Film Industry Focuses on New Bedford

Lights, Camera, ACTION
By Beth Perdue, SouthCoast Today
November 23, 2008

Plymouth Rock Studios CFO Joseph DiLorenzo talks about the proposed movie studio complex late last month. When built, the 240-acre studio complex will be the first independent film and television studio on the East Coast, featuring 14 soundstages, a 10-acre back lot, and all preproduction and postproduction services. AP Winslow Townson/The Associated Press

Massachusetts is cultivating a taste for the film industry, and Southeastern Massachusetts cities and towns, including New Bedford, are stoking the kitchen fire to get their portion of the meal.
The state’s identity as the home of an East Coast Hollywood is getting closer to reality with former Paramount Pictures executive David Kirkpatrick’s plan to build a film production studio moving forward in Plymouth, the state’s 2007 increase to its film tax credits, and the region’s natural variety of locations conducive to filming.
But will the studio become a reality, and can the region benefit economically from the film industry?
Area officials think the answer to both questions is yes.
The film tax credits that took effect in 2006 and were increased in mid-2007 have brought 20 films to the region with total state income of $545 million since 2006. In comparison, during the period from 1999 to 2005 eight films were made in Massachusetts with income of $67 million.
Excited about the possibilities the industry holds, New Bedford and Plymouth officials attended a special workshop dedicated to film production recently. Led by Massachusetts Film Office Director of Operations Mary Chiochios, the workshop was part of a Nov. 13 Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism event held at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
Roy Nascimento, New Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce president, walked away from the seminar with a head full of ideas. So did Ann Marie Lopes, New Bedford’s tourism director, and Paul Cripps, executive director of Destination Plymouth.
New Bedford has already capitalized on the state’s tax credits, according to Ms. Lopes, who said at least five productions have taken place in New Bedford in the past 14 months, including the PBS documentary about Walt Whitman and a heavy metal music video.
“That’s a lot in a year, plus the interest keeps coming,” she said.
The city has been developing a Web site that showcases New Bedford locations, particularly the types of sites that movie studios have sought out in the past, such as mill buildings, churches, prisons and schools, and has compiled necessary permit information, she said.
Its efforts have led to praise from the state film office that New Bedford is an example of a city doing everything right to recruit filming, according to Ms. Lopes.
Although tax income generated from film productions goes directly to the state, Ms. Chiochios told those attending the MOTT workshop that local companies will get a boost from additional business that films and their numerous production staff bring.
And it’s not just restaurants and hotels that benefit, she said. Given the far-ranging needs of filmmakers, a variety of services will be needed, including production-related jobs, warehouse space and prop facilities.
Take, for example, New England Demolition and Salvage, a New Bedford company that sells antique fixtures and home-related items, including an impressive selection of claw-footed bathtubs.
According to Ms. Lopes, the company has developed a solid reputation among production companies as a prop supplier. To date, the salvage company has provided props for at least two major movie projects, “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Departed,” as well as the television show “Law & Order Criminal Intent,” she said.
Mr. Cripps said he has referred film companies to New England Demolition, recently passing on the company’s contact information on to an inquiring production company.
Support business is important, but the industry also could boost the region economically by requiring a larger work force for film production and providing an opportunity to retrain area workers, according to Plymouth Economic Development Director Denis Hanks.
Mr. Hanks quoted the Massachusetts Film Office as stating there are about 900 union film production people in Massachusetts, enough to support about three films being produced at the same time. But Mr. Kirkpatrick has estimated the work force will have to be closer to 10,000 employees statewide to accommodate the planned studio and future growth in the Massachusetts industry, according to Mr. Hanks.
That is an exciting prospect, but what Mr. Hanks is particularly excited about is the potential for work force development in related trades, especially those in which the region already has a developed but possibly underemployed workforce.
Say, for instance, the textile industry.
One of the initiatives in the production studio’s higher education component addresses transitional employment, Mr. Hanks said.
In theory, this program would bring film industry experts, such as set designers or costume makers, to the area where they would retrain workers. As an example, Mr. Hanks said, a former textile worker could learn to make costumes, while an out-of-work carpenter could be taught to build historically accurate sets.
For Ms. Lopes, the hope is that a successful Plymouth studio will increase film traffic to New Bedford.
“I think that it will help us because there might be more film traffic here,” she said. “They need location places and we would welcome them here in New Bedford.”
Mr. Hanks agrees.
“It really is a regional project,” he said. “It’s going to really benefit the region, and when I say region, I’m not just thinking Massachusetts but the whole New England area.”
Although there is a multitude of steps still needed to move the studio plan forward, including getting town and state permits, Plymouth Town Meeting voters expressed unqualified support for the project recently with a nearly unanimous vote approving a required zoning change.
And regardless of whether the project is successfully built for its anticipated 2010 opening, the Massachusetts Film Office is going to keep working to increase film production in the state, including chasing after the Holy Grail of filming, a television series.
The economic impact of a series is still being researched locally — two Massachusetts universities are pursuing studies — but a series is coveted because it provides steady work for production crews, vendors and support businesses, Ms. Chiochios said.
“That is a goal we really want to reach,” she said, “To have a series shoot in Massachusetts.”
Beth Perdue is editor of the New England Business Bulletin. To read about these business topics and more, see the New England Business Bulletin on newsstands Dec 1 or go to today. To subscribe to The Bulletin, call Elissa at (508) 674-4656, Ext. 101.
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