Among my incarnations, I sometimes scout for movies, TV, videos and ad agencies. In 5 years, it’s taken me all around the state of Connecticut and the surrounding states (NY,MA and RI) and it’s given me a unique perspective on how things are going out there. Connecticut was one of the three states hardest hit by the collapse of the delusional housing market of the early 2000s…But from my dashboard vantage point, I see an economy that is recovering, stabilizing, and even growing, from where it was just a year or 18 months ago.
If you’re interested in some actual data, the housing reports for 2012 (here’s one from Hartford) indicate that prices are still down, but the properties are slowly beginning to move. This is a good sign. As I cruised the roads this past month, particularly in rural areas of the state, I noticed two things:
1) a huge decrease in ‘for sale’ and ‘foreclosure’ signs, and
2) Tyvek — people are remodeling, refurbishing, and yes, building
Last summer (2011) I scouted old gas stations for a horror film. I found 40 of them, and with a few more days, probably could have found many more. And the weird thing was, many of them had been abandoned just a few months before. They literally ran out of gas and walked away from the business. People would tell me that one day they were open, and the next they were not.
There were lots of abandoned stores and businesses we could use also—if we had the money to fix them up (I saw places that had giant holes in the floors, boarded windows, broken stairs).
For 2 years from 2010 to summer of 2011, I had my pick of homes of all sizes and values to show to directors. Real Estate agents were working with me to show houses that were at risk of foreclosure in hopes they could keep them afloat with a movie fee until they sold.
Not so this summer. I tried looking for warehouse space—which was so easy to come by last year—and I was repeatedly told the owners had many offers for space rental and were no longer interested in the short term contracts the movies offer. There are fewer vacant businesses, and those that are vacant are new and hopeful they will find renters….And a lot of the realtors don’t call me back when I inquire about private homes. Bad for movies, good for the state and the people in it.
I took a map of Connecticut and highlighted all the roads I have traveled, and nearly filled in the state. In short, I have seen it all from the dashboard of my car. In 2008, Connecticut was actively driving film business into the state with one of the most aggressive tax incentives in the country (30%)—and it worked. We also have a number of major established stars who live here and want to work close to home (presumably so they can have somewhat normal lives), including Robert DeNiro (starting with Rightous Kill) Meryl Streep (Hope Springs), and Laura Linney (the Big C), so film and TV have become a solid state industry. Here’s a full list of films that have been shot in CT.
In the past five years I have scouted a variety of locations, including:
– private homes (modest to middle class to wealthy)
– inner city apartments
– mansions (you would not believe)
– gas stations
– churches, churches and more churches (for every movie!)
– harbors (for tall ships)
– woods (for romantic rendezvous)
– rivers (for the actors to wade into)
– restaurants, bars, and nightclubs
– nail salons
– small businesses
– truck stops
My first film was in 2008. Then nothing for 2 years. I thought it was because I was inexperienced, but actually the film business dried up completely. Who was going to invest a million or two in a small indie film when the world economy had crashed? And then, in 2011, it was like the little animals from Bambi waking up after the spring thaw. Phone calls. Emails from friends. I worked on the Big C, then two movies back to back. I got calls from ad agencies in St. Louis and L.A. This is not a full-time job, but there was quite a bit of work. This year, the pattern has continued, and the productions seem to have more money to work with, and they don’t make me haggle with the locations at all.
So if I have to choose the tortoise or the hare, I prefer the tortoise. Thank you, President Obama, for choosing a steady path, which is slowly bringing us back to a kind of stability we can rely on. There’s nothing fancy going on here. We have people working for decent wages. Nobody’s getting rich on the stock market, flipping houses, or building a dot.com. We can all see where our money is coming from and where it is going, and it appears to be going in the right direction for the first time in years.
Here’s a little exercise I invite you to try in the next few weeks:
1) Take some time to notice the road on your way to work or to visit friends. Look at the neighborhoods. How many for sale signs are there? Foreclosure signs? Do you remember how many there were a few years ago?
2) Look at the shelves in your supermarket. Last year, the selection was sparse, and the shelves carried little inventory. My Stop And Shop reduced the number of aisles and made them wider. Looks full to me this year.
3) Check out parking lots in front of your favorite stores.
4) Look at the state of the roads. There’s construction everywhere, which is annoying, but 3 years ago bridges were collapsing everywhere.
5) And what about the gas pumps? Last year I stood in line with the people paying with twenty-dollar bills, to fill just enough to get where they are going. This year, there’s more pumping—although the prices are just as high.
The pain seems to be subsiding. We had a heavy price to pay for excess, and we’ve mostly paid our debt, so we can hope for things to get better—not a lot, but just a little, the way it should be.
REMEMBER TO VOTE ON TUESDAY NOV 6TH!
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