Category Archives: Prop Assistant

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Being born and raised in the Far East, I had always dreamed of moving to the US and making a living here. But being the youngest and the only girl in an Asian household, leaving home and family behind to move halfway across the world seemed like a far-fetched idea. Even more absurd was my dream to eventually work in the movie industry. Growing up, I remember looking forward to evening movies (often from the US) on the only two English-speaking TV channels, and was absolutely fascinated by the world of visual story telling and the life in the movie industry — Hollywood.

After convincing my parents of my determination to pursue my life in the US, I attended a well-known university in western NY and graduated with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in art. Luckily, I got my first job out of college with an international corporation, which brought me to Boston, and I began my career in corporate America. All the while, I thought my dream job would be just that — a dream — until two life-changing events happened. Firstly, I met my husband, who was born and raised in Massachusetts, got married, and then settled down here; secondly, I was laid off during the 2008-2009 economic crash.

Instead of looking for another corporate job, I decided to take a leap of faith and give my dream a try, despite having no connections in the movie world. I began working hard, volunteering as a PA with no pay on ultra-low budget movies and interning at local production companies. Within a year, I was getting hired consistently to work on locally-produced commercials and music videos, thanks to the increased number of productions coming to the area since the introduction of the film tax incentives. My big break came when I finally got hired to work as a PA on RIPD from 2011 to 2012. Since then, I have worked steadily, on five features and a TV show, mainly as a set dresser or a props assistant, not in Hollywood, but here in Massachusetts.

The movie industry, to outsiders, seems glamorous and star-studded, but the industry is built upon and supported by the local crew and vendors, who outnumber out-of-town stars and above-the-line crew. Because of the film tax incentives, many local crew have been hired on numerous projects that have come to New England over the years. We work long hours (usually 12 to 16 hours per day), sometimes in brutal weather conditions and physically taxing — and often dangerous — situations, but we do so because we love what we do. Throughout the years, we’ve been building good relationships with local suppliers, purchasing tons of lumber, steel, set decorations, meals, and services from local stores, and renting thousands of dollars worth of equipment, props, housing, locations etc., thus pumping money into our local economy. Furthermore, we live, work, and have families in the New England area, so we shop and dine locally, pay local taxes and utility bills, and put our children through local schools.

Without the film tax incentive, I would not have had my start in this business and life here in Massachusetts. I most certainly would have moved to other states in search of my movie career, paying taxes and living costs elsewhere. Personally, I have recently purchased a new car, have four locally rescued pets as my “children,” and am currently looking to buy a condo in the Greater Boston area. Without the film tax incentive, I would not be living the American Dream that has been decades in the making.

My name is Risa Uchida Battis. I am a proud member of the Massachusetts film community, and one of many film tax incentive success stories. Please keep working families working. Here. In New England.

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My name is Kurt Thomas Bergeron, andI have been a Massachusetts resident for the past 35 years. I’ve lived here, I’ve worked here, and I’ve been a student in its schools. As an actor at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, MA, I auditioned for my very first film … and ended up becoming the production designer.  That in itself was an extremely unique opportunity for which I have always been thankful. Since that time, director Rob Fitz and I have collaborated on many projects together.

My own workload has steadily increased. With that increase, I am earning more money, which I am also spending out in the community to acquire more props and set dressing. But now my way of life is threatened, and the only way to allow me to grow is to keep the Massachusetts tax incentive firmly in place. The incentive not only encourages Hollywood films to work in our towns and spend money in our state, but locals like me are forming rental and production companies that employ other Massachusetts residents. These are the jobs that we need and the jobs that we are all fighting for. Take the incentive away and all of that goes away with it. Our unemployment rate will skyrocket, creating a drain that could have been avoided by allowing an industry that brings work, money, and tourism to the state to continue.

I work my butt off, sometimes around the clock. No one works harder or for more hours than those of us who work on the productions we love.

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My name is Melissa Cooperman. I grew up in Holliston, MA, and have lived over 30 years in various parts of Massachusetts. I have been working in Massachusetts for the past 17 years in set decoration and props for movies, commercials, television shows, documentaries, and industrials. Throughout the years, I have seen quite a lot of changes. What originated as a humble holding of additional jobs to compensate my living has turned into a growing career that has allowed me to buy a condo in Medford for our family, maintain health insurance, and purchase a car. In the past, we’ve seen local companies and crew leaving for NY and LA for a more lucrative industry, and the big movies crewing up with out-of-towners. Now, WE fill all of those crew positions, and some people have moved back for that very stability Massachusetts offers. Countless jobs and businesses have been created because of a prospering production industry thanks to the film tax incentives.

My job in the art department involves, well, shopping for a living. Whether the budget for my department is $3,000 or $1 million (yes, I said that!), it’s my job to spend that money on set pieces and props. I have hundreds of Massachusetts stores and individuals I purchase and rent from, including furniture, fabric, lighting, carpet and flooring, antique, and hardware stores; frame shops; consignment and prop shops; artists; event rental outfits, and craigslisters, to name a few. My current job as a set decoration buyer has led me to new vendors in automobile parts, scrap yards, rope suppliers, and many others. From names you recognize to small businesses you might not yet, we spend millions of dollars in the state. From New Bedford to Worcester to Boston to Gloucester, from the north to the south to the east and the west, we support local businesses in the communities. This is just ONE department, on just ONE film. The state currently hosts about 100 productions every year.

The mere mention of possibly eliminating (or even just capping) the film tax credit sends productions flying out of state. We saw it in 2010, and we are seeing it now. Productions will not even location scout in Massachusetts if we do not have incentives in place. This also hugely affects the businesses built on our industry, such as production houses, documentary companies, post-production facilities, gear rentals, studios, and prop houses, let alone every vendor we’ve been spending money with for years. It is not Hollywood who experiences the major benefits of the film tax incentive, it is thousands of your fellow hardworking Massachusetts residents.

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I’ve worked in the art department for films since 1995. In that time, I’ve raised my daughter, Magdalena (with her mom, Massachusetts film worker Jenny M.), bought my house, and paid my taxes. I’ve basically lived my entire adult life with paychecks earned from film production. Before the Massachusetts film tax incentives, much of the hard-to-find work was in Rhode Island, New York, or other states with good film incentive programs (as were the taxes I paid). The film tax incentives have made it possible to make a decent living at home in Massachusetts. If the tax incentives go, so will the jobs of thousands of very specialized craftspeople whose skills have little application outside their trade.

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My name is Chris Luciano, and here’s my story: I started in this industry in 1997 and worked as an art PA, on set dresser, set dresser, and in the props department. I did this for three years, but found that it was not conducive to my role as a single father trying to raise his three-year-old daughter. So off I went to pursue other possibilities.

Fast forward 13 years to four more children, a great marriage, a few failed attempts at a few different careers, a closed small business, and a foreclosure on our home. I faced the scary reality of “what next.” We struggled to pay rent and bills on time, and wrestled with the tough decision of whether we should buy groceries for the week and risk our electricity being shut off … or suffer PB&Js so we’d have power until the unemployment check cashed.

After some trepidation, I decided to give the film industry a try once again. It certainly was a humbling experience to be a 43-year-old PA with five kids, but I was willing to give it a go.

Now, two years later, I haven’t stopped working, my daughter is a freshman in college, and this fall I was able to buy the family a reliable minivan. This winter, we took our first vacation since our honeymoon in 2003. The lights are on, and we have plenty of heat and a full refrigerator. We are even saving money and looking to buy a house again in the near future.

I couldn’t be happier with my choice to return to a career that I never realized how sorely I missed.

I apologize for the long-winded story. It’s certainly not easy to make public, but I feel that it’s important to share what this industry means to me and my family.

This is the only reason I do what I do.

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My name is Virginia Johnson, and my spouse of fourteen years (and counting) is assistant prop master Noah Dubreuil. I am a costume supervisor and designer as well as a small business owner.

Noah and I opened Gather Here Stitch Lounge in Cambridge four years ago with our hard-earned money from working in the film industry and with the help of our local film industry friends. From carpenters and painters, to stitchers and extras casting directors, we relied on the sweat equity provided by the people we had worked with over a decade in the film community. All of them helped make our dream a reality. We continue to work in the film industry, even with a successful business that employs eight people and grows more each year. Gather Here provides space, inspiration, and supplies for a wide range of makers all over Greater Boston. It’s one of my favorite places in the world and it would never have come to be if I hadn’t made a decent living working on films made in Massachusetts.

Last year, I was the costume supervisor on the film Black Mass. I was fortunate to work full-time for 25 weeks, often working six days a week and sacrificing time spent at my own small business. At the height of filming, we employed 16 local costumers, tailors, and fitters in our department alone. We also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on dry cleaning, manufacturing, purchasing, and more in Boston. As the keeper of my department’s budget, I know where each and every penny was spent: the $39,000 in dry cleaning would never have been spent if we hadn’t been making a movie; the $125,000 in manufacturing at an Everett clothing factory wouldn’t have happened without the movie; the purchase of $10,000 in racks and hangers from a local store fixtures warehouse is a healthy bonus during a struggling economy.

The loss of the film tax incentive means the loss of a major source of income taxes — my income tax, and the income tax of my hardworking colleagues. It also means we will redirect our own spending for our small business from local Massachusetts-based businesses to other less expensive alternatives that will likely be out of state.

 

save-ma-film-jobs_0253I’m Janine Moore O’Neil. I’ve been working on local film productions for 15 years.

I live in Rhode Island, but could throw a pebble and hit Massachusetts from my home. This means most of the stores I shop in are in Massachusetts. My small custom puppet business (and I rent my prop kit) is in Massachusetts, I bought my car in Massachusetts, and the list goes on.

They don’t count me in the number of people that get jobs through the Massachusetts film tax incentive, but they should.

I do props and set dressing, as does my husband, John (who was born in Massachusetts, as was my mother). We actually met on a film. I was supposed to move to LA, but instead I stayed and settled here because there was plenty of work. In 2009, I had major surgery and couldn’t work, but my husband’s film work sustained me through the downtime (an entire year). When I was ready to come back, the freelance work and the loyalty of the film world that appreciates hard workers made it possible for me to jump right back in. I never had to go on disability or start my life over, as many people who have experienced catastrophic health issues do.

This is a unique industry that provides huge opportunities for all kinds of individuals young and small. Small? Yup. My friend’s son got to be an extra in a movie I worked on and, at only seven years old, got his first paycheck and opened his own savings account. So many people can benefit from films because the nature of the work incorporates so many types of workers, artisans, manufacturers, services, and suppliers. I’ve made puppets for TV commercials and movie products that have hugely supplemented my income. Can’t imagine many other industries that would pay me to do that.

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My partner Aaron and I met in 2004 on a short film and began our life together three years later. We both depend upon the Massachusetts film tax incentive to keep us steadily working, as he is a lighting technician and I am in the art department. Our entire family is in New England, and we love being able to live and work near them. My nephews are seeing firsthand that a solid career in the arts is 100% possible, right here in their home state.

One of my favorite ways to give back is to take my resources and experience from my work in film and help my sister (a school teacher) teach her drama students about building sets and making costumes and props for their school plays. The people who work in this industry are incredibly charitable and love giving of their talents, time, and even money to help foster the dreams of young people. There is no better feeling than inspiring a new generation of creatives from some of the toughest inner city school systems in the state!

 

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