State tax incentives for the film industry continue to draw big, box-office names to make movies here, but there’s long been something missing: a sound stage. Now, a company called New England Studios has unveiled a massive sound stage complex in the northwest suburbs, with plans to expand.
A former army base about 45 minutes from Boston, Devens is home to leafy green woods, and now, a massive new building. It looks like an upscale warehouse and sits on a sprawling, 15-acre lot.
Inside, it’s a nearly sound-proof studio, with soaring white, insulated walls.
Chris Byers, director of operations at this brand new facility, where actors and filmmakers can stage and shoot nearly anything, says each of the four stages is 18,000 square feet — even elephants could fit through the doors.
"Twenty-four feet high and 44 feet long, so they’re the largest moving elephant doors in North America," Byers said.
Byers and a group of private investors spent $41 million building these four contiguous sound stages to accommodate the state’s film industry. It’s fueled by the state’s generous film-related tax credits.
"Boston is such a great place to film, the character of the buildings and structures and the way that everything’s laid out," Byers said. "There’s a lot of great stuff to film in Massachusetts. And it’s not all in the studio, but now we do have that opportunity."
It’s not the first time a sound stage has been floated in Massachusetts. Plymouth Rock Studios promised to create a “Hollywood East” in 2010. But after zoning and permits were in place, the funding turned out to be fraudulent and the development fell through. But Byers, originally a movie producer in LA, says there’s still a capable local workforce to staff a sound stage.
"I was really shocked at how much infrastructure Massachusetts had, as far as crews and posts and editing houses, camera houses, grip and electric," he said.
Byers and his partners took everything they knew about LA sound stages to construct the best possible facility in Devens — from soundproof walls to rafters that soar to 47 feet.
"You could suspend many cars from this ceiling," Byers said. "Forty-seven feet is the bottom of the perms. Sixty-one feet is to the ceiling. So we’re pretty high up and there isn’t anything between us and the ground except what’s called the catwalks and the permanents."
The details impressed New England Studios’ first client, the directors of the indie movie “Tumbledown,” which used the facility in April. Also attractive: the dressing rooms, and video conference space.
"It really gives the ability for the local casting people to get to the casting people in Los Angeles instantly, and that’s why we did it," Byers said. "Hopefully to help promote using more of the local talent instead of having to ship them in all the time."
Byers says he’s in talks with other film executives about upcoming projects, but it’s not clear how many he’ll need to bring in to keep the facility running.
"It really isn’t about the number of films — it would be the size," Byers said. "We could have one film that shot here eight months and we’re golden."
A big film, or a television series — but it’s still too early to know if New England Studios will be a golden opportunity for further growth in the film industry here.
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