Another battle by the US film industry has come to a close. Florida’s Film Tax Credit has been around since the program was created in 2004 has been allowed to sunset by the Florida Legislature. This incentive was created to provide rebates to approved films, TV shows and other projects to be made in Florida.
Historically it has been a success for the state. Following the blockbuster TV series Miami Vice, the Florida legislature recognized the collateral benefits for the state. Not only the economic benefit of the jobs created by the production, but more the public relations aspects that created a major boost for tourism.
As the 2016 Legislative session came to a close recently, the existing Entertainment Industry Financial Program was allowed to sunset after the Herculean efforts of the in state movie industry efforts failed to pass an extension or get a new bill. The industry has been working for four years to convince members of the legislature to support a program that has numerous benefits, including job creation, economic development, and proven increases to tourism.
The Florida’s Movie industry has worked tirelessly to convince legislators that this tax incentive should be continued. The same battle is going on in other states most notably Massachusetts. In both states, the industry has developed highly trained professionals who deserve to be supported by their elected representatives in their efforts to build a serious entertainment infrastructure.
In the last three years, more than $650 million in projects has been lost. These projects would have created over 110,000 hotel nights and an estimated $1.8 billion in economic impact for the State of Florida. Not to mention that the skyline, familiar venues and buildings appearing on TV and the big screen to showcase the state to entice tourists to come and visit.
Florida also is a center for education with more than thirty colleges and universities offering degree programs in media, filmmaking and other associated skills. It is estimated that over 5,000 students graduate each year with these industry degrees.
In the same vein, Massachusetts has similar statistics to back up their case. Over the past 10 years 99 major motion pictures have been produced in the Commonwealth.
The success of the Film Tax Credit in the past has created a skilled work force that will be hard pressed to utilize their craft and skills in other industries. That creates unemployment and other economic distress. Many will move to more fertile ground.
The effect of the mere discussion of Tax Credit incentive change has ensured that families and businesses will continue to face a worsening crisis in which jobs and projects will flow to competing states. Massachusetts industry participants and their partners will need to address what urgent measures must be taken to preserve the industry and create a dynamic, universal change in the approach moving forward.
Finally, the Massachusetts Film industry (and Florida) has not asked for excessive support but seeks to maintain a program that would allow it to continue to grow and continue to be recognized as a global hub for film, television and digital media production.
Richard DeAgazio is an industry professional on assignment for IMAGINE Magazine in Florida.
First the good news: I am happy to report that my surgery early in March was a complete success! Cancer free and pathologies negative. It has been a long battle for me, but failing has never been an option in my mind. I still have radiation to go, but for now, I’m feeling great and have rolled up my sleeves to defend the Massachusetts Film Tax Credits against H62.
You may recall that IMAGINE Magazine introduced Film Tax Credits to New England in the early 2000’s and I wrote the first definitive piece on why we should pass film tax credits in 2004. As soon as that issue of IMAGNE hit the street, my office got a call from the Governor Romney’s office asking for twenty copies. That changed the nature of our struggle. The rest is history, we were able to introduce legislation, educate all the elected class and pass the Massachusetts Film Tax credits in 2005; and we made them better in 2006!
Since our inception in 1998, film tax credits and growing this industry has been our #1 mission. We have been defending them ever since. It’s a 24/7/365 responsibility, which is why IMAGINE has a full time Director of Government Relations. We need to know where our elected officials stand on our issues all the time.
We have always known that overnight our main attraction of major productions, both studio and independent, to bring their work to our state can be challenged. A recent case in point is Connecticut when in late June in 2013 the Connecticut’s Film Office awoke one morning to find the state’s tax credits for film had been suspended for two years!
Many people do not understand what tax credits are designed to do. What they are not designed to do is easier to understand. Tax Credits are not designed to put money directly into government coffers. Period. The end! Why is it always judged on that misconception?
Tax Credits, and particularly Film Tax Credits, are designed to pour money into an existing economy; money that would not otherwise be available with the purpose of, in our instance, of creating an industry, stimulating job creation and other desired results that hugely benefit the Commonwealth. For example the Commonwealth could not afford to buy the attention, awareness and attraction of the really special visitors to our state, including the productions themselves that create the industry of tourism. Countless new businesses have arrived. I wish we knew how much collectively they paid the state to do business here.
When a production buys, rents or hires everything it needs here, cast and crew, talent trailers, equipment of all kinds, lumber, paint, hardware, hotel rooms, catering, transportation, waste management (yes, waste management, it’s a big ticketed item), chiropractors and much more, too numerous to mention, the desired results are achieved. The point being that every dollar the production spends ends up being business or personal income that will be taxed by the Commonwealth. In addition much of that money will be re-spent here creating more taxes for the state, cities and towns. Ultimately, all those dollars end up in a federal, state, or municipal coffer.
Consider this: As a result, Massachusetts has many very famous new taxpayers.
The film R.I.P.D spent a boat load of money here. Whether or not the film was a success or failure at the box office has nothing to do with the success of Tax Credits. The production was on location in and around Boston for six months, sometimes with five or six crews shooting at once. R.I.P.D. spent more than any other production in the Commonwealth’s history; they also didn’t break anything, they didn’t pollute or use any social services. They paid for everything before they left. Everyone who worked on R.I.P.D., no matter where they are from, paid taxes in Massachusetts! That includes Ryan and Bridges.
There is no exact formula for calculating the worth of a film tax credit. But, we are getting pretty close to being able to do that. I take great exception to being judged by anyone who apparently doesn’t understand what a tax credit is designed to do, particularly those who use the glamour of our industry to write head turning headlines, especially when they have no appreciation of the thousands of names in the credits at the end of the film, the countless businesses that provided services, or just how hard and yes, unglamorous, it is to make a film.
In my estimation there is no doubt we can prove our worth.
The next edition of IMAGINE puts a spotlight on this issue and we’ve designed a special section dedicated to our industry’s success and our importance to the state and region. I believe I am writing another definitive piece – a big one.
If you have an industry related business that began in MA after the tax credits were incepted or you are an individual that moved to MA or moved back to MA to work in this industry because of the tax credits, please drop me a note – I’d like to include your experience in our special section.
We are also focusing on NAB and the Massachusetts high tech industry that exhibits at NAB in Las Vegas April 11th – 16th. We’ll be there with a gigantic bonus distribution and huge presence. And we have Film Festival Previews for you.
If you would like to advertise in this edition please contact me. Ad Copy deadline is Monday, March 30, 2015. Please book space now.
On June 26, 2012 New England Studios broke ground in Devens, Massachusetts for a state-of-the-art movie studio and there was a ground breaking celebration luncheon and ceremonial shovels in the ground.
The excitement and anticipation for a ground up, state of the art movie and television studio with sound stages that will be equal to or better than any stages in Hollywood was palatable then and its about to explode now as the giant complex nears completion. The finishing touches and final occupancy certification are the only things left on the drawing board.
The project has been on that proverbial drawing board for more than three years from its veritable conception, private financial partners and Mass Development coming on board, the land acquisition, breaking ground and finally a year long massive construction period that we all watched on a week-to-week basis. Is it ready yet?
Mike Meyers, Director of Real Estate Development for New England Studios and MJM Development Managing Partner supervising construction told IMAGINE as wewere going to print “This is just a phenomenal project. Cutting edge design, iconic Hollywood features with space ship technology… “We are very pleased to be a part of the growing Massachusetts Film Industry,” Myers continued. Meanwhile the final landscaping is going in along with the carpeting, shelving,the furniture will have arrived by the time you read this, and the grip and electric company associated with the New England Studios begins the process of moving in. Chris Byers who spearheaded the campaign to build New England Studios praised the The New England Studios Staff is now up to twelve and about 240 construction workers are still on site attending to those closing construction details.
A Grand Opening is being planned to coincide with the first client production to use the brand new studio space. The management team says they will be announcing that in about a couple of weeks.
For now the complex is anticipating its internal soft opening. There is someone on site to do business with everyday now. Their plan is to have a day or two open house for industry people and ancillary businesses, The formal Grand Opening will be by invitation and will include studio heads, and those individuals and businesses that have helped them over the years leading up to this great addition to the infrastructure for our industry and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is expected to be heavily covered by the press as this studio is an important new entry into the world of film and television production for all the studios and networks.
Lowell, Massachusetts native Chris Byers, who serves as Director of Studio Operations and Marketing, has spent the last two weeks on the West Coast meeting with studio heads at this vital juncture. New England Studios is no longer a dream, not just breaking ground, not half way through construction; New England Studios is a reality. It’s time for business to come to this world-class home for the film industry.
In addition to the 72,000 square feet of stages, this complex includes 4,000 square feet of sound stage support space, a 30,000 square foot three story production support building with dressing rooms, a 20,000 square foot mill building to house production construction facilities, mechanical effects, grip and lighting and set storage and parking for 358 cars. Each stage has six 1,200 amps power and 120 tons of heating and cooling and each is NC25 rated. There are six 20’ x 20’ exterior elephant doors and three 42’ x 24’ interior elephant doors. Wooden catwalks crown every stage. It is a full service film studio encompassing 126,000 square feet.
Putting Massachusetts on the Map for Post-Production Excellence
by Erica Derrickson
If there’s one post production company here in the Northeast that we need to notice, it’s Zero VFX studios based in downtown Boston. Under the leadership of
President, Brian Drewes and his partner Visual Effects Supervisor Sean Devereaux, this is a team of seasoned and talented visual effects artists offering a full range of services that are helping to put Boston on the map for feature film post-production.
Serving filmmakers from the script level all the way through production and beyond, Zero VFX is a Boston-based company that makes visual effects for TV commercials and films. According to President Brian Drewes, Zero VFX is a respected player in the local film industry because they have the experience and reputation to deliver large-scale projects while staying on budget and on schedule.
Aside from the work they do with locally produced TV commercials, what appeal does Zero VFX have to feature films coming to Boston? They offer value at all stages of production from the script level through principal photography. For example, as Devereaux explains, “if the script describes a monster appearing in a scene to terrorize the city, Zero can help design and develop what that monster looks like.”
The Zero VFX team also works on set with each director during production to make sure each shot is maximized for visual effects efficiency. If a production is set in the 1940’s, having the supervising eye of someone like Sean on set means that less time is spent covering anachronistic street signs or Lady Gaga posters back in the office.
When it comes to Zero’s finest work, Sean explains his team’s proudest labor was their contribution to HERE COMES THE BOOM. The team at Zero is responsible for the climactic UFC fight during the last 20 minutes of HERE COMES THE BOOM starring Kevin James, which filmed recently in Boston. What made their handiwork so notable? What required the help of 35 artists laboring over a period of six months? Think back to any fight scene you’ve ever seen. The two fighters battle it out in the ring as the crowd roars. But if you think about it, you may realize you never actually see the entire crowd in the background. As the fighters go head-body-head, we may see a few excited fans jumping and cheering in the first few rows—but the crowd inevitably melts away into darkness past the fourth row.
Not while Zero is at the helm. As Kevin James dukes it out with MMA fighter Krzysztof Soszynski in HERE COMES THE BOOM we can see the entire raging crowd during every shot of the scene for the first time in history. How did Zero accomplish this effect? For starters, they recreated the MGM Grand stadium in an empty Lowell arena, filled it with 25,000 excited fans and then used their technical and creative skills to create an unprecedented effect.
“I liked the really technical nature of it,” says Brian. “We basically built the entire stadium, which meant from a technical standpoint it didn’t even matter how the camera was moving inside of the ring because our solution worked for any view that the director decided to take, so we were able to give the filmmakers a lot of leeway in what they were shooting without asking them to change what they were doing for our sake.” Brian added that “it is this kind of newer technology and the newer ways work is done which allows
for greater flexibility for the filmmakers. And we just make it work,” he adds with a smile.
What do Brian and Sean think of the New England Studio project slated to open this summer? They both agree the studio project is great for business. More TV shows and feature films coming to Boston translate into more work for companies like Zero and more economic growth for Massachusetts as a whole. However it also means economic stimulation in ways that are not so obvious: “It’s hard to accurately see the impact of the tax incentives,” Brian explains, “because ancillary businesses spurred by the tax incentives aren’t necessarily included in the numbers analyzed by the Department of Revenue.” Brian discussed how the tax incentives lead to Zero landing some bigger jobs (like HERE COMES THE BOOM), which ultimately enabled them to start a new company called Zync.
Founded under the Zero VFX roof, Zync is a software development company that provides ancillary software for video productions. While the operations of Zync itself are not tax incentivized, this new business is a distinct example
of economic growth spurred by the incentives. “Because of the work we were able to do [on feature films] we created Zync, and now we have eight people who have jobs that are now being funded in the local economy because of the tax incentives.”
Zync is indeed a perfect example of why our elected officials agreed to adopt these incentives—because they understood that this legislation would have a ripple effect throughout the Massachusetts economy. “The pure idea of the tax incentive is to spawn ancillary activity outside of feature film industry,” explains Brian, and that is exactly what has happened with Zync. Zync is doing really well and that’s good for Massachusetts.”
Zero’s activities spur the growth of not only the economy, but the community as well. Aside from a traditional internship program they offer for college students during the year, Zero also has a unique program. They accept candidates who have shown an interest in what they do and put them in a training program that gives them a simulated production environment so that they can start learning the tools and the trade. However, Brian explains that the real highest value of this experience is learning how those tools are used
in a production environment and within a pipeline, which is a tough thing for schools to teach their kids. “Through our training program,” Brian explains, “we’re able to give them both things—on the job and in the studio training. They are here and interact with the rest of the staff. They are also held to time and schedule constraints.”
Visual Effects Supervisor Sean Devereaux works directly with the trainees on a daily basis holding them accountable to high standards of production. “You have two days to learn your thing,” Sean explains, “and then you’re off and running on projects.” But this isn’t about getting free labor. “We don’t make anyone do any free work here. The trainees work on projects we’ve already completed because we know how long it should take, and we give them that amount of time to do it.” The value of teaching these young artists to operate under deadlines and to learn the production vocabulary is a priority for the Zero team. It demonstrates that these young professionals can deliver high quality work under pressure.
Why implement a training program to help equip local state youth with the skills they need to excel in a film production environment? “We are looking for great freelancers, and we love mentoring people,” Sean explains. “At Zero, it’s part of our job to train people as much as we can before a film lands so that we can actually employ them. You can’t employ people that you don’t know are going to succeed or don’t have the knowledge to succeed.”
More work requiring more Massachusetts elbow grease is indeed on the horizon as this perfect storm of opportunity between the tax incentives and the blossoming New England Studios create an environment conducive to new business in filmmaking.
What advice does the President have for productions considering Massachusetts as a viable location for their next production? “If studios, producers, and other industry players are considering Massachusetts, they should take a look at the group of people working here in the last two or three years, especially on the features that have been coming in since the tax incentives. They will see that there’s a really strong group of people doing great work and that they can get a lot of stuff done here. There are a lot of possibilities for everyone here.”
There has been a “rising tide” metaphor increasingly used in conversations and industry articles recently. It speaks to the notion that something big is happening right now in New England. Zero VFX is part of that rising tide because they are contributing towards an environment of cinematic and post-production excellence—a prime example why the future is bright for film production in the Northeast.
Zero VFX Studios are located at 162 Columbus Ave in Boston. Visit their website and see their work at www.ZeroVFX.com
Erica Derrickson is a local actress, producer and community leader in the Boston film scene. She is guided by a philosophy of service and collaboration with an emphasis on creating value for and within the local film community. Connect with her at [email protected].