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Lights, Camera, Boston!

Hollywood sets its bright lights and cameras on Boston this month with two major motion pictures shooting in town: 'The Bachelor No. 2' and 'The Women.'

Actor Steve Martin and 'The Pink Panther II' are slated to arrive here next month. At this rate, this year will go down as the busiest for big-budget filmmaking in Massachusetts' history.

Generous tax incentives enacted last year are attracting Hollywood studios and have just been made even more enticing. WBUR's Andrea Shea has the story, and also finds out what's in it for small, independent filmmakers.

MUSIC: Theme from 'The Pink Panther'

ANDREA SHEA: With an estimated budget of 70-plus million dollars, and plenty of star power, 'The Pink Panther II' is the anything but small and independent.

NICK PALEOLOGOS: They're going to turn Boston streets into Parisian streets, they're going to turn the Algonquin Club into some you know villa, and when you see the movie you will believe that you're in Paris.

ANDREA SHEA: Nick Paleologos, the new Executive Director of the Massachusetts Film Office, says Sony Picture's 'Pink Panther' is a big score for the state. The production promises to employ local crews and pump money into hotels and restaurants. Paleologos says the name of the film game has changed from location, location, location to incentive, incentive, incentive.

NICK PALEOLOGOS: In the old days in the pre tax credit days we would be killing ourselves to get them to shoot movies that were set in Massachusetts in Massachusetts, now we're getting movies that are set elsewhere being shot here because the incentives make it financially compelling.

ANDREA SHEA: The incentives he's talking about are tax breaks for filmmakers the state started offering last year. Now the legislature has made shooting here an even sexier proposition for major productions with huge budgets by expanding the tax credits. It's leveling the playing field, according to Paleologos. He points to a bulletin board in his office labeled 'The Competition.' It's littered with promotional postcards from Puerto Rico, Oregon and Minnesota. They're all hawking tax credits.

NICK PALEOLOGOS: 40% come off here, 24% off come here, 20% off in our state. And even here in New England, when we went to 25% on our credit Connecticut immediately went to 30.

ANDREA SHEA: Film producers now get twenty-five cents in tax credits for every dollar they spend in Massachusetts. And while the state is doing well in wooing big film companies such as Disney, Lionsgate and New Line Cinema...it's still combating years of bad publicity in Hollywood.

SAM WISEMAN: The first word you would here from a studio executive about the possibility of shooting anything in Massachusetts was 'no.'

ANDREA SHEA: Sam Wiseman directed films such as 'Dickie Roberts' and 'George of the Jungle.' Also the TV shows 'Family Ties' and 'LA Law.' He lives in Boston but worked in Los Angeles for many years and had a tough time trying to convince studios to locate here. Wiseman says nightmare stories about Teamsters shaking down movie producers on local sets scared Hollywood away, in addition to high costs and an ugly feud between two rival film offices. He's been an advocate for the tax credit legislation and says that, and new leadership at the union, help.

SAM WISEMAN: There is no bad rap anymore.

ANDREA SHEA: Wiseman says not to take only his word for it...and refers to a recent article.

SAM WISEMAN: There's a publication called 'The Production Guide' which is kind of the journal of the physical production industry and in the July issue they listed the top ten places to shoot in the United States and Massachusetts was number two trailing only New Mexico.

ANDREA SHEA: That, Wiseman says, is remarkable, and he's planning to shoot a good portion of his next film here...even though the story is set in New Jersey. But while the incentives are enticing to big Hollywood productions, what about local indie filmmakers? Nick Paleologos of the Massachusetts Film Office says the revamped tax breaks are also meant to help movies with very small budgets.

NICK PALEOLOGOS: So that independent filmmakers, documentary filmmakers, of which there are many in Massachusetts will also be eligible for the tax credit because the minimum spend which was $250,000 is now down to $50,000.

ERIN TRAHAN: Fifty grand would be like a windfall. (laughs)

ANDREA SHEA: Erin Trahan is editor of 'Newenglandfilm.com,' an on-line magazine dedicated to the region's indie community.

ERIN TRAHAN: People making short films, people making experimental films, people making student films, people picking up a camera and assembling archival footage from their family and saying something really amazing...that's not who this is for.

ANDREA SHEA: In other words, the really little guys, like David Tames. He attended the Woods Hole Film Festival last week which champions small, New England-made movies.

DAVID TAMES: My film is a twenty minute short documentary that's basically self-funded.

ANDREA SHEA: The cash budget was probably two thousand dollars, according to Tames. And while he appreciates what tax credits can do for some independent filmmakers, he says the state should do more.

DAVID TAMES: What I'd like to see as time goes on is more aggressive legislation that does more to encourage more investment in regional production in this area so we build our own industry.

SOUND FROM FESTIVAL SCREENING:'You guys ready for some fun? This is a fun film you're gonna love this. I'm John Stimpson I'm on the board here at the Woods Hole Film Festival it's out sixteenth year...'

ANDREA SHEA: John Stimpson is committed to building the industry in Massachusetts. He films commercials, TV and feature films in the one-to-two million dollar range. For Stimpson the tax credits are a boon.

JOHN STIMPSON: For an independent like me the best thing about it is it's a pitch I can give to an investor, it's one more reason why somebody would take a flying leap and invest in something crazy like a movie.

JANE CLARK: So if you can say you have a really good chance of losing everything but 25% of what you invested (laughs) then at least they're not coming up with a big fat zero at the end.

ANDREA SHEA: That's Jane Clark, a Los Angeles based indie filmmaker who summered in Woods Hole as a kid. Clark hasn't made any movies in Massachusetts...yet...but hopes to this Spring because of the tax credits. But still, she has questions.

JANE CLARK: If there are four large films shooting around and about the same time, what quality crew am I going to get? Are there going to be cameras available, are there going to be lights and grips trucks available, or are they going to be sucked up by the bigger companies?

ANDREA SHEA: Clark says filmmakers of all sizes have a lot to choose from these days, with so many states aggressively pursuing their dollars. Nick Paleologos of the Massachusetts Film Office says he's gotten shameless about it.

NICK PALEOLOGOS: People come here and say well the picture takes place in Alaska, and I say 'yea yea, we can do Alaska.' (laughs) You know this one is in the Arabian desert.' You know what, we can do the desert here we have a lot of sand (laughs).

ANDREA SHEA: And now, with 'The Pink Panther II,' we have Paris. What Massachusetts doesn't have, though, is a professional sound stage which Paleologos says would give the state a major leg up with Hollywood filmmakers and television producers. A long-running series could create long-term job prospects and raise Boston's profile as an established production center. He evokes 'Boston Legal' and 'Spenser for Hire.' The tax credits apply to TV productions as well. And since the legislation is on the books through 2022 there's still time.

MUSIC: 'Pink Panther'

For WBUR I'm Andrea Shea.

This program aired on August 9, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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