By Peter Lucas
You can probably credit the phenomenal success of recent films like The Fighter, The Social Network and others for saving the tax break Massachusetts gives to filmmakers making movies in Massachusetts.
You also have to credit Gov. Deval Patrick for having the flexibility to drop his plans to curtail the tax incentives in the wake of dire predictions that the filmmakers would go elsewhere and the state would lose untold millions in much-needed economic activity.
Patrick only last March talked about capping at $50 million, or cutting in half, the tax credits to the film industry because of budget restraints, even as he doled out millions more to entice other industries to hire or expand their businesses in Massachusetts.
A study by the University of Massachusetts reported that the film and television industry not only created jobs during an economic downturn, but stimulated economic activity across the state. And the jobs did not go only to highly paid actors who parachuted in from the West Coast, but to local actors and technicians, and to blue-collar workers in the construction and transportation field who have been hard hit by the recession.
The film industry estimated that it spent about $1.1 billion making films and television productions in Massachusetts since 2007, a sum that far outweighs the cost to the state in tax credits.
When movie makers come to town to make a film, like Mark Wahlberg did in Lowell to make The Fighter, his remarkable film about Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, the local economy benefited. Wahlberg created jobs. He hired local people. Actors and production people rented condos, they rented cars and trucks, they shopped, they ate at local restaurants and drank at the bars.
To borrow a phrase from Barack Obama, Wahlberg stimulated the economy, as did people behind the other successful films made in Massachusetts, films like Ben Affleck's The Town, or The Departed, Mystic River, Shutter Island and The Company Men. It is arguable that these films would not have been made in Massachusetts were it not for the tax incentives provided by the state in addition, of course, to having good local stories and a welcoming atmosphere to shoot them in.
A side benefit to all of this is the tremendous amount of favorable buzz Massachusetts received, and continues to receive, as a result of the success of these films, especially The Fighter and The Social Network. Both have been nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards. The Fighter has been nominated for a total of seven Academy Awards, and The Social Network has been nominated for eight.
What politician would not want to be a part of this glitz?
The governor, no stranger to public relations, could not help but note that every time Mark Wahlberg or Christian Bale or Melissa Leo, as well as other actors, are interviewed on national television, they talk about Massachusetts and what a fine place it is to make a movie. It is free, positive publicity about the state, its people, and its attractiveness, from Cape Cod to the Berkshires and everything in between.
To re-emphasize the fact that Massachusetts is open for Hollywood business, the governor sent Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki to Los Angeles last week to meet with officials of the movie industry to persuade them to make more films here. Accompanying Bialecki were John Dukakis, son of former Gov. Michael Dukakis and a former actor who is a vice president at Hill Holliday; and union labor leaders Sean O'Brien and Chris O'Donnell. Dukakis is the newly appointed chair of an advisory committee seeking to grow the film industry in Massachusetts.
It all makes the governor look good. Picture Deval Patrick preening at a Hollywood cocktail party/fundraiser raising campaign money for himself or for Obama as he chats about what fine films are being shot in Massachusetts, thanks to him. Which is OK. He's the governor, and he deserves the credit. Maybe Patrick can even pitch his own movie proposal, one based on his soon-to-be-published memoir, A Reason to Believe, his rags-to-riches story about growing up in the South Side of Chicago and ending up in the governor's office.
Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, who has probably traveled throughout Massachusetts more than any man alive, is well aware of the state's physical attractiveness to filmmakers as well as the lure of the tax incentives.
"This tax incentive is consistent with our beliefs that we can continue to grow the economy in Massachusetts during these difficult economic times. We are making the state an attractive place to do business. Everyone can see the benefit to making these movies in Massachusetts.
"Massachusetts has it all."
Peter Lucas' political column appears Tuesday and Friday. E-mail him at email@example.com.