Worcester is emerging as a ‘hotbed’ for movies, data shows state tax credits provide big rewards for town as well as Hollywood
At the end of October, Mayor Joseph Petty traveled to Polar Park to witness the laying of the first pieces of grass at the new baseball stadium. As he walked over to a microphone to address the media gathered at the stadium, other city officials, including City Manager Edward Augustus Jr., joked with the mayor if he had his Screen Actor’s union card. Guild with him before walking past the camera.
Petty laughed at the gesture made to highlight her recent appearance in the lifetime movie “Christmas on Ice”.
The mayor’s cameo highlighted how involved Worcester has become in Hollywood.
According to IMDB, from 1935 to 2005, three films were shot in Worcester: “Ah, Wilderness! in 1935, “The Iron Major” in 1943 and “School Ties” in 1992.
From 2006 to 2017, production companies shot 26 films in the city, according to the Massachusetts Film Office. At least nine other projects have been completed or are underway over the past three years in Worcester with big names like Liam neeson and Ryan Reynolds visits town.
“Worcester has developed a good reputation not only in the region but across the country,” said Erin Williams, Worcester Cultural Development Manager. “To be blunt, one of the reasons movies always want to come to Massachusetts is because of the movie tax credits.”
Massachusetts passed a tax credit to encourage movie studios to work in the state in 2006 – at the start of the Worcester movie boom. It provides for tax credits on payroll, on the cost of production and exemption from sales tax. A movie cannot exceed $ 7 million in credits.
Credit is a statewide incentive, which was enacted when Augustus was a state representative, so that it prevents municipalities from competing with each other to attract productions.
“We don’t offer anything different,” Augustus said. “I was in the legislature when we passed the tax credits. It was sold to us as a strategy because the film industry and all of its related parts have huge economic spinoffs as they come and go for months at a time.
In September, the Massachusetts Production Coalition produced a study that examined the economic impacts of the first season of “Castle Rock” in Massachusetts.
The analysis found that the production of the television series created 1,026 full-time equivalent jobs in the state during its 12 months of production. For every dollar spent on production, this generated $ 1.64 in economic activity in the state.
The analysis also showed that “Castle Rock” spent $ 42 million on expenses eligible for the tax credit. For every dollar of planned tax credit, it generated $ 4.73 in economic activity in the state.
The production is expected to generate $ 69 million in spending spanning real estate, transportation, food, hospitality, retail and construction. The spending spread statewide in the 210 communities where the series was filmed, including Worcester, Clinton and Orange, which served as the backdrop for many shots for the show of the fictional town of Castle Rock.
Specific figures were not available for Worcester or any other town or village, but the study provided a range of income.
The low estimate of total expenses for the Worcester production company is $ 225,000, with high estimates reaching $ 650,000.
“Most movies have economic spinoffs,” Augustus said. “… But it also increases the visibility of the city. I think the people of Worcester find it cool, as they would anywhere, to go to the movies and say “hey, I know this place”. or ‘This is where I lived.’ ”
With tax credits being equal statewide, it was Worcester’s scenery and amenities that attracted films like Night and Day with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, Surrogates with Bruce Willis and american unrest with Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale.
“One of the great things about Worcester in my opinion is that it wasn’t shot like in Boston,” said Mark Fitzgerald, who is a stage manager for the film production companies. “There are a million places, neighborhoods, buildings, unexploited parks. There are a lot of looks out there.
Worcester city center offers cityscapes or 19th century architecture. Its three floors can emit disjointed quarters. Its green space like Green Hill Park can offer a rural setting.
Everything is available within a few kilometers radius in a city that is not overcrowded and that can offer accommodation, food and even accessories.
Worcester is home to the Westerman Prop Warehouse. The more than 60-year-old kitchen supply retailer entered the movie prop industry in 2007 when the movie set decorator needed help assembling a kitchen for “Shutter Island”.
Westerman’s has helped and extended its expertise to all movie props.
“There are a lot of little things Boston has to offer, it has the hotels, it has the food, it has good locations and it’s not as expensive to film or stay here,” said Dan Diaz of Westerman’s. “So Worcester is really becoming, from what I see, a hotbed of filming, not just in Massachusetts but across the country.
Fitzgerald has worked in the film industry for over 20 years. During his time he said he had never heard a bad word about Worcester.
A typical movie has between 40 and 60 locations, Fitzgerald said. When a script is complete, Fitzgerald then examines locations across the state.
The Massachusetts Film Office streamlined some of this by creating an online database with thousands of images of buildings, landscapes and landmarks across the state that can match the demands of a movie.
They can be searched by location, architecture or name. Even with these available services, Worcester has earned a reputation for providing top notch customer service.
Fitzgerald praised Edgar Luna, the city’s director of business development. Not all locations in Worcester have a photo in the system. This is where Luna comes in.
Fitzgerald recalled several instances where Luna, on her way home from work, took some photos of production locations.
“City officials, they’re just bending over backwards,” Fitzgerald said. “Edgar Luna is so helpful I can’t even begin to tell you.”
The coronavirus pandemic has not necessarily slowed the demand for filming productions in Worcester.
HBO MAX’s new pilot based on the life of celebrity chef Julia Child has started its planned filming in front of the city’s Denholm building on Main Street.
Amid the surge in production over the past decade, Fitzgerald believes the city has even more untapped potential.
“Worcester just had a bunch of beautiful, untapped places that just weren’t shot,” Fitzgerald said. “And should be shot because it’s beautiful.”