By Joshua Lyford
Posted Dec 27, 2018 at 5:00 AM
Worcester residents took notice when Liam Neeson entered the city alongside the rest of the "Honest Thief" film crew at the beginning of November, but the film isn't the first to make it to the Heart of the Commonwealth, and the hope of the Worcester Cultural Development Division is that filming in Worcester can not only bring economic opportunity, but raise the city's status.
"Originally, films were coming in, such as "Surrogates," they were looking for gritty urban landscapes that were somewhat derelict,” said Erin Williams, the cultural development officer. "Now Worcester is being touted and included in a 21st-century looking city that has great old New England architecture, a very different look than over a decade ago. We're seeing Worcester being elevated within our own community and outside of the community."
Worcester has earned a reputation as being eager to cooperate and collaborate. This has been seen with events like the public art mural festival, POW! WOW! Worcester, stART on the Street and more.
"If you talk to filmmakers that have been here, another example is Castle Rock, production folks love working in Worcester because we're such a collaborative city," said Williams. "That seems to be our mantra anyways. You have it through POW! WOW!, the Worcester Red Sox, around education, it's a very unique environment. The film industry is a hurry-up-and-wait industry, there is a very quick turn around for meeting the demands of the film community. We might be changing locations within a day, finding new space, our responsibility is to make it as accessible and easy as possible to film in Worcester and not displace or make it difficult for our residents."
Any production filmed in the city can bring economic opportunities, but when major films like "Honest Thief" arrive with large casts and crews, the effect can be significant.
"All of its administrative offices have been here since September," said Williams. "For three months we’re seeing an economic return. We're seeing it in production staff and hiring by the film company. Businesses are flourishing and receiving income stream by the products and services they offer. We're seeing creative talent that is seeing Worcester as a great place to make films and a great place to support media industries in general."
An executive producer on the film, Andrea Ajemian, was raised in Central Massachusetts and had created films for years. The filming of "Honest Thief" in Worcester is a full-circle affair.
"She grew up in Holden and worked in Worcester for many years," said Williams. "In the early 2000s, she created mini-videos called 'Worcester Love' with Kaz Gamble [musician]. 'Worcester Love' promoted significant experiences in their life. They both went on to write and produce their own films. Kaz has flourished in the music industry. Andrea has worked on a number of films in the boston area over the years. She brought the Honest Thief to Worcester and made it its home base."
Williams said films like "Honest Thief" can attract visitors to the city. People still come to Worcester to check out scenes from 2015's "Sea of Trees" and 2013's "American Hustle."
“It develops social capital, it creates tourism. We’re still having waves of folks from when ‘Sea of Trees’ shot here,” she said. ”‘American Hustle’ was shot here. People are attracted to films and the making of films, and it generates jobs, and it creates a great self image for Worcester.”
While Williams did not give a specific number, the city is used to production companies approaching with filming needs. While major films are rarer than smaller commercial shoots, she said they treat all projects with the same amount of respect.
"The reason films come to Worcester is, number one, because of course they love Worcester, they come because the state of Massachusetts has a film tax credit," explained Williams. "Essentially, the credits make it more economically feasible and lucrative for films to shoot in our state than, say, even California or parts of New York state. Many states have pulled back their credits. The film industry follows the credits. The bottom line is they are a business."
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