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The Mass Media

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February 26, 2024
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Creative Economy Takes Off In Boston

Creative Economy Takes Off In Boston

Let’s forget about Shutter Island and the list of other Blockbusters shot in Boston over the past few years. The film tax credit, now being reviewed by Massachusetts’s lawmakers, certainly drew a slew of high budget films to the Bay State area. But the real growth in Boston’s creative industry has more to do with local film and entertainment companies that continue to grow in the area than with occasional visits from Hollywood producers.

Last spring UMass Boston professors of management and economics Pacey Foster and David Terkla respectively, received a $25,000 creative grant from UMass. Along with 3 research assistants they spent a year interviewing people in the local and national film industry. They interviewed people from across the country and some at the local cable leviathan Powderhouse methodically parsing the nuances of the film industry.

“Massachusetts is one of the fastest growing states in the country for film and 3-D production,” Professor Foster said in a phone interview. “We’re taking that sector of the economy in Massachusetts seriously in a way that we haven’t on the past.”

Not only are new film companies creating internship opportunities for graduates from Emerson and Mass College of Art among others, they’ve drawn a base of creative professionals to Boston, creating a local pool of talent for Hollywood to use when they shoot films here. As more of these professionals live locally, naturally the money from the film industry spreads to local contractors, and local vendors.

As lawmakers consider capping the Film Tax Credit, which is responsible for the sudden film industry growth in Boston, Professor Foster’s study adds perspective to the debate.

“Part of our report was to provide some of the nuance that you need to understand about the industry, to think carefully about some of these policy decisions. Because if we’re going to make policy we need to understand the impact that these policies have,” Professor Foster said.

Even though Hollywood still holds a monopoly on the commercial film market, industry jobs are spreading east. Lately New York City has become a bastion for aspiring actors and directors. Film has been the only growing industry in New York during this recession.

Perry Kroll works as freelancer in New York creating visual effects for companies like A&E and the Economist. He graduated with a degree in directing from Tisch film school at NYU last year, and lately he’s gotten so much work he has to turn clients down.

“It’s the kind of thing that if I say no, they’ll go to someone else, and if they like another freelancer’s work then they’ll stick with him,” Kroll said.

The competition in the creative field, drives prices low, Kroll said. Often, large companies are suspicious of the low prices freelancers offer, so a web of creative firms absorbs the difference.

“[Big companies like A&E] go to a creative firm first, and the creative firm goes to a smaller firm, because they need titles or something. The smaller firm hires me if I’ve done work for them before, or if they like my portfolio,” Kroll said. “It’s really ruthless and you have to bid low to get the job. When it trickles down to me, often it doesn’t pay well enough.”

Critics of the tax credit say that money the state pays in tax credits ends up only benefitting people who are already wealthy.

Though some of the money from the tax credits ends up in deep Hollywood coffers, much of it creates jobs for unemployed Bostonians. Paying large salaries to a few talented people is an aspect of the industry, Professor Foster pointed out. But even though some of these jobs are temporary, as the film industry in Boston continues to grow it continues to generate more permanent jobs.

“By just focusing on the tax credit we’re not focusing on other sectors who may or may not be using it,” Professor Foster said.

Duval Patrick’s budget crackdowns to close the $2.7 billion budget gap in Massachusetts, threaten the film industry as much as they threaten homeless shelters and public schools.

“They’re cutting health care. Public libraries are shutting. Believe me I get it. But on the other hand here’s a program that’s has actually brought a lot of new work to the state. Here’s a program that’s creating jobs for local artists, and I think there’s something to be said for that,” Professor Foster said.

As lawmakers battle over what is best for the budget, professor Foster said he hopes his findings will help guide the discussion.

“It’s irresponsible not to look at it in a budget like this. On the other hand if we [impose a cap on the tax credit] we have to understand what the implications are going to be, and do it in such a way that we do as little harm to the industry here,” Professor Foster said.

While big movies bring big stars any hype, they offer a limited economic boost.

“Maybe instead of thinking about an across the board cap, maybe we should be thinking about a proportional cap, or a cap that encourages more local production, and to do that we need to have a collaborative discussion with the industry,” said professor Foster.

If the governor can work with state senators and the Boston film industry, jobs for local artists will continue to multiply. But even an across the board tax cap will not completely snuff out Boston’s creative industry. Professor Foster already has a new grant lined up for a study on the local gaming. Guitar Hero anyone?

About the Contributor
Caleb Nelson served as the following positions for The Mass Media the following years: Editor-in-Chief: Fall 2010; 2010-2011; Fall 2011 News Editor: Spring 2009; 2009-2010