Movie companies choose out-of-country film shoots

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(Host) When a major motion picture films in Vermont, it can mean millions for the state economy. But more and more film companies are choosing to shoot their movies in Canada or eastern Europe to take advantage of lower production costs.

As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, a small but growing film company in Rutland has found a successful niche in Hollywood while continuing to make movies in Vermont.

(Sound of film crew at work) “Okay, everyone in position, let’s stand by for picture please .”

(Keck) Imagine eighteen people – many of them in waders – in a space about the size of your living room.

(Sound of crew) “Okay, here we go, nobody work, quiet please. Quiet please. And roll sound, rolling, mark. Ready and action and water, water, water!!! Cut! That’s a cut .”

(Keck) Edgewood Studios – a Rutland-based production company – is wrapping up work on its latest film, “Killer Flood! The Day the Dam Broke.” In this scene, three actors struggling to close a valve are drenched with water as a dam begins to give way. It’s exciting stuff, unless of course you’re backstage watching them film it.

Setting up this scene took hours. A small army was needed to monitor things like water pressure, lights, microphones, props, cameras, special effects, the set, the actors and who knows what else. And that’s good – for the local economy. Films like this have a lot of folks on the pay roll. The movie’s producer, Peter Beckwith, says this film employs over 100 people and has a budget of about one million dollars:

(Beckwith) “About half of the budget gets spent here in Rutland County through trickle down. The movie business is basically labor and materials, so all the materials that we use for all these sets are all bought locally. The crew and the cast are all housed locally and they’re all fed locally and they patronize the tourist type attractions. So it’s probably about a $500,000 to $600,000 injection every time we come, in a month.”

(Keck) Beckwith and his business partner, David Giancola, created Edgewood Studios in 1987. Beckwith says on average, they make between two and four movies a year.

(Beckwith) “I actually think we’re unique in the country. You know, wholly owned studio working in a rural area. I don’t think there are any others.”

(Keck) Danis Regal, executive director of the Vermont Film Commission, says Edgewood is a bright spot for Vermont. She says several big budget pictures came to the state in the late ’90s. Remember “What Lies Beneath” starring Harrison Ford and Michele Pfeifer? Or “Me, Myself and Irene” with Jim Carey? Those films brought in tens of millions of dollars to Vermont. But Regal says unfortunately, New England and the country as a whole have become much less attractive to movie producers.

(Regal) “One of the reasons that there are fewer bigger films in the last several years is a lot of the major Hollywood productions have been fleeing to Canada and other points – Australia, the Czech Republic, Romania. For instance, ‘Cold Mountain.’ You know the book ‘Cold Mountain’? The Civil War novel is being shot – it takes place in North Carolina – and it’s all being done in Romania.”

(Keck) Regal says a film now in the planning stages about Ethan Allen, called “The Rebels,” is particularly frustrating. The story was written by a Vermonter and chronicles Vermont history, but Regal says despite the state’s best efforts, most of the film will probably be made in the Czech Republic.

Vermont does offer production companies some tax breaks. For example, if their employees stay more than 31 days at a hotel, the 9% room tax is waived. And film companies, like other manufacturers, are exempt from Vermont’s 5% sales tax on any goods and services bought for production. But those perks, and the ones offered by neighboring New York, New Hampshire or Maine, don’t seem to be enough.

Movie producer Peter Beckwith says last year over 50% of all American productions left the country. This year, he says, it’ll be closer to 60% or 70%.

(Beckwith) “There’s a massive labor conflict going on between those of us who produce movies and the people who work on films. And many foreign countries are offering much more attractive labor rates and tax incentives to bring film productions into their countries. If you go over the boarder to Canada, the American dollar is very strong and the Canadian dollar is very week, so that’s a disadvantage from a cost stand point for an American producer. And then the tax incentives give you up to 30% of your budget back if you shoot with a Canadian crew, so that makes it very difficult to compete.”

(Keck) Beckwith says Edgewood Studios has been able to stay in Rutland because they’ve found a successful niche in Hollywood shooting lower budget, family action movies. Having a full service sound stage – something rare for a town the size of Rutland – is also a plus.

(Beckwith) “The reason we get these shows is because nobody around the world can deliver as much bang for the buck, which is what they say in the film business, as we can at this budget level.”

(Keck) Edgewood studio’s Peter Beckwith says the trend to film outside the country is a national problem, not a Vermont one. But he says considering the sizable economic impact a movie can have, he’d like to see state lawmakers do more to encourage local film making.

(Beckwith) “Because what Vermont likes are industries with a light foot print. And we come, we dump a pile of money and we leave. We’re just tourism in different clothes. So if they sort of understood that, then they’d probably be more aggressive about creating an environment where we could thrive. But it really is more a national issue than a local issue.”

(Keck) Beckwith and his business partner, David Giancola, say that despite the current labor situation, they want to stay in Rutland. Giancola says it’s like any other industry – when a product can be made cheaper overseas, it usually is. Giancola says his movie company will just have to work harder to diversify and compete. Edgewood’s latest film, Killer Flood, the Day the Dam Broke, will be released next Spring.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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