Nov 3, 2023 - News

Mattapan native wants to build Hollywood pipeline in Boston

Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, a cinematographer from Mattapan, center, works camera equipment.

A filmmaker with Mattapan roots. Photo: Courtesy of Tommy Maddox-Upshaw

Before Tommy Maddox-Upshaw worked in Hollywood, he was installing plumbing in the Big Dig project, hoping to save up for a film class.

Why it matters: Maddox-Upshaw, a Mattapan native, is now a cinematographer, with titles like "Snowfall" and "Iron Man 2" under his belt.

What's happening: Maddox-Upshaw plans to open a film studio in the Seaport if Cronin Development wins a bid to redevelop an unused lot.

  • He and Tavares Brewington, a partner with Cronin, see the studio as not only a production hub, but an opportunity to build a pipeline of local Black and brown artists and workers seeking jobs in the film and TV industry.

What they're saying: "It has to be a vehicle in order to change the narrative," says Maddox-Upshaw, who recalls being one of the only people of color in the rooms at the start of his career in the '90s.

Catch up fast: Cronin and Boston Global Investors are competing for a chance to redevelop the 6.2-acre parcel.

  • Cronin's latest proposal includes a gallery featuring artists of color, air taxis, an arboretum, a food hall, daycare and a satellite for Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design, a historically Black college.
  • Boston Global Investors' plan adds a tech hub/library branch, a lab, office space, a grocery store, a hotel and a life sciences building with a biomanufacturing floor.

Yes, but: Maddox-Upshaw says he's set on launching a studio in Boston, even if Cronin doesn't win the bid.

The big picture: Hollywood remains predominantly white when it comes to casts and crews, even as increasingly diverse U.S. audiences prefer diversity in film, per UCLA's 2023 Hollywood Diversity Report.

  • Maddox-Upshaw says if people of color can find a union job in construction, like he did as a college student, why can't aspiring filmmakers and crew members of color find similar support in a major union hub like Boston?
  • Maddox-Upshaw foresees the studio offering courses and training similar to what West Los Angeles College does.

Flashback: Maddox-Upshaw started his path to cinematography by playing with his family's Canon AE1, taking pictures around the Holy Cross campus his freshman year.

  • "I would ask him, 'What are you doing?' He's like, 'I'm going to make movies one day,'" says Brewington, his college roommate.
  • It seemed far-fetched to Brewington. Maddox-Upshaw played football on a scholarship at Holy Cross, and his college didn't have a film program at the time.
  • But Maddox-Upshaw traveled to New York City some weekends to work with his sister, who had a job in casting.
  • He spent two summers working on the Big Dig to save up for a class at the now-defunct Boston Film/Video Foundation. That training, he says, paved the way for his career.

What's next: Maddox-Upshaw now lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. If the studio comes to fruition, he foresees himself living in Boston for some time to get the studio up and running.


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