Entertainment » Vol. 38

HollyWoo and the Worcester movie business

By Richard Morchoe

Will Spiderman swing from new heights in Worcester in his next cinematic incarnation? Who knows, but he could when Mass Studios is done raising the roof. Upon completion, the project will have the second highest studio roof in the country. Next October, work is to begin on elevating the Pullman Street structure from 65 feet to 80 feet. When done, solar panels will go on top, making it the greenest studio in the country.

Are there any other reasons for Spidey to arrive in a town historically known more for industry than show biz? Could Wormtown become HollyWoo?

It’s already happening. Most recently, in October, the HBO miniseries, Olive Kittredge, made a star out of the Worcester Airport. The show stars Frances McDormand in the title role. McDormand is best known for her Oscar-winning performance in Fargo. She had a queenly presence on set, as was noted by the many locals hired as extras.

American HustleBefore that, American Hustle was in town. It seemed some days you couldn’t help but run into Christian Bale on the streets. The movie was filmed in Worcester during the spring. Why here? According to The Associated Press, renowned director David O. Russell said “There are places there that you can’t find in the New York area that are untouched from the ’70s.” Putting aside whether or not that’s a compliment, a diversity of locales does not hurt when wooing production companies.

Take it for what it’s worth, but Russell referred to Worcester as a “gold mine.” American Hustle, the story of ABSCAM, a huge scandal several decades ago, is being tipped for Academy Awards.

The Worcester Regional Airport just loves to be in pictures. Before Olive Kittredge, Captain Philips landed at the airport. Captain Philips is the Tom Hanks vehicle about a skipper’s close call with pirates.

That ’70s look can’t be the only reason for the city’s popularity. At the Kittredge shoot, Barbara Guertin, studio director of Mass Studios, spoke with crew members who were appreciative of how efficiently a day’s work could be accomplished. The extras showing up on time, if not early, at the Tatnuck Driving Range impressed Team Kittredge.

A reason for this is our better traffic patterns. Time is money for moviemakers. Actors are on a 12-hour day, starting from when they leave the hotel. If it takes too long to shift them, shooting time is lost. Such would rarely be the case in Worcester.

Along with the rest of Massachusetts, Worcester benefits from the generous tax incentives to projects that qualify. The Bay State provides up to a 25 percent payroll credit and a 25 percent production expense credit.

Even if we never see another crew swoop in from L.A. to take over the airport or hang out in the Canal District, movies are going to be made here. The Central Mass Film Festival, held in October, showcased numerous independent films, many of them local efforts.

IMG_0505One of the trailers shown was for Girls Night Out, made by two of the three impresarios of the new studio. Guertin has much experience in stage, screen and TV, having an association with The Foothills Theater and a role in Guiding Light on her resume. Kristen Lucas, who is the studio’s director of marketing, is always moving forward with some project. Goldilocks Productions, which she founded, is making Girls Night Out.

The third member of the Mass Studios triumvirate is Anton Nel. Nel emigrated from South Africa in 1994 and was asked back by the post-apartheid government to put together a film studio. This experience, and his knowledge of finance, makes him a key part of the team.

The three are not alone. Ed Madaus, the man behind the Hanover Theater revival, has been instrumental to the studio, as well.

There are collateral benefits to the HollyWoo brand. Not the least, Nel said, is the value of film tourism. New Zealand is hard to get to, yet it is now the destination of choice for Lord of the Rings fans seeking Middle Earth. Multitudes come to Boston to hang out at Cheers, even though the show wasn’t filmed there. A thriving film scene and studio complex could, sooner or later, produce a film or series with a cult following.

Though the roof raising does not start for months, things are already happening at Mass Studios. Work is being done on the three buildings that will make up the complex. Mass Studios, according to Guertin, is a guerilla operation, open for business even while the rejuvenation is in progress.

So HollyWoo, finish those scripts and head on over to 30 Pullman St.

For more information, visit massstudios.com.

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