Company/Organization Profiles | Interviews | Local Industry | Massachusetts

Robin Dawson: Heading up the Mass Film Office

1 Jan , 2000  

Written by Eric Aron | Posted by:

The director of the MFO works on bringing Hollywood production to the Bay State.

As soon as one enters the Massachusetts Film Office, it is impossible not to notice the posters of recent blockbuster films: "Good Will Hunting," "Next Stop Wonderland," "The Crucible," "Southie." The list goes on and on. What all of these films share, of course, is the site of their production, Massachusetts.

Appointed in 1994 by then-Governor Bill Weld, Dawson has won much recognition for bringing film and television production to Massachusetts. This past year, she won the Visions Award for Women in Film and Television. After a one-year stint working on legislative issues in the Governor’s Office, Dawson found herself in the Film Office, thus beginning a career in television and radio production that has so far spanned ten years. "I did not initially aspire to being Director of the Mass. Film Office. However, I did aspire to working in the film industry in an executive position."

Established in 1977, the Mass Film Office has expanded its services, its "number one mandate…to bring in tourism, economic growth, and job creation." Dawson says the Office also works to promote local and independent producers. Two examples include annual screenwriting and location photo contests. To compete with 270 film commissions worldwide, Massachusetts has been a leader in offering a free-fee location incentive, created in 1994. The state needed to compete with lower production costs in Canada, and to keep companies from going north of the border, the Commonwealth provided studios with a list of facilities that could be used at no cost. A recent example of such an arrangement was the use of an old hospital in Northampton for the screen adaptation of John Irving’s "The Cider House Rules."

The free-fee program is a win-win situation for both the studios and the state, as the studios get free storage and shooting space and local communities gain revenue through the use of their utilities and other amenities. Along with the publicity that locations attract when they are part of a feature film or television production comes tourism. Tourism is currently the third biggest industry in the State of Massachusetts, and according to Dawson, it is expected to become first in the next century. Even more than a decade after the show "Cheers" has gone off the air, the "Bull & Finch [pub] is still the number one tourist attraction in Boston. It gives you an idea of the power a production can have."

Every six to eight weeks, Dawson travels to Los Angeles to meet with and solicit business from the seven major studios. She keeps the studio heads up to date on all the projects going on in the state. "My favorite aspect of my position is working with producers and studio directors in the deal-making phase as well as facilitating in the production," she says. She remains modest about her influence, however, and gives much of the credit to the state’s governor, film buff and supporter, Paul Cellucci.

From a supportive governor to innovative state programs, everything translates into a "hassle-free production that’s more cost-effective." What productions looms large in Massachusetts’ near future? A television pilot and two feature films could be shot as early as late winter. "Boston and Massachusetts are definitely a hot entity right now for either film or television. We’d like to keep that going."