Film Studios Shy Away from New England

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(Host) An adventure movie being filmed in the Rutland area is back on schedule now that a labor dispute has been settled. The film company, Edgewood Studios, has agreed to provide health and pension benefits to members of the stagehand union for its next production. A studio official says he has no problem with the union. But he says production companies throughout the country are squeezed by higher costs and foreign competition.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) Edgewood studios in Rutland is making the only major feature in New England right now. The movie, Frozen Impact, is a low-budget adventure flick. It’s about a search and rescue specialist whose son needs a liver transplant.

Producer Peter Beckwith says the company has reached an amiable settlement with the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees. But Beckwith says the problems facing the local and national film industry go far beyond labor disputes.

(Beckwith) "We’re a microcosm of a much bigger challenge that the film industry in the United States is facing overall."

(Dillon) According to Beckwith, the domestic movie business has been battered by foreign competition because other governments offer favorable financial and tax incentives. He says studios have moved production to Canada and Eastern Europe. That’s left the unions trying to squeeze more out of the smaller films that are still being shot here:

(Beckwith) "They’re looking at trying to find ways to preserve jobs and benefit plans for their workers as they see more and more production leave the country. So the only way they can do that is go after smaller and smaller productions to get whatever crumbs are left on the table. Now, that doesn’t make them the evil labor organizers and us the victimized film makers. That’s just the circumstances we find ourselves in."

(Dillon) Beckwith’s studio has been a non-union shop for sometime. But it’s also been making movies that cost about a million dollars to produce. That’s the production budget level that the stagehand’s union tries to target for organizing.

The other reason the operation felt union pressure may be that it’s the only movie being made in New England right now. Loranne Turgeon is the executive director of the Vermont Film Commission. She says some production companies have stayed away because the Teamsters Union local in Boston ¿ which provider drivers for movie sets ¿ is under federal investigation.

(Turgeon) "While that investigation is ongoing ¿ and it’s an investigation into the motion picture unit of the local ¿ the studios are reluctant to shoot here. So there’s concerns from the studios and from the major independents that normally shoot union pictures about whether or not it’s viable to shoot in New England at present."

(Dillon) Turgeon agrees with producer Beckwith that the government needs to do more to encourage the domestic film industry. Vermont’s two U.S. senators have co-sponsored legislation that would provide incentives to the industry. They say the legislation is needed to compete with movies made in other countries, especially Canada.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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