As the big director on Beacon Hill has called ‘Cut’ in regards to the controversial movie industry tax credit program, local businesses are responding with ‘Action.’
As Chelsea has eased into becoming one of the hottest Hollywood filming locations east of the Mississippi River, local businesses and individuals have also eased into doing business and seeking employment with those major-scale productions that so frequently come to town.
Now, with Gov. Charlie Baker questioning the wisdom of a critical tax credit subsidy program for movie companies – a subsidy that has in large part been responsible for the movie boom here – local businesses are speaking out against the plan. The idea of eliminating such tax credits has been on the table in Massachusetts numerous times, but has never gained serious momentum until now. Meanwhile, across the country, other states like Michigan are beginning to look at eliminating their movie tax credits as well. All of it is based on numbers produced by state governments showing the direct jobs created doesn’t equal out to the lucrative tax breaks or handouts given to movie companies.
Across the board, businesses in Chelsea that sell paint, carpet and groceries said the state isn’t counting all the costs – especially those that can’t be counted.
“I think they have not figured things properly when looking at the numbers,” said Barry Kirshon of Kirshon Paint and Window Treatments. “Those numbers might be right, but they’re not looking at the domino effect because these movie companies spend so much money the government doesn’t know about. I don’t know how they would know how much they spend in my store or at the hotels, or at the lumberyard in Revere or at Chelsea Floor Coverings here in Chelsea…They’re not looking at the entire aspect of this.”
Kirshon estimated that 15 percent of his business last year came from movie productions, allowing him to add jobs and overtime.
“We’ve actually added more employees because of it and added more overtime for existing employees,” he said. “If they take it away, we can’t bring in new employees or give more overtime – which brings the store more income taxes and, from my business, more sales taxes.”
Another business locally that has benefited is Stop & Compare Supermarket in Bellingham Square.
Business owner Albert Calvo said his bustling supermarket has been taken over not once, but twice, for the filming of a major motion picture. That series of movies, ‘Ted’ and ‘Ted 2’, occupied his store for filming. In the case of ‘Ted 2,’ the store was compensated for two days of lost sales.
“We were compensated with two days of lost sales, which goes to the bottom line, since we were shut down for two days and saved on operating expenses,” said Calvo. “They made repairs, painted the store, bought $2,000 of fruits and vegetables to film a big section of the store at no cost to us. I would estimate they spent around $6,000 to $8,000 on the property.”
Calvo added that when he spoke with the workers, may were locals from the Greater Boston area, including make-up artists, carpenters and set designers.
Naturally, having two major motion pictures in your store is also the kind of advertising that can’t be boiled down to a dollar figure.
“The goodwill and free press about our store is tremendous,” he said. “Lots of folks ask me about the filming of Ted in our store. Now they know where we are, where otherwise they would not. There are lots of benefits, and few costs. In summary, it was positive for our business.”
At Chelsea Floor Covering on Everett Avenue under the Mystic/Tobin Bridge, they have been providing materials to the movie industry for 10 years, and operated as the set for extensive filming of ‘The Equalizer’ two years ago. All in all, they said having the movie tax credit ended up luring the movie industry to their business, and then once they were in Chelsea to buy product, they realized what a great setting it was for a movie.
“It is important for us,” said Paul Tassinari of Chelsea Floor Coverings. “We’ve gotten a lot of business over the last 10 years. All the movies that have come to Chelsea have really helped us. Things have been tough over the last few years and the movies that come in do so much business and that’s been a good help. I don’t know if getting rid of the credit would make them not come here, but I think they’ll probably question it. It definitely lures them to the area to do films. We’d like to keep it in place, but I understand the dilemma. Maybe there’s a compromise that can be reached.”
Even the Chelsea Chamber of Commerce has stepped up in leading the fight, saying that many of its members and even local Chelsea set workers have benefitted from the movie industry. In a letter submitted to the Record this week, Executive Director Rich Cuthie said eliminating the tax credit could take it all away.
“There are residents of Chelsea in various lines of work who earn their livings working with local film production,” he wrote. “As their employment goes, so goes their spending in our local economy. We feel it is a miscalculation to believe that the elimination of the Film Tax Credit will not deter studios from filming in Massachusetts. Toronto, Canada has long stood in as an inexpensive ‘Any City, USA’ and will do so again under your proposal.”
Kirshon said that even suggesting the idea of eliminating the credit may have frightened some studios.
He cited one huge major motion picture that was to come to Boston this summer, but recently backed out in order to do its filming in Rhode Island. He said he didn’t know if the proposal had an effect on that, but it could have.
“Even a statement threatening to do this scares away the production companies,” he said. “When they hear that, they’re afraid they might not get the credit when they get here to film and they go elsewhere.”