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.