall.

The hundreds turned away at the first event received tickets guaranteeing them a seat at the October forum. The remaining seats were filled with online registration.

Online registration for the final job forum Nov. 12 forum will begin Oct. 16.

Those interested should visit www.plymouthrockstudios.com

Studio officials say the job forums are the first step in building a local work force for the state’s fledgling movie and entertainment-production industry.

Those attending will learn what kinds of jobs are available at the studio and can be added to the studio’s data base of those interested in training for the positions.

Plymouth Rock Studios founder David Kirkpatrick and his development partners want to build what they say will be an energy-efficient movie and production studio on the 240-acre Waverly Oaks golf course off Route 3 at Exit 3.

The $350 million, 2-million-square-foot project includes plans for 14 sound stages, a theater, a 10-acre back lot, production offices, a village center with a 300-room hotel, shops and restaurants and an educational center.

Gensler, an international design and architectural firm with offices in Boston and experience in movie studio development, is designing the project.

Before it moves forward, the project needs a zoning change from town meeting, an agreement with selectmen guaranteeing infrastructure improvements and state funding approval to pay for those improvements.

Studio officials hope to have permitting in place by next spring and begin construction by late summer for a 2010 opening.

Plymouth Rock Studios would shoot its own productions as well as leasing the facility to other producers.

Tamara Race may be reached at trace@ledger.com.

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Plymouth Rock Studios spotlights jobs

By Sarah Shemkus
Cape Cod Times
September 25, 2008

PLYMOUTH — Hollywood hasn’t come to town quite yet, but the hundreds of people who flocked to Plymouth South High School last night are ready and waiting for its arrival.

“I’m enthralled with the idea of having a movie studio come to Massachusetts,” Plymouth resident Conni DiLego said. “I think it’s an exciting adventure.”

DiLego was part of an enthusiastic and unexpectedly large crowd that filled the high school auditorium to attend Jobs on the Lot, a presentation about the jobs that would be created by the proposed Plymouth Rock Studios.

A half-hour before the event was scheduled to begin, lines stretched down the sidewalk and around the corner. When the doors opened, 400 people were admitted. At least as many were turned away with guarantees of entrance to one of the future presentations, scheduled for October and November, said Bob Melley, director of business relations for the studio.

“It’s surprising,” he said of the crowd. “We’re very excited about the support we’ve been shown by the community.”

The plans for the $422 million Plymouth Rock Studios include 14 sound stages, office buildings, post-production facilities, a 900-seat theater, restaurants, a visitor’s center, and a 10-acre back lot.

The studio is to be built on land currently owned and occupied by the Waverly Oaks Golf Club.

Studio organizers estimate construction, maintenance and operations of the new facility would generate 2,000 jobs with a total payroll of $150 million.

Peter Fleury, the studio’s executive director of operations, assured attendees that the positions would be open to local residents. “There have been rumors that there is going to be some massive Los Angeles relocation,” he said. “I just want to knock down those rumors right now — that’s not going to happen.”

In a presentation punctuated by film clips, representatives from the studio outlined the three main categories of jobs that would be available: construction, staff and operations, and production.

Construction, which is expected to begin in spring 2009 and continue until summer 2010, could employ as many as 200 tradesmen in union jobs, said presenter Scott Gustafson, regional organizing coordinator for the Laborers Union.

Plans are in the works, he said, to form a collaborative between the studio and the high school’s vocational programs.

“We’re going to give (the students) good wages and the best benefits you can find,” he said, to resounding applause.

Staff and operations jobs include employees needed to keep the studio running on a daily basis from accountants to maintenance workers.

Production jobs include positions involved in the filmmaking process such as hair styling, make-up and camera operations. Minimum weekly salaries for production jobs would range from $700 to more than $3,000, according to figures presented last night. Some positions had an earnings potential of more than $250,000 per year.

Across town, Plymouth’s advisory and finance committee last night discussed a town meeting warrant article calling for the creation of a special zoning district to facilitate the development of the studio. The committee was scheduled to vote on whether to recommend the article. As of the Times’ press deadline, the results of the vote were not available.

‘Jobs on the Lot’ events

Dates: Oct. 15 and Nov. 11
Time: 7 to 10 p.m.
Place: Plymouth South High School

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Mass Film Office bringing the stars to the area

Newburyport Daily News
By Katie Farrell

September 22, 2008

MERRIMAC — It’s not every day that a major Hollywood production is filmed on the North Shore. But with Matthew McConaughey, Michael Douglas and Mel Gibson in our midst this summer, it becomes clear those days are becoming more common.

As “Edge of Darkness,” starring Mel Gibson continues shooting this week in Merrimac on River Road, the possibility of more star sightings and movie crews in local communities continues to build. But how does a Mel Gibson decide that the Rocks Village bridge in Merrimac would be the perfect setting for his film?

It starts with a call to the Mass. Film Office.

With much of the film being shot in Northampton, the company was looking for a site that resembles the Connecticut River — which the Merrimack does. Nick Paleologos, the executive director of the Mass. Film Office, said he’s proud that Hollywood isn’t just coming to the state and just staying in Boston. “It isn’t just Boston, it’s everywhere, and that’s the most gratifying part of this,” he said, adding that the “Edge of Darkness” has also filmed in Deerfield, Taunton and Beverly, among other places. “It’s everywhere, and the more, the merrier.”

Seventeen major productions have shot in Massachusetts in less than three years. Several more are in production. North Shore locations have included Ipswich, North Andover, Rockport, Gloucester, Marblehead and Plum Island. “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” was filmed at the Crane Estate in Ipswich earlier this summer, starring McConaughey and Douglas. An independent film dubbed “The Jones” filmed around Newburyport.

Paleologos said his office works with producers in finding appropriate scenes and film-friendly places throughout the state. Once a script is determined to be right for filming in Massachusetts, his office will break the script down into locations — whether it’s a seacoast town, an urban city or a suburb — and choose places in that region where shooting could occur. They then send photographs of different sites to the producers. “Where they select is wholly their decision,” Paleologos said. “It’s all up to the eye of the director. They’ve got a certain thing in mind.”

To determine shooting locations, the office works with the movie’s location scout. “Eventually, they’ll settle on a handful of locations, then the director will come out and spend a day or two in the state, going to those places,” he said. “If they like what they see in person, that’s when they make their final decision.”

The competition can be tough, Paleologos said, adding that if a seacoast town is what the producers are looking for, they could be looking at 3 or 4 different states. One big part of what is making the state more attractive to Hollywood these days, however, is its new tax credit program. Studios, major producers and filmmakers, who shoot at least half of their movie or spend at least half of their production budget in the state, are eligible for a tax credit equal to 25 percent of their total spending in Massachusetts, inclusive of any salaries over $1 million.
But they can’t just pick and choose their spot. To shut down roads and impact the local environment, town officials are involved too.

Since the filming in Merrimac is being done on a river and will involve a scene where a car drives off the road and into the Merrimack River, the town’s conservation office had to agree to it. Robert Prokop, chairman of the Merrimac Conservation Commission, said the town’s conservation agent was first contacted over the summer. The town has since been in discussions with the location manager, the director and the stunt coordinator, even meeting them at the scene to go over the area beforehand. They can’t just tear up the local landscape.

“We set them specifications of what they could and couldn’t do,” Prokop said. The crew can’t cut down any trees or shrubs, for instance. The car that enters the river won’t have any fluids — or even an engine — inside. The car can’t be pulled out along the bank and must be taken out via a crane or from a boat ramp. “We felt that no damage was going to occur,” Prokop said.

It’s important for a location to be “film-friendly,” Paleologos said, and that there aren’t a lot of obstacles to the shooting. Once in a city or a town, the company does spend money, he said, adding that they buy supplies, visit the merchants and use the hotels. Often, if they want to use a particular place — like a ball field— they might fix it up or make any necessary improvements, something that is welcomed by communities during tough fiscal times.
“A lot of that is going on,” Paleologos said.

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Planning board unanimously recommends movie studio bylaw

Unanimous vote surprises many at planning meeting

By Tamara Race
The Patriot Ledger
September 16, 2008

PLYMOUTH — Unanimous planning board support for a movie and television production zone on the Waverly Oaks golf course property surprised many of the more than 100 residents who have followed the process for months.

Many thought it would only squeak by on a 3-2 vote with Malcolm MacGregor and Lawrence Rosenblum opposing. But both sided with Paul McAlduff, William Wennerberg and Marc Garrett in voting to recommend Monday night that town meeting approve the zoning bylaw Oct. 27.

“I was surprised because Lawrence Rosenblum openly opposed us,” Plymouth Rock Studios founder David Kirkpatrick said. “That (Rosenblum’s support) was a shocker.”

Kirkpatrick said his company was still willing to make changes to the bylaw if necessary to make the studio project a reality.

Rosenblum says he’s not opposed to the project but wants to see it done right.

“I love the concept,” he said. “It’s an unusual opportunity with potential benefits great enough to make it worth stretching for. If we can pull this off, Plymouth will have the roots of a very, very exciting future.”

MacGregor said doesn’t care to see movie stars walking through America’s Hometown, but he set aside his personal feelings during the review process.

While he wanted maximum building heights reduced by 10 feet and fewer housing units, they were not make-or-break issues for his support.

Putting traffic and road improvements into a special permit process made the rest of the bylaw easier to deal with, he said.

Kirkpatrick wants to build a movie and television production studio on the 240-acre Waverly Oaks site on Long Pond Road about a mile northwest of Clark Road and Exit 3 of Route 3.

The project would include 14 sound stages, a hotel, a screening theater, a village center, an education center and housing for artists.

Neighbor Joe DeSilva said he is concerned that the project would disrupt the rural quiet of Long Pond Road with excessive noise and traffic.

He and others, including town meeting member William Abbott, say the bylaw should require a phased approach to ensure neighbors are protected if noise and traffic projections are wrong.

Studio officials say they may build the project in phases, but want it permitted with one site-plan review.

Multiple discretionary reviews midway through construction are unacceptable, Plymouth Rock Studios development coordinator William Wynne said.

The project needs zoning approval from town meeting in October, subsequent special permits for traffic and road improvements, an agreement with selectmen guaranteeing the roadwork and state environmental permits.

Tamara Race may be reached at trace@ledger.com.

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Metal band films video at Orpheum

By DON CUDDY
New Bedford Standard-Times
September 15, 2008

NEW BEDFORD — The Orpheum Theater stage saw a lot of acts during its heyday from 1912 to 1958, when it closed its doors, but none like the band that took the stage on Sunday. The theater’s ambience went from historic to headbanger when Unearth, a Boston heavy metal band, blew the cobwebs away while filming a music video for the MTV2 show called “Headbanger’s Ball.”

Cameras, sound booms, lighting equipment and cables crowded the area in front of the stage as the old walls reverberated to the thunderous sounds. “It’s really cool here, it’s dusty and kind of dilapidated,” vocalist Trevor Phipps said as the band paused during filming. “We tour all the time but we’ve never been in New Bedford before.”

The band had been seeking a suitable location for the video of the song “My Will Be Done” to promote its upcoming album, “The March,” its fourth, on Metal Blade records. The album will be released next month.

For the past 10 years, the band has toured extensively both here and overseas, and has played throughout Europe, including in Russia, and in Australia and Japan, according to Mr. Phipps. The band’s video production company, MyGoodEye of Brooklyn, N.Y., initiated the search for a location. “The band is based in Boston, so first we called film commissions in all the Northeast states. The Massachusetts Film commission told us New Bedford was film-friendly,” video producer Allison Woest said. “We contacted the city and they were very helpful. They sent us some pictures and we really liked this location. “Actually, it’s even better than the pictures. This band has a huge sound and they needed a big space to match that visually. This place is massive and the way it looks fits right in with metal.”

City tourism director Anne Marie Lopes coordinated the band’s visit and obtained permission to use the theater. “They really liked all the features here that are original,” she said. “You really can’t find another venue this unique.”

The exposure will help the city in its efforts to promote itself as an attractive location for any type of production. “Just in the past year we’ve had a 19th century PBS special, the contemporary film shot at On a Roll recently, and now we have heavy metal. It’s all good news for New Bedford,” she said.

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MASS VOTERS SUPPORT FILM CREDITS

by Leslie Brokaw
Boston Sunday Globe
September 14, 2008

Public opinion is tilting strongly toward the initiatives of the Massachusetts Film Office to bring more filmmaking to the state: Almost two thirds of state voters polled last month say the tax credits for production companies are a good thing.

Here is the exact wording of the question: “A recent tax credit for movie companies has resulted in 14 movies made in Massachusetts in the past 12 months. Proponents say the tax credit is good because it brings added jobs and new money into the state. Opponents say that a tax credit for movie companies is bad policy because it costs the state more than it is worth, given other state programs that need revenue. Which is closer to your view?”

Sixty-three percent said the credits are good, 22 percent said they’re bad, and 15 percent were undecided.

The question was put to 400 registered voters statewide by 7NEWS/Suffolk University.

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Plymouth Rock Studios scores hit with townspeople

Studio officials show residents how 30- to 40-foot-high, tree-lined earthen berms that would screen any view of studio sound stages and mute any noise from inside.

By Tamara Race
GATEHOUSE NEWS SERVICE
Aug 26, 2008

PLYMOUTH — Plymouth Rock Studios officials wowed planners and residents and did it without special effects, stunts, song or dance.

Studio officials showed residents how 30- to 40-foot-high, tree-lined earthen berms along Long Pond Road and Bump Rock Road would screen any view of studio sound stages and mute any noise from inside.

They also gave an overview of their intended design strategies for the entire Plymouth Rock Studios site.

Alex Fernandes, architectural designer for Plymouth Rock Studios’ design firm Gensler Associates presented a video montage of his design ideas and inspirations to make the world class studio a unique destination nationally and internationally.

The presentations drew praise from both planners and residents.

“This was a terrific presentation,” planning board member Malcolm MacGregor said. “I hope we can fashion the regulations and laws to make it a reality.”

“It was magnificent,” board member Paul McAlduff said. “That’s what we want from you: magnificence.”

Leon Lopes, who lives a mile north of the studio’s proposed Waverly Oaks Golf Course site was equally impressed.

“I think this was a turning point in the process,” he said. “Everyone in the room was stunned. It’s the first time we really got to see what things might look like.”

Lopes hoped the presentation would begin to win over critics of the project.

“No one could not like what they saw here tonight,” town meeting member and chairman of the precinct chair committee, Paul Luszcz, said. “Their intentions are wonderful. Now we have to write the laws that will reflect that intention.”

Luszcz said the debate over a special-permit versus allowed-use process still rages.

“I know it can happen,” he said. “And they (studio officials) have expressed a willingness to do so, but we still have a long way to go.”

Building the screening berms will mean moving lots of dirt on the site, but will not require any import or export of fill, Studio development director William Wynne told planning officials and the crowd of about 60 people.

Studio officials also intend to sink the large sound stage buildings into the ground making them virtually invisible from Long Pond Road.

“I think we listened to the concerns of the Planning Board and neighbors and addressed them intelligently and artistically,” Plymouth Rock Studios founder David Kirkpatrick said.

Planning Board members will vote their recommendation on the proposed studio zoning bylaw Sept. 15.

Town meeting Oct. 27, will have final approval.

Planning board members will meet Wednesday, Sept. 3, Sept. 8 and Sept. 10 prior to the Sept. 15 vote.

Tamara Race may be reached at trace@ledger.com.

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Hub of the film industry: ‘Big Screen Boston’ chronicles city’s starring roles

By Ed Symkus
GateHouse News Service
Aug 18, 2008

BOSTON —The folks in the movie business aren’t kidding when they refer to Boston and its environs as Hollywood East. That moniker was given to Toronto for a while, but new tax incentives and some eager folks in the Massachusetts Film Office have been luring more and more productions to our fair state.

Over the past year, films shot in and around Boston (but not yet released) include: “The Women” (Meg Ryan, Candice Bergen), “Pink Panther 2” (Steve Martin, Emily Mortimer), “My Best Friend’s Girl” (Kate Hudson, Alec Baldwin), “Real Men Cry” (Ethan Hawke, Mark Ruffalo) and “The Surrogates” (Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell).



But this is hardly a new phenomenon. As pointed out in Paul Sherman’s new book “Big Screen Boston” (Black Bars Publishing, $18.95), the Hub has been a, well, hub, for film production for decades. The well-researched book, chockfull of entertaining tidbits and pieces of actor- and director interviews that Sherman has conducted over the years, runs the gamut between huge hits and deservedly forgotten items, as well as some gems that have unfortunately fallen through the cracks.

So there’s plenty of information about “Good Will Hunting,” “Love Story” and “The Departed” (hits), “Blown Away,” “Fuzz” and “The Next Karate Kid” (misses), and “Charley,” “The Little Sister” and “Monument Ave” (cracks).



Sherman, a former reviewer and president of the Boston Society of Film Critics, did a lot of movie-watching while researching the book.

“It was between what local libraries had and what Netflix had and what I could get from the filmmakers themselves,” he says. “But so many of the movies never came out. [former Coolidge Corner Theatre artistic director] David Kleiler has all of the videos that people had given him, so I borrowed a bunch from him.

“So that’s how I spent last summer,” he adds. “Re-watching all of these movies, and seeing some of the ones I hadn’t seen for the first time.”

Asked if he watched every film in the book, he admits to having seen “all of the main ones and a lot of others.”



But there was plenty of other research to do.

“I did searches on the Internet Movie Database, and any other Internet database I came across,” he says, then adds, “Obviously, there’s a good deal of misinformation out there on the Internet.”

For instance, in his section on the great Paul Newman film “The Verdict,” Sherman mentions that a young Bruce Willis is an extra.

“That’s something I saw on the IMDB,” he says. “I looked at that scene really closely because I was a little skeptical. Every little thing like that online you have to be skeptical about. But when I watched the movie, I said, ‘Oh yeah, there he is.’ ”



Sherman had only one hard-and-fast rule for a film to make it in the book: It had to have cast members here.

“In ‘Legally Blonde,’ there’s a helicopter shot of a Volkswagen going over the Zakim Bridge, then it cuts to a shot of Reese Witherspoon in a similar looking car, ‘arriving at Harvard,’ but I think it’s really UCLA,” he explains. “So something like that did not make it. But with something like ‘The Last Detail,’ where even though there are only two or three scenes, you can tell that they’re here: at Washington St., walking under the old elevated Orange Line. So that’s in it.”



Although it’s meant to be a reference book, Sherman wasn’t afraid to include some good, old-fashioned opinion.

“I like a lot of the little films from the ’90s,” he says. “The first two Jan Egleson movies (“Billy in the Lowlands,” “The Dark End of the Street”) are really good, but I also like ‘Floating’ and ‘Lift’ and ‘The Blinking Madonna.’ ”

He goes so far as to call the gritty Robert Mitchum starrer “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” the “best movie ever made in Boston.”

“I think it is,” he says firmly. “And it has a lot of mystique because it’s never come out officially on any kind of video. So that sort of helps.”

“Big Screen Boston” is available at local book stores and on amazon.com.



Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkus@cnc.com.

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Plymouth Rock Studios’ future hinges on zoning change

By Tamara Race
The Patriot Ledger
Aug 16, 2008

PLYMOUTH — The site has changed, but the mission has not.

Plymouth Rock Studios intends to build a major movie and television production studio in Massachusetts. The company’s preferred site is the Waverly Oaks golf course in Plymouth off Route 3 at exit 3, but the plan hinges on town meeting’s approval of a zoning change in October.
“We want to be on the site with an as-of-right zoning bylaw in November,” studio founder David Kirkpatrick said. “We’d like to start construction next spring and be open for business in September of 2010.”

Kirkpatrick’s development partner Earl Lestz says the company has already ‘‘pre-leased’’ 100,000 square feet of office space in the proposed complex. Kirkpatrick says the potential leases are to production services companies such as equipment and costume firms and recording studios all interested in working on the East Coast. He said they are also talking to the rapidly expanding special effects company, Brickyard vfx, with offices in California and Boston.

The $422 million studio will employ about 150 full time workers, but attract more than 2,000 production-related jobs as the studio is leased to production companies for anything from major motion pictures to television commercials.

Critics say the studio’s schedule is too aggressive and will not give town meeting members enough time to review all the information and make a decision. Several object to an ‘‘allowed use’’ bylaw as opposed to one requiring a special permit process. Town meeting member and precinct chairman William Abbott says eliminating the special permit process circumvents residents rights to protect themselves from the tyranny of the majority.

Voters in May overwhelmingly endorsed the project in a nonbinding ballot question, although the vote was specific to the original site on 1,000 acres of town land off Route 25. That site was abandoned due to title problems. But studio officials say their construction schedule leaves no room for potential appeals that could tie up the project for years. “We’ve already started preleasing space for 2010,” studio development coordinator William Wynne said. “Working backward from that date through the construction process leaves us no room for approval delays. We want to take out that risk of delay.”

The company is committed to giving planning officials and town meeting members the information necessary to warrant an as-of-right zoning bylaw. They are also confident they can alleviate neighbors concerns about noise, light, and traffic. Planned improvements including a new studio access road, a roundabout at Clark Road and Long Pond Road, traffic lights at Route 3 ramp exits on Clark Road, and widening Clark Road will accommodate the expected increase in traffic and correct already failing intersections, according to studio consultants.

Proposed water and sewer work will improve environmental conditions on the site and free-up about 50 acres of nearby school property now restricted as well-protection area. The state will pay for the work with bonds guaranteed by the studio. Business leaders say the project will boost tourism and attract dozens of spin-off companies. Town officials say the project will increase the town’s current $700 million commercial tax base by more than half and help slow anticipated property tax hikes.

Tamara Race may be reached at trace@ledger.com.

Plymouth Rock Studio plan


Highlights of the plan and what the project needs to go forward:

Property ownership: 

Town officials have the right of first refusal when Waverly Oaks golf course is sold because the golf course is recreational land and receives a property-tax break. 

That tax break will end with any zoning change to allow a movie and television production studio.

The conversion will trigger a state law requiring Waverly owner Mark Ridder to notify town officials of the intended sale by submitting the purchase-and-sale-agreement with Plymouth Rock Studios stating the sale price and intended new use. Plymouth Rock Studios will have to pay Plymouth 5 percent of the property’s sale price at the time of closing. 
 


Utilities:
 
A water well on the course has enough capacity for the studio complex and for both Plymouth South High School and Plymouth South Middle School next door. 

Installing a water tank for fire suppression and running water lines through the studio complex and to both high schools would allow town officials to abandon a well on the school property. Getting rid of that well frees 38 acres of well-head protection land that could be used for future school expansion.

Roads:
 
To accommodate increased traffic, studio officials are planning a new access road from Clark Road, running through town conservation land and school property to the golf course site. 

Clark Road will be widened to five or six lanes between the Route 3 south exit ramps and the new access road before narrowing to two lanes into a new roundabout at the intersection of Clark Road and Long Pond Road. 

Traffic lights will be installed where Route 3 south and north ramps intersect with Clark Road and at the new access road. 

The access road will also serve the town’s two schools reducing school bus traffic on Long Pond Road.

Infrastructure costs would be paid through state bonds guaranteed by studio officials. 



Zoning:
 
Town meeting must approve a zoning change to allow studio development in a residential zone.

The planning board must give site plan approval, and there must be signed agreements with selectmen guaranteeing certain infrastructure improvements or special permit approval depending upon zoning language. State environmental permitting is also required

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Trio Join Gibson and De Niro in DARKNESS

By Jarrod Sarafin
Hollywood Reporter
August 15, 2008

Leading stars Mel Gibson and Robert De Niro have some new cast members to welcome on board in their upcoming thriller Edge of Darkness. Danny Huston, Shawn Roberts (Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead) and Bojana Novakovic have joined the Martin Campbell-directed project, which is based on a screenplay by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell. Graham King and Michael Wearing are set to produce and production is set to begin later this month in Massachusetts.

Plot Concept: The film centers on a veteran cop (Gibson) whose only grown-up child (Novakovic) is murdered on the steps of his home. The cop unearths his daughter’s secret life and discovers a world of corporate cover-ups and government collusion. Huston takes on the role of a shady businessman while Roberts will play the role of the daughter’s distraught boyfriend. Robert De Niro has been cast as a CIA cleaner.

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Newburyport’s River Merrimac Bar and Grille goes Hollywood

By Bill O’Connor
Georgetown Record
Aug 15, 2008

NEWBURYPORT – If you haven’t checked out The River Merrimac Bar and Grille yet, then you’re first look at the new restaurant on Water Street in Newburyport could be coming via a cineplex near you. Tuesday night the restaurant, which opened this past April, played host to the cast and crew of Bjort Productions’ new feature film “The Joneses,” which wrapped shooting with one of the movie’s most climactic scenes set in The River Merrimac’s second-floor dining room.

“The Joneses,” which is being directed by local filmmaker Chris Tyrrell, is a black comedy concerning two neighboring couples that become engaged in a deadly game of one-upmanship.
“The premise is basically keeping up with the Joneses,” Tyrrell said. “It’s about two neighbors, two couples, and they’re so competitive with each other that they basically start sabotaging each other’s lives … it’s funny and it’s quirky, and it’s the type of film that is usually pretty popular in the independent film scene and at film festivals.”

Ken Tache of Salem, who co-owns The River Merrimac Bar and Grille with his son, executive chef Michael Tache of Newburyport, was thrilled not only to have Tyrrell and the crew at the restaurant, but also at the chance to be a part of a feature film. “About a month ago, Chris came up and said they were considering this place to do a romantic dinner scene in,” Tache said. “They were looking around the area at different places at the time, and then a couple weeks later they came back and said, ‘We’d like to do it here.’”

Tache happily obliged, and on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. the upstairs dining room was transformed into a working movie set complete with lighting, cameramen and a few lucky patrons who were allowed to stay and watch the show. “The Joneses” was co-written by Tyrrell and his wife, Stacey Cruwys, who is also acting in the film, playing Suzanne, a manipulative and scheming alpha woman who always gets her way. The script was originally written in 2002 for HBO’s “Project Greenlight,” a show produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon that gave writers the chance to submit scripts to be reviewed for production, with the best script being made into a full-length feature.

“Essentially we wrote these scripts, and then we started thinking a few years ago, no one here in Boston is probably going to pay for us to try and make these, so maybe we should try and make one ourselves,” Tyrrell said. So, in 2005, Tyrrell and Cruwys filmed and produced “Naughty or Nice,” a Christmas-themed comedy, under Bjort Productions, a company that they and a friend had founded the late ‘90s. “The Joneses” is the company’s second full-length feature.

The film’s cast is made up of mostly local area actors. Cruwys, originally from Saugus, and James Shalkoski Jr. of Georgetown play the two leads, with Tony Wright and Amy Ulrich, who both relocated to Boston to pursue acting careers, playing their respective spouses. “I went down to grad school in New Jersey. I had no plans of living in this area at all,” Shalkoski said. “I actually had plans to move out to L.A., but it kind of got diverted because there’s a whole tax incentive for filmmakers to make films in Massachusetts.”

Shalkoski points out that due to new film-friendly tax laws, more Hollywood productions and independent films are shooting in Massachusetts, meaning more work for young actors, such as himself. “It’s like, we’re shooting in one town one day, and Bruce Willis is shooting in the next town over,” he said. Since “The Joneses” deals with two couples competing to have the best of everything, Tyrrell and company were looking for an elegant restaurant setting in which to film this crucial scene between the movie’s two main characters. Newburyport was immediately one of the locations they began considering.

“Newburyport itself is such a beautiful town,” Tyrrell said. “We wanted something that looked really nice and we had been looking for a long time; [The River Merrimac Bar and Grille] just had a really great feel for all of us.” Tache is understandably pleased with the selection of his restaurant as the location for the shoot, and hopes that customers will take notice, coming to see for themselves what Tyrrell saw in The River Merrimac Bar and Grille. “You know, it’s flattering,” Tache said. “You spend all this time thinking about the way you want this place to look, what mood you want to create, and [the cast and crew] found this place to be a place for a romantic dinner scene, it’s flattering.”

Tyrrell and Cruwys will begin post-production and editing on “The Joneses” this weekend. The pair hope to submit the film to a plethora of national and local film festivals upon its completion, in addition to setting up screenings locally in the Boston area. As for Tache and The River Merrimac Bar and Grille, there are currently no plans for future movie shoots set in the restaurant, but … when Hollywood comes knocking, the River Merrimac Bar and Grille will be there, ready and waiting to be discovered again.

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