It resembles a warehouse, the sort of generic structure you see in industrial parks. But step inside the windowless building at 260 Victory Road, and it’s another world.
A crew of carpenters, electricians, and painters is scrupulously constructing a replica of the cozy Beverly Hills bungalow owned by famed music executive Clive Davis. A few feet away is an ersatz recording studio, complete with vintage sound board and a couch whose pastel upholstery conjures 1980s L.A.
This nondescript building in Quincy used to be the Marina Bay Sportsplex. But quietly over the past several months, it’s been transformed into Marina Studios, a modern soundstage that its owner, Marina Cappi, envisions as a bustling Hollywood outpost with the potential to dramatically increase film and television production in Massachusetts.
Buoyed by the Legislature’s decision last spring to make permanent the state’s controversial film tax credits, Cappi has partnered with a fledgling production company, Compelling Pictures, to make four films at the Quincy studio over the next five years. Cameras are rolling now on the first of those, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” a Whitney Houston biopic starring British actress Naomi Ackie as Houston and Stanley Tucci as Davis, the music mogul who was the singer’s longtime friend and mentor.
Cappi, 33, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and worked in commercial real estate after graduating from Suffolk University. She didn’t know a lot about the movie business when she bought the 25,000-square-foot building a year ago, but, employing a familiar movie reference, she figured if she built it, they would come.
“We’re pretty much booked through 2026, so, yeah,” Cappi said.
Marina Studios isn’t the only option for Hollywood producers looking to film in Massachusetts. Since 2014, New England Studios, a compound of four state-of-the-art soundstages in Devens, the former military installation in central Massachusetts, has hosted a slew of projects, including the Hulu series “Castle Rock,” Showtime’s “SMILF,” and the films “Little Women,” “Daddy’s Home 2,” and, most recently, George Clooney’s “The Tender Bar.”
“It’s kind of a Cadillac facility from the standpoint of the industry,” said Gary Crossen, general manager of New England Studios. “There’s plenty of room to do what you need to do. There was a multistory ski chalet in ‘Daddy’s Home 2,’ and that was built right here in one of our soundstages.”
The viability of both New England Studios and Cappi’s new Marina Studios relies on the contentious tax credits lawmakers approved in 2006 to entice Tinseltown to shoot here. While more than 30 states now offer such incentives, the tax breaks available in Massachusetts are generally considered to be among the most filmmaker-friendly.
In the past five years alone, the state has issued more than $267 million in subsidies through the film tax credit program, and supporters claim that has led to the creation of hundreds, if not thousands, of decent-paying jobs for local tradespeople and supported businesses big and small throughout the state.
“‘Castle Rock’ was based at our facility and in Orange. Whoever goes to Orange?” said Crossen. “But they spent a fortune in Orange. All these projects, when they come in here, do the same thing in places like Littleton and Acton, and all across Massachusetts, frankly.”
But critics, including Governor Charlie Baker, argue the program is too magnanimous, and a 2021 report by a state government commission supports that contention, concluding that the tax credits cost the state about $100,000 per job created.
The incentives were due to expire in January 2023, but House Speaker Ron Mariano pushed hard — and, in the end, successfully — to make them permanent. A Democrat who represents Quincy, Mariano declined to be interviewed for this story, but said in a statement: “The temporary and uncertain nature of the tax credit program prevented the film industry from truly investing in our state, and denied the program from achieving its full potential.”
The decision by the Legislature did not go unnoticed by the bean counters in Hollywood, said Jonathan Filley, a veteran movie producer and production manager whose credits include “Inside Man” and “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”
“This industry, we’re horrible bottom feeders,” said Filley. “We’ll twist any story to make it work in a good tax-credit state. It’s terrible, but it’s true.”
Cappi was also delighted — and emboldened — by the tax credit decision, and quickly struck the multi-movie deal with Compelling Pictures, the production company cofounded by East Boston native Jeff Kalligheri and Denis O’Sullivan.
“We investigated all of the places — New Jersey, Toronto, Atlanta, Louisiana, New York. But the rebate in Massachusetts is very, very generous, and that’s really important,” said O’Sullivan, who started his career as an assistant to Graham King, producer of “The Departed,” “The Town,” and “Edge of Darkness,” all of which were filmed in Boston.
But the continuation of the tax credits is just one reason Cappi started Marina Studios. The other is Hollywood’s increasingly urgent need for more production space to meet the exploding demand for content among streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and Disney+. The New York Times reported recently that Netflix, which just opened a 170,000-square-foot studio in Brooklyn, N.Y., is considering spending millions to convert a 290-acre former military base in New Jersey into a massive studio complex.
“For people who create content, there are so many end users to go to, and they’re all really starving for content,” said O’Sullivan.
Cappi believes Marina Studios, and a second soundstage she plans to build in Canton, will benefit from their proximity to Boston. Not only are there ample places to film in the city and surrounding towns, she said, but there’s also an airport and myriad hotels, restaurants, and bars for cast, crew, and production staff. She contrasts that with New England Studios, which is located 40 miles outside the city.
“When Stanley Tucci flies in to play Clive Davis, do you think he wants to sit in traffic for two hours after coming from L.A.?” said Cappi. “No, he wants to jump on the highway, or on a yacht, and come over in five minutes from the airport.”
Crossen, the GM of New England Studios, said he’s heard that rap before, but geography has never been an issue. He believes there will be enough work for everyone now that the tax credits are here to stay. And, he said, size matters.
“There are advantages to being close [to Boston], but, in most respects, it’s more important that there be a lot of room,” said Crossen, whose four soundstages can be combined to create a single 72,000-square-foot studio. “We’ve got a huge facility that allows production companies to do what they need to do, and if there’s one thing they’re always looking for, it’s more space.”
For now, Cappi is concentrating on “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” which began filming in August. Directed by Kasi Lemmons and based on a screenplay by Anthony McCarten, who wrote “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “The Theory of Everything,” the movie tells the story of Houston’s extraordinary career and tragic death. In addition to several scenes shot at Marina Studios — including one re-creating the dazzling video for Houston’s hit “It’s Not Right, but It’s Okay” — locations have included Arlington, Brookline, the Broadway bridge, Grill 23 & Bar, a private home in Lynnfield, and Nantasket Beach, which was a stand-in for the Jersey Shore.
“The reason we didn’t pick Wollaston Beach [in Quincy] is because there are islands off Wollaston Beach, and there are no islands off the Jersey Shore,” said Charlie Harrington, location manager for “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”
Kalligheri, of Compelling Pictures, said the opportunity to “broadcast Boston to the world” is one of the benefits not accounted for by skeptics of the tax credits.
“When you’re seeing Boston front and center in these movies, there’s value in that that we’re not quantifying,” he said. “And I think that plays a part in bringing other businesses and conferences to the state.”
Among the movies due to shoot at Marina Studios over the next few years, “Mission Hill,” about the racially charged Charles Stuart murder case of 1989, is specifically Boston-based. The others are “The Collaboration,” about the relationship between artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, and “Wednesday at Warren’s, Friday at Bill’s,” about the friendship between Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Donato Frattaroli Sr., owner of Victory Point, a restaurant on the Marina Bay boardwalk, was sitting at the bar. As people strolled by outside, Frattaroli mused about his new neighbor. Members of the cast and crew regularly come from Marina Studios for food and drinks, he said, and a couple of actors needing a quiet place to run lines recently rented his second-floor function room.
“Look, every business I know is struggling and I see taxes rising every day, every week,” Frattaroli said. “I sympathize with some of the stuff the governor says [about tax credits,] but by moving in here, the movie studio’s bringing in business, and, hey, that’s good.”