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Technicolor dreams soar in Plymouth

Residents starry-eyed over movie studio plans

Email|Print| Text size + By Jenna Russell
Globe Staff / March 8, 2008

PLYMOUTH - For Jon Dorn, an aspiring filmmaker from Plymouth, the news was like a dream. A team of West Coast executives, planning to build a major East Coast movie studio, had zeroed in on a site a mile from where Dorn grew up - 1,000 acres of pine barrens near the Bourne Bridge in south Plymouth.

Now, when Dorn envisions his future, he sees himself living his fantasy of making movies without leaving his hometown. He is not alone.

Across this sprawling town of almost 60,000 people at the gateway to Cape Cod and beyond its borders, up the South Shore to Boston, the plans for a Hollywood East have stoked countless Technicolor hopes and celluloid ambitions. Some 500 would-be makeup artists, hairdressers, camera operators, stuntmen, actors, and prop builders have submitted resumes through a link on the studio's website, though the project has not been approved by town officials.

In the midst of an economic downturn and a real estate crisis that has hit fast-growing Plymouth harder than some of its neighbors, the glittery proposal for a world-class movie- making complex is a treasured bright spot.

With its patina of glamour and promise of high-paying jobs, the project has drawn passionate support from local artists and technicians with lengthy resumes in entertainment work and from others with little more than dreams of their big break.

"Really, if they were planning something like this anywhere on the East Coast, I would be excited, but the fact that they might be building it around the corner from my house . . . I couldn't have imagined it," said Dorn, a Skidmore College junior whose interest in film was born when his high school English teacher let him make a movie instead of writing a paper.

The $500 million proposal, for a 1.2-million-square-foot campus with 14 sound stages ambitiously scheduled for completion by 2010 or 2011, emerges at a time of unprecedented activity in Massachusetts by the film industry.

Until 2005, no more than two movies had been made in the state in a single year.

But the state approved new tax credits for film projects in 2006 and 2007, boosting its appeal, and the number of films shot here jumped to eight last year, said Nick Paleologos, director of the Massachusetts Film Office. Seven productions are underway; by year's end, the total could hit a dozen, he said.

In Taunton, Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese was in town this week to start filming "Ashecliffe," based on a Dennis Lehane novel about an investigation at an asylum for the criminally insane. The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, and Michelle Williams and is slated for release next year.

"To have Hollywood interested in your hometown, there's this sense of pride you have," Mayor Charles Crowley of Taunton said.

The studio being planned in Plymouth and another filmmaking facility proposed in Weymouth, would help meet the state's critical need for sound stages, vast, warehouse-like spaces where movie crews build sets and film interiors.

The space shortage could limit Hollywood's further interest in Massachusetts, said Paleologos, whose staff conducts weekly searches for abandoned supermarkets and empty skating rinks to satisfy the space demands of visiting film crews.

The veteran movie executives pushing the project in Plymouth, former Paramount Pictures presidents David Kirkpatrick and Earl Lestz, say their project will bolster the industry by setting up a movie-making village where hundreds of artisans and crew members, working for dozens of on-site businesses, will build sets, make props and costumes, style hair, mix sound, and man cameras to support the film and television projects turned out at the site.

Project leaders also plan to address another of the state's key needs by cultivating a larger local pool of skilled talent and labor to work on entertainment projects. If the new studio is approved, they say, they will establish an education complex on the Plymouth campus and satellite classes where hundreds of local actors, who could be tapped for small, "day player" jobs, would hone their skills.

Such talk has fanned the desires of aspiring crew members and actors like Megan Dupes. A stay-at-home mother of 10-year-old twin boys, Dupes studied theater in college but set aside her career to raise her children. She is thrilled at the possibility of picking up where she left off.

"I'd work with costumes or set design or anything, really," she said. "I would love to have my own show, but I'll start at the bottom. I'll be the water girl and work my way up. That's the way the business works, and I know that."

To get her foot in the door and help ensure that the project is not shot down by Plymouth town officials, Dupes said she plans to offer her help to project developers, "and maybe wow them with my enthusiasm," as they seek the town's approval by early summer.

Though the community has expressed widespread support for the project - an unscientific Chamber of Commerce survey of 400 residents found 84 percent favored the plan - it must be approved at a special Town Meeting expected in June.

The project's promoters have played up its celebrity wattage, telling residents that if the studio is approved, they might find themselves "having lunch next to Matt Damon."

But to many locals like Jeff St. Pierre, a musician and sound engineer, the plan is appealing for more practical reasons. Weary of commuting to his job at a company that makes synthesizers, St. Pierre hopes to find work at the studio, "which would be incredibly interesting and beats driving to Waltham."

Film industry veterans in the area, including cinematographer Tom Robotham of Scituate, said they, too, are hopeful, though they cautioned that the studio's presence will not guarantee fame and fortune.

"If Microsoft opened a facility in Plymouth, would people expect to become captains of the computer industry?" Robotham said. "You might get a job, and it could be great, or your child might get a toehold in a profession not open to them previously. But for every adult, there's a whole lot of hard work and luck involved."

Jenna Russell can be reached at jrussell@globe.com.

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