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Hollywood East

2 studios, with thousands of jobs, see work for them both, and more

At a temporary production studio in Cordage Park, Plymouth Rock Studios has set up executive offices and is filming a 'reality sitcom.' At a temporary production studio in Cordage Park, Plymouth Rock Studios has set up executive offices and is filming a "reality sitcom." (Globe Staff Photo / Tom Herde)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / April 24, 2008

To those who wonder whether there's room in Massachusetts for two major movie studios, the answer from the studios is an emphatic yes. In fact, planners of the two pending projects say that together they will create an even bigger draw to lure high-powered moviemakers to the South Shore.

Officials for Plymouth Rock Studios, who want to build a studio complex in South Plymouth, and for International Studio Group, who propose SouthField Studio on the former naval air base in South Weymouth, say the biggest threats to their ambitious projects are elsewhere.

Competition from Connecticut, Michigan, and Pennsylvania is what could stand in the way of the South Shore's becoming Hollywood East. Last week in Connecticut, studio investors put in the high bid for a former Army engine plant in Stratford. Michigan has just instituted the most aggressive tax incentive package yet designed to attract the film industry. And when Pennsylvania instituted a tax-incentive package last summer, two major film projects were announced shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, North Carolina bills itself as the third-largest movie-producing state in the country.

With such competition in mind, backers of the Plymouth Rock studio in Plymouth and SouthField Studio in Weymouth hope to move quickly to stake their East Coast claim. Together, the studios say, they would generate at least 7,000 jobs.

SouthField Studio is expected to be the first of the two local studios to open.

"We'll be the guinea pig because we should be open about a year before them," said International Studio Group principal Allan Kassirer, a California entertainment lawyer, agent, and television producer. "And if we can turn this into Hollywood East, we'll have enough work [in this state] for everyone."

International Studio Group, or ISG, whose principals are Hollywood-connected producers and studio owners, announced on April 8 plans to build a $250 million to $300 million motion picture and television studio on 30 acres of the 1,400-acre former air station in Weymouth.

According to Kassirer, the studio project has secured all of its financing and is ready to move forward, pending approval by state legislators of a 20 percent tax credit on construction costs. (Current tax incentives are for moviemaking only, not facilities.)

Kassirer said the Weymouth studio hinges on tax credit approval. If it were to be passed, permitting - expected to take 90 days - could start right away, with construction to follow. Part of the studio complex would be up and running within a year, he said.

The air base has the advantage of access and infrastructure. Utilities are already in place. Route 18 is being widened, and a state-funded parkway, for access from Route 3, could be completed in about 14 months, Kassirer said.

LNR Property Corp., the billion-dollar, California-based development company that is converting the base into a housing, retail, and office complex called SouthField, has partnered with ISG on the project.

"This is an incredibly good location," Kassirer said. "LNR is building a T stop, and we're only 12 miles from downtown - about 20 minutes by car" from Boston.

ISG's proposal calls for a $250 million to $300 million movie and television studio, with 10 to 15 soundstages, support facilities, office space, restaurants, and retail shops. Company officials estimate that, overall, 5,000 jobs would be created.

The studio that a group of California movie moguls propose for Plymouth is of roughly the same investment scale, but on three times as much land.

Plymouth Rock Studios would be a $282 million project with 14 soundstages for starters, with later expansion to as many as 28. Plans call for two 100,000-square-foot production buildings and two back lots for exterior scenes. The Plymouth plan also calls for a kindergarten through Grade 12 performing arts school, vocational classrooms, cultural and visitors centers, and a screening theater. Although the full studio is still a few years away, provided it wins town approval, an advance executive office is already operating in Cordage Park. Limited filming is underway there.

The biggest difference between the two studios is that Plymouth Rock faces more hurdles toward approval. The immediate challenge is winning a required two-thirds vote by Plymouth Town Meeting representatives June 9 for zoning changes and land sale approval. Some residents worry about the ambitious plan's effect on largely undeveloped South Plymouth. A townwide, nonbinding referendum vote is set for May 10.

Like SouthField Studio, the Plymouth Rock proposal includes residential and commercial development.

"We have identified 119 different businesses that will go along with the studio," said David Kirkpatrick, a principal of Plymouth Rock Studios. The company projects the studio will create more than 2,000 high-paying film jobs, with more jobs created by the studio-related developments that will accompany it.

"This will be a green initiative," Kirkpatrick said. "We could probably squeeze it on 100 acres, but . . . we're not interested in bulldozing down the land, but working within its contours." The studio site is about 300 acres.

The state has committed $55 million to build an interchange off Route 25 and bring infrastructure to the undeveloped site. In return, Plymouth Rock will provide financing confirmation and hire a set number of Massachusetts residents.

Kirkpatrick estimated that permitting will take about a year. The project should be ready to open by late 2010 or early 2011, officials predict.

But is there enough film work to keep two studios busy?

Kirpatrick said 10 films will be shot in Massachusetts this year - enough to book every soundstage in both studios.

And more films are being made in the state each year, said Nicholas Paleologos, executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office. Two other studio projects, not yet public, also are in the works elsewhere in Massachusetts, he said - a "measure of how competitive Masachusetts is . . . that there are three or four groups willing to spend money on soundstages right now."

"More movies shot means more money spent here, means more jobs created here," Paleologos stated in an e-mail. "And capturing the revenue stream from all this new production activity is exactly why these entrepreneurs and their investors want to spend their money building soundstages here."

He adds: "If you build it, they will come."

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

PLYMOUTH ROCK STUDIO, South Plymouth - COST: $282 million; SIZE: 300 acres, 14 soundstages initially; number may eventually double.

SOUTHFIELD STUDIO, Weymouth - COST: $250 million to $300 million; SIZE: 30 acres, 10-15 soundstages; Together, the studios estimate at least 7,000 jobs will be created

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