Film tax credit launching businesses

New firm rents "star" trailers

A.J. BOLES HAD AN IDEA big enough to drive a truck through.

Through his work on a number of films in Massachusetts, including Shutter Island, filmed at the former Medfield State Hospital, he knew that productions often had to go out of state to rent trucks and particularly trailers for their stars. He saw a business opportunity, and decided to open Above the Line Production Rentals in Northborough last spring with his business partner Brian McNamara.

Above the Line rents two types of vehicles: customized trucks that haul lighting, cables, and other equipment that crews use to prepare sets for filming, and deluxe trailers where Hollywood actors can practice their lines or lounge between takes. The trailers, which offer all the amenities of a one-bedroom apartment, rent for up to $1,700 a week.

 
 A.J. Boles and Brian McNamara in front of one of their star trailers. Photo courtesy of A.J. Boles.
Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin used Above the Line’s trailers last year when they were in Massachusetts filming Labor Day, which is scheduled to open in theaters later this year. Terminales, a pilot for the ABC Family network that wrapped toward the end of last year, rented the company’s customized trucks.

Above the Line is one of many companies in Massa­­chu­setts that have taken the movie plunge, convinced the state’s seven-year-old film tax credit is here to stay and will keep attracting a steady stream of movie and TV productions to the state. Another company betting big on the film tax credit is New England Studios, which is investing $30 million in the construction of four soundstages in Devens that are scheduled to open this summer.

Lisa Strout, director of the Massachusetts Film Office, says companies such as Above the Line and New England Studios are helping to create a real film industry in Massachusetts capable of operating year-round rather than just when movies come to town.

“We are doing really well with growing the A. J. Boleses of Massachu­setts,” she says. “Yes, it’s anecdotal, but it’s an indication of exactly the type of thing that we are trying to accomplish.”

There are nearly 450 businesses and support services in Massachusetts catering to the film industry. Some do film work as a supplement to their regular business, like the doctor who will do house calls to movie sets, the antiques dealer who rents furniture and other items for films, and the entrepreneur who helps Massachusetts companies get their products featured in movies shot in the state.

The film tax credit is the glue that binds all the various businesses together. Production companies that shoot movies, TV shows, or commercials in Massachusetts can receive tax credits equal to 25 percent of whatever they spend. The tax credits can be converted into cash by selling them at a discount to companies with tax liabilities in Massachusetts.

The tax credit has often been attacked as a luxury the state cannot afford, particularly at a time when state aid to municipalities is being cut and police and teachers are being laid off. Many states with film tax credits reined the programs in during the recent economic downturn.

The Patrick administration several years ago took steps to scale the program back and reduce its cost, but ultimately officials decided to leave the tax credit alone. The patience appears to be paying off, as local businesses now appear to be investing for the long term. Ten major film and television productions were shot in the Bay State in 2012, according to the state film office.

Boles, a 15-year film and television veteran who at one point worked as a producer for Martha Stewart Living, grew up in North Reading. He moved back to the state in 2005 from New York after then-Gov. Mitt Romney signed the film tax credit into law.
Boles says film companies come to Massachusetts for the film tax credit but also for the many different locations that are just a short distance away. “We have a benefit that New York doesn’t have,” he says. “You can travel outside Boston and be in so many different locations quickly, whether it be the ocean, the mountains, or small towns.”

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Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

Boles and McNamara invested about $800,000 in trucks and trailers. The business grossed nearly $100,000 last year. McNamara also owns Northeast Sanitation, a separate company that provides portable restrooms to film companies.

Above the Line currently has two star trailers, featuring workspaces, bathrooms, sofas, chairs, large-screen TVs, and other amenities. He wants to get another three trailers delivered by the end of January. “It looks like it is going to be a busy year,” he says.