THE NEW thriller “Edge of Darkness,’’ based on a BBC miniseries set in Yorkshire, could have been filmed anywhere. The grieving policeman played by Mel Gibson could have been from a big city or small town, from San Francisco to the bayous of Louisiana. But by the time the film went into production, Gibson’s character was from Roslindale. He spent an afternoon in the Public Garden watching the swan boats. The high-tech firm at the center of the story was on a foliage-draped hill in Northampton. There was even a senator who lived on Beacon Hill and talked like John Kerry.
All that local color came at a price: The filmmakers could reclaim 25 percent of their outlays in Massachusetts in the form of a tax credit, meaning that state taxpayers funded at least several millions of the cost. Then again, the film crew laid out many more millions for meals, hotels, cars, and local film crew - business that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. And there’s the incalculable benefit of having millions of moviegoers watching the swanboats and admiring the foliage.
Now, Governor Patrick and the Legislature are weighing significant cutbacks to the state’s film credit, capping all outlays at $50 million, less than half of last year’s expenditures. This means that film companies can get the credits only on a first-come, first-served basis, and most would be denied. While it’s reasonable to expect even successful programs to absorb cuts in hard times, the proposed cap goes way too far and would deprive the state of the many benefits of a thriving film industry.
To most filmmakers, any cap is unsatisfactory, because it means they never can be sure that some other company won’t have exhausted all the funds before they finish filming. And there are other options. Connecticut offers a 30-percent credit. Michigan offers 40 percent. Massachusetts has thrived with a 25-percent credit because filmmakers will accept a slightly higher cost for the chance to film in Boston, Rockport, the Pioneer Valley, and other attractive sites. Since 2006, when the credit was enacted, a whopping 38 major films have been shot in Massachusetts, compared to 10 in first seven years of the decade.
It’s reasonable to ask the state’s film office to look for ways to trim the outlays short of a cap. Perhaps cutting the 25-percent credit to 20 percent would still ensure a steady flow of movies. Perhaps the film office could target only the most promising producers, those who are likely to come back again and again.
But there should be no question about the value of the film industry to Massachusetts. Among the millions of international moviegoers watching Boston-based films are people looking to locate their businesses, plan major conventions, and book vacations. The people of the Bay State are justly proud of their image. The film credit conveys that image to the world. It gives Boston, in particular, the world-class status it needs and deserves. The film credit has been a success and deserves to continue without a cap.
It is plainly worth the money.