A group of filmmakers imagine a brighter future for Maine’s film industry

Members of Picture Maine, a group working to promote film and television production in the state, pictured at the US Custom House in Portland, where they planned to hold the group’s first fundraiser. Left to right are Sarah Clarke, Amanda Bowers, Patrick Roche, Molly Conners, Xander Berkeley, Peter Duggan and Erik Van Wyck. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A group of Maine film professionals, frustrated that state officials aren’t doing more to create film and television production jobs here, are taking on the role themselves.

A new film advocacy group called Maine pictureswhich plans to hold its first fundraiser on Saturday, is trying to raise awareness about media production in Maine and what it would take to grow the industry here.

The group grew out of several recent failed attempts by film professionals and lawmakers to convince state officials to increase tax credits and other financial incentives for media production. The most recent attempt was in 2021, when a bill to increase incentives was introduced in the Legislative Assembly, then delayed until this year’s session, then amended so substantially by officials of state that his godfathers decided to let him die, hoping to return with a stronger bill later.

According to organizers, one of the main goals of Picture Maine is to bring forward a new incentive bill for film, while raising awareness among the public and elected officials about the film talent already present and how the incentives could transform that talent. into a permanent industry and create films and media. production jobs.

“It’s absurd that we haven’t done more to build a film industry here. I’ve been to Augusta many times trying to convince people that it would be a good thing,” said actor Jonathan Frakes, who has owned a home in the Midcoast since 1999 and is best known for playing Riker on TV. Star Trek”. : The next generation.” “I know budgets are tight now, but I’m supportive and optimistic that something will get done this time.”

Frakes supports Picture Maine but can’t attend Saturday’s fundraiser because he’s working on “Star Trek: Discovery” in Toronto. Canada is one of the places, along with Massachusetts, Georgia and New Mexico, where increased financial incentives for filmmakers have helped create a steady stream of productions and jobs.

Big tax credits for movies have also been controversial elsewhere. Some Massachusetts lawmakers called for the incentives to be reversed, saying the spending for the state was too high. The Boston Globe reported that the state issued $90 million tax subsidies for cinema in 2016.

Picture Maine started as a website to post information about the film bill effort, but was transformed into a nonprofit group this summer so that funds could be raised to help awareness efforts. and lobbying, said Erik Van Wyck, a Kennebunk-based writer, actor and producer who spearheaded the film bill — LD 1334 — and is one of Picture Maine’s organizers.

Picture Maine’s Erik Van Wyck says the group will work to increase state incentives for filmmaking here, even though several recent efforts have failed. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Picture Maine’s goal of increasing state film incentives is shared by the Maine Film Association, which has about 155 members and has been around for decades. This group has also challenged the state’s handling of the latest movie bill, chastising officials in a public letter in February saying the Maine Film Office, part of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development , “does not in any way represent the Maine media-making community, and as demonstrated by its butchery of LD 1334, lacks the industry expertise necessary to do so.

Karen Carberry Warhola, director of the Maine Film Office, did not respond to questions about what was changed in the film bill last year or why, but said in an email that her office ” works to support the Maine film industry and productions that film in Maine” and that it is “encouraged by the growing interest of advocates and other stakeholders interested in strengthening the Maine film industry”.

Picture Maine’s core group includes two veteran Hollywood actors, married couple Xander Berkeley and Sarah Clarke, who moved from Los Angeles to the Hiram area in 2018 to raise their two children, while continuing to work in film and television. Berkeley’s 40-plus-year career includes the films “A Few Good Men” and “Apollo 13” and appearances on numerous television series, including “The Walking Dead,” “Law & Order” and “CSI.” Clarke’s many credits include the television series “Bosch”, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”, and “24”.

The couple have a barn which they hope to turn into a staging area for films and would like to use the nearby Cornish Inn, which they also own, as a venue to hold film skills courses for Mainers wishing to get into the business. the company. Since moving to Maine, they’ve helped produce several low-budget films, including the mystery “Alchemy of the Spirit,” now on the film festival circuit.

“We’ve found there’s a real hunger here, people who really want to work in the industry but would rather not have to travel to Boston or Canada or New York all the time,” Clarke said. .

Picture Maine supporters include longtime film and television pros like Molly Conners, producer of the 2014 Oscar-winning film “Birdman” and the 2008 film “Frozen River”; and Amanda Bowers, who produced the 2018 Netflix movie “Like Father.” Others have moved or returned to Maine during the pandemic and want more opportunities here, while some are newer to the business or are hoping for a career.

Veteran Picture Maine actor Xander Berkeley moved to Maine a few years ago with his wife, Sarah Clarke, who also had a long acting career in television and film. The couple would like to see more productions made here and more film and media jobs created. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The invitation to Saturday’s fundraiser – a sold-out event at the US Custom House in Portland – includes a “honor committee” high-profile actors who support the band’s efforts but don’t necessarily live in Maine and aren’t directly involved, including Treat Williams (“Hair”, “Everwood”), Peter Gallagher (“While You Were Sleeping”, “The OC,” “Grey’s Anatomy”) and Christopher McDonald (“Happy Gilmore,” “Thelma & Louise”). Of these, only McDonald’s is likely to attend, according to organizers. Other committee members who live or have homes in Maine are longtime Harpswell resident Chris Elliott, a comedian and actor who rose to fame in the ’80s for comedy sketches on “Late Night with David Letterman” and recently played Roland Schitt in “Schitt’s Creek,” and Bridgton-based actor Matthew Delamater, who was in last year’s George Clooney-directed film “The Tender Bar.”

The bill that Van Wyck and others worked on last year proposed increasing salary reimbursement for media production, in the form of a state rebate. Companies could have gotten a dollar amount equal to 25% of what they paid in wages to state residents — 20% for nonresidents — but only for workers “below the line,” not producers or star actors. The bill also would have created a 25% rebate on all production expenses in the state. Both discounts could have been taken as a tax credit if the business had taxes to pay. Picture Maine members are hoping to help put forward a new bill that would also include rebates on salaries and production expenses, but they are still working out the details.

Currently, Maine offers a 10-12% pay cut — for people in or out of state — as well as a 5% tax credit on production expenses. The bill was intended to attract productions with budgets between $5 million and $8 million, but would not provide enough incentives to attract big-budget Hollywood blockbusters.

Maine has attracted several low-budget films in recent years, often directed by people with a connection to Maine, including the gritty 2021 Portland-shot crime story “Downeast” and the comedy-drama “Hangdog” which doesn’t hasn’t come out yet. But Van Wyck and others say they heard of more people who wanted to film in the state but found it made more financial sense to shoot in locations with greater incentives.

Members of Picture Maine, a group working to promote film and television production in the state, pictured at the US Custom House in Portland, where they planned to hold the group’s first fundraiser. Left to right are Patrick Roche, Amanda Bowers, Xander Berkeley, Erik Van Wyck, Peter Duggan, Molly Conners and Sarah Clarke. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Results of a Maine Film Association survey, released in May, found the industry supported 312 full-time and part-time jobs in the state, generating $29.25 million in revenue and paying 16, $1 million to workers, and had an estimated economic impact of $64 million.

“There’s this idea that it would put money in the pockets of people in Hollywood,” Louise Rosen, chair of the Maine Film Association’s advocacy committee, said of the proposed incentives. “No, it’s about encouraging our local people to keep doing what they’re doing.”

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