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New England Studios hopes to begin producing motion pictures & television series at this state-of-the-art facility in 2014

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New England Studios hopes to begin producing motion pictures & television series at this state-of-the-art facility in 2014

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"If you build it, they will come."

No, that's not just a phrase that gets whispered to Kevin Costner as he wanders through a cornfield. That's also the dream of would-be entertainment entrepreneuers everywhere. They sincerely believe if they build a state-of-the-art soundstage somewhere other than Hollywood, filmmakers who are tired of dealing with the high costs & hassles of shooting in Southern California will flock to this new facility.

Copyright 2013 New England Studios. All rights reserved

That's certainly what the folks behind New England Studios, the $40 million film & television production facility which recently opened in Central Massachusetts, think. They believe that the combination of this studio's four brand-new 18,000-square-foot soundstages as well as all of its IT underpinnings (EX: 75 miles of fiber optic run through NE Studios & its support buildings with 42 separate WiFi networks, which are capable of speeds up to 10 GB, the highest in the industry) will be too good to resist. Especially when you factor in all of the tax incentives that the Bay State offers production companies who do business in Massachusetts (i.e., A 25% credit for payroll expenses AND a 25% credit for production services).

Mind you, since New England Studios was actually built at Fort Devens, the army base that I was assigned to during my 4 year stint in the service ... Well, I just had to go check the place out. So when I heard that they were having a special holiday-themed open house (i.e., if you came by NE Studios this past Saturday and either dropped off canned goods for a local food pantry ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... or donated a toy to Toys for Tots ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... you were then allowed to enter this new very-secure facility).

Photo by Jim Hill

... Nancy and I swung by Target, purchased some canned goods & toys and then drove on down to Massachusetts to take a quick tour of the place.

Photo by Jim Hill

You enter New England Studios through its three story-tall, 30,000 square-foot production support building. Here there are 14 dressing rooms for performers plus hair & make-up areas. There are also several "star" suites which feature their very own private passageways to the soundstages to accommodate any aloof A-listers.

But as the four soundstages ...  They're each 120-by-150-foot wide and their walls are quilted with insulation as well as 70 miles of sound-proofing material. As a direct result, New England Studios' have a noise curve rating of 25.

Photo by Jim Hill

Noise reduction was a big concern during the design & construction of New England Studios. This is why all of the soundstage's catwalks and light staging areas were constructed out of Douglas firs from Oregon. By doing that, not only is this production facility far more "green" than others around the country, but using wood rather than metal up in its catwalk areas, New England Studios then get to avoid that unfortunate "ping" sound you sometimes get with steel when it heats up or cools down.

Best of all, if you throw open the three 42' x 24' interior elephant doors which separate the four soundstages, you then wind up with 72,000 square feet of feature film and television production space. Which should be enough to accommodate any ambitious picture or TV series which decides to shoot in Central Massachusetts.

Photo by Jim Hill

Then when you factor in the 20,000-square-foot mill & storage building directly behind these soundstages where crew members could then assemble the sets -- plus space on the second & third floor of the production support building which could then be used for offices, conference rooms and cubicles -- New England Studios has all of the proper pieces in place should Hollywood ever come a-calling.

The only problem is -- even though New England Studios has been officially open since mid-September -- Hollywood hasn't come a-calling. Not yet, anyway. To hear the folks who were running Saturday's tour talk, there have been definitely some inquiries. And -- with luck -- New England Studios may have some very big news to announce by this time next month.

The circus scene for "Oz the Great and Powerful" circus being shot at Raleigh
Michigan Studios in Michigan back in 2011. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But here's the thing: Thirty-seven states around the country offer tax incentives to movie and television production companies. And these days, the powers-that-be in Hollywood tend to steer most of the work toward those states which offer them the greatest financial advantages. Take -- for example -- North Carolina, where the films from "The Hunger Games" series have been shot, and New Mexico, which is where large portions of  "Marvel's The Avengers " was shot.

And God help the state that dares to tinker with the financial incentives that it offers Hollywood. Michigan learned this the hard way when it slashed the production rebates it was offering to companies that came to Pontiac to use Raleigh Michigan Studios. Where once "Oz the Great and Powerful " made use of all seven soundstages at this facility in 2010 (thanks in large part to the $40 million film tax credit that Michigan was offering at that time), when the state revised its incentives in 2011, Hollywood's interest in using Raleigh Michigan Studios basically dried up. As a  direct result, this studio missed several scheduled debt servicing payments and then -- in August 2012 -- defaulted on a $630,000 payment on its construction bond.

Michigan Motion Pictures Studios

Since that time, Michigan's state legislature has revisited the whole idea of financial incentives for film and television productions. And given $60 million in production rebates were made available in 2013 ... Well, is it any wonder that -- come 2014 -- Zack Snyder's "Batman Vs Superman" will be shot at Raleigh Michigan Studios (now renamed Michigan Motion Picture Studios).

And it's not as though there aren't already films and TV series being shot in Massachusetts right now. Even as you read this, "Business Trip" (a comedy starring Vince Vaughn), "The Forger" (a crime thriller featuring John Travolta and Christopher Plummer), and  "Olive Kitteridge" (a TV mini-series that has Bill Murray & Frances McDormand in its cast) are shooting and/or have just wrapped up production in the Bay State. So there is still genuine interest out there in using Massachusetts as a place to produce films & television

Photo by Jim Hill

But then when you consider that The Walt Disney Company and MCAUniversal both tried to turn Orlando into Hollywood East in the late 1980s / early 1990s and even these two entertainment giants ultimately failed in that endeavor ... I'm afraid that New England Studios has some very real challenges ahead of it.

But even so, I wish the folks behind this state-of-the-production facility the best of luck. If only because I know so many folks here in the Northeast that would love to go work at a place like New England Studios.

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  • The line is: 'if you build it, HE will come', not 'they.'

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