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opinion | Robin Dawson

Creating a more thriving film industry in Boston


It’s no secret to filmmakers around the globe that Boston possesses pure cinematic gold with its rich history and architecture. Our city is a director’s dream destination — its New England charm mixed with diverse modern structures are a lure for cross-generational storytelling. The contemporary design has been so artfully integrated that visitors can view 21st-century Boston and only turn a corner to disappear into a previous century, brimming with classic American heritage.

Some of its charm, however — the city’s narrow streets and limited access, the renowned appeal of vibrant Boston as a compact and walkable city — can also prove a formidable hurdle to facilitating the elbow room needed by today’s filmmaking process. To keep Boston on the top-tier list for film scouts and directors, it is crucial to provide a seamless and inexpensive permit system overseen by an experienced, welcoming film office.

Another asset Boston should leverage: The availability of local, experienced crew members who can save a film’s budget considerable revenue by reducing the need to supply proper housing, transportation, and per diem. The depth of its crew base allows Boston to host several projects that can shoot simultaneously, and, with the surge in film business following the implementation of an effective tax incentive, the City is poised to continue to expand that base considerably. Plus, local equipment companies and prop houses can meet most infrastructure needs, further defraying the costs of doing business here.

Boston’s globally revered university system is an incubator of artistic and technical talent — another homegrown advantage that should be immediately tapped and cultivated. Establishing an internship program for students to gain experience and employment as supplemental crew members is an obvious way to encourage future filmmakers to do their business locally.


Yet, to remain competitive, Boston also should seriously reconsider the development of a state-of-the-art sound-stage system that includes one 30,000-square foot production stage and a viable back lot. Add into the complex post-production facilities, production offices, and screening rooms, and the project will strengthen Boston’s profile. Facilities such as these already exist in rival cities and have been on the table in Massachusetts before, but now is the time to revisit the idea with fresh perspective and support from the academic film community.


It may also be time to boost Massachusetts’ film tax credit. The current tax incentive is directly linked to securing continual film and television production and is a requirement in order to keep the industry one that is lucrative for all involved. Savvy New York State reported $7.1 billion in film production revenue during 2011, while wary California state legislators vastly expanded film tax credits last August to defend home-field advantage. Those breaks and incentives can become the decisive edge in determining a film studio’s choice of location shooting.

And to push Boston to realize its potential as a top production hub, we need to develop cutting-edge and cost-effective programs, such as creating a task force to seek the support of advertising agencies that can affect where commercials are shot, or collaborating with Boston’s forward-leaning financial community to create a film fund, or luring the digital and gaming industries to dive in with us.

Making this city even more attractive to film production represents a global shout-out for what all Americans now admire as “Boston Strong and Proud.”

Robin Dawson is executive and creative director of the Boston Film Festival.