State increases incentives

BOSTON — The Massachusetts legislature is ready to move on several bills to correct what are perceived as glitches in its current tax incentives for film production.

One bill would remove the sunset clause, making the tax credits permanent. Another would equalize the percentages involved, currently a 25% credit for some budget items but only 20% for others. Switching to 25% across the board would not only be financially advantageous but greatly simplify the accounting.

Legislative leaders announced Thursday that they’ve hammered out the details. Included in the key proposal is the removal of the cap on the allowable credit, currently limited to $7 million. Massachusetts Film Office head Nick Paleologos said it’s the chief issue he hears when talking to studio execs.

As one put it, under the current law, it makes more economic sense to the studio to shoot four $20 million movies in Massachusetts than one for $80 million. By removing the cap, the state would no longer appeal just to the producers of small and mid-range pics.

In many ways it was Martin Scorsese’s Boston-based gangster movie “The Departed” that led to big changes in how the state does business with Hollywood, but not in the way one might expect.

The film’s Oscar wins, including best picture, certainly help promote Massachusetts as a movie location — but the dirty little secret is that most of the pic was shot in New York.

Two years ago, when Speaker of the Massachusetts House Sal DiMasi went down to Boston Common to watch the shooting, he discovered that much of the movie would not be made here. Indeed, out of a $42 million budget, only $6 million was spent in Massachusetts. With no film office at the time and no tax credits for film productions, it was actually cheaper to shoot in New York.

“Sal grasped the situation,” recalled state representative Brian Wallace, who has become the point man on film-related legislation. “He understands the industry now.”

With DiMasi’s support, Wallace’s legislation enacting some of the most generous tax credits in the nation was signed into law last year. Wallace had learned about the problem the hard way. His true-crime book “Final Confession” was optioned for a movie, but after scouting Massachusetts locations, the producers told him it would have to be shot elsewhere because of the lack of financial incentives to film in the Bay State. The option eventually lapsed.

According to Paleologos, a former state legislator and a film producer who is now head of the newly reconstituted Massachusetts Film Office, “The tax credits have had an unbelievably dramatic effect.”

In the previous seven years, only four major features were filmed in Massachusetts, including “Mystic River” and “The Departed.” In the past 18 months, three studio pics have lensed here, with more on the way.

Many problems associated with Massachusetts filming, notably with the Teamsters, have been resolved.

“I’m not trying to say bad things didn’t happen in the past, but we’re committed to them never happening again,” Paleologos said.

As a result of the changed environment, local companies are stepping up to provide the state-of-the-art services required if Massachusetts is to become a regional film center. Post-production house National Boston acquired an Avid Adrenaline DNX editing system for high-definition video in order to work with Columbia Pictures’ “21” production, being shot in HD. The company has been able to process each day’s footage — syncing video and sound, putting in timecodes, creating a database of footage — and provide the production with DVDs of the results in a matter of hours. What’s more, they are able to transmit the material to the West Coast for Col execs to examine as well.

“When they spend the dollars here, they get tax credits,” said National Boston managing director Dan Cronin.

National ended up handling all the footage for the shoot, including material shot in Las Vegas.

With a unified film office, tax credits, unions working with the productions and a legislature and governor committed to make it all work, Massachusetts is not only ready for its closeup but is also making sure that the next Boston-set Oscar winner doesn’t have to go elsewhere to shoot.

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