‘The Shawshank Redemption,” “Silver Bullet,” “‘Salem’s Lot,” “Needful Things,” “IT” chapters one and two.
What do these movies all have in common, besides the horror mastermind behind their creation, Stephen King?
All these movies were set in Maine. But none of them filmed a single scene in the Pine Tree State.
But one organization is hoping to change that.
Picture Maine, a group that has filed to be an LLC but may eventually look to become a nonprofit 501(c)4, is promoting a bill to go before the legislature which would grow the film economy in Maine by allowing for higher tax incentives for projects that film here.
Erik Van Wyck, a board member of Picture Maine and one of the founders, as well as an actor and producer, said they are hoping to reframe people’s understanding of the film industry as a legitimate one with great potential for job creation and economic momentum for Maine. He said there’s been a misconception that states offering such incentives are just offering subsidies to movie stars and directors, but said in reality, this would help local craftspeople and crew members already living in Maine.
“Once people started to look at this like a practical business, which it essentially is, then they started to have this broader understanding,” he said.
Van Wyck said the department within the state that should be stewarding film production has instead been a barrier. He said while there has appeared to be bipartisan support for the various efforts of the bill, it’s been in the administrative area that the bill has struggled to gain support.
“What we’re trying to do is put the dollars they invest in that office annually to good use,” he said. “The office is processing maybe two to three applications a year. Let’s give them a reason to exist.”
The Maine Film Office, which is a division of the state’s Office of Tourism under the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, would not answer questions about the bill. However, Karen Carberry Warhola, director of the Film Office, said in a statement to the Phoenix that her office works to support the film industry in Maine.
“These productions not only help to showcase our state to the world but contribute to businesses in communities across the state. In fact, it has been estimated that on average, 67 percent of production costs are spent in sectors outside of film,” she said in her statement. “We are heartened by growing interest from advocates and other stakeholders interested in strengthening Maine’s film industry. We look forward to working with them to create new opportunities across the state.”
Representatives of the Film Office did not answer a question about what their annual budget is.
“Because film isn’t deemed as an important issue, it’s easy to overlook,” Van Wyck said of legislative action. “…There have been a few speed bumps dealing with (the offices) and the administrative murkiness. There are a number of things the Office can do that aren’t being done and can provide difficult workarounds.”
The proposed bill, “An Act to Promote Economic Development Through Increased Film Incentives,” is not the first attempt to boost tax incentives to see more films get made in Maine. Van Wyck said this is his fourth version of the bill, which he said has bipartisan support in the legislature, but often gets snagged up at the administrative level.
Legislators have previously voted to hold the bill over to the next legislative session after administrators, including the Maine Film Office, said it needed further review.
Van Wyck called the process “eye opening,” because dealing with the office charged with helping grow the film industry in Maine has been like hitting a wall. He said while past versions of the bill have gotten support from legislators, and from Gov. Janet Mills, once the Film Office gets involved, things don’t progress.
“The things you think are going to be preventative end up not being those things at all,” he said, adding he would have thought dealing with the Film Office would be the place where the bill would sail through. “The easy part was getting the legislative part done.”
Patrick Roche, another member of Picture Maine, said their organization hopes to build support around a bill to create better tax incentives for movies to be made in Maine. He said other areas, such as New York and Canada, offer up to 35 percent, meaning a state’s government helps offset film production costs. Roche said this directly benefits communities and local workers, such as carpenters, makeup and wardrobe crew, local actors, catering, and others.
“Our thinking is this is a jobs bill,” Roche said. “It’s an opportunity for Maine to be competitive, it’s an opportunity for Maine and to celebrate Maine’s locations, to tap into Maine’s talent pool which is greater than people know.”
Both Roche and Van Wyck said the plan is for the bill to go before the legislature in the next session, which starts in January. Van Wyck said while there is broad legislative support for the bill, it has died in the previous three attempts for various reasons. Van Wyck said while the bill has gubernatorial support, once Mills hands the work off to the offices below her, it continues to peter out.
“It does require a top down approach,” Van Wyck said.
Mills’ office did not respond to requests for comment.
Roche said Stephen King was supportive of their cause, though King did not respond to a request for comment.
“He’s been a big champion,” Roche said. “Of his stories, so few were filmed in Maine.”
Members of the honorary committee for Picture Maine include Xander Berkeley, best known for roles in “The Walking Dead” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day;” Holt McCallany, best known for roles in “Fight Club” and “Mindhunter;” Christopher McDonald, best known for playing Shooter McGavin in the comedy “Happy Gilmore;” and others.
Roche said Maine offers a unique ability in that there are so many different types of settings for films. There is farmland, there’s the coast, there are Victorian homes that can be the setting of horror movies, there are mills and other industrial buildings. He said if there were better incentives, location scouts would see the opportunity Maine presents.
To promote their cause, Roche said Picture Maine will host a gala on Oct. 15 at the Custom House on Fore Street. He said this is an event to raise support, put finances together to spend on economic analysis for the legislature. For reference, he said a state like New Mexico is able to generate hundreds of millions of dollars because of their incentives.
Roche said in previous efforts, the attempted bill wound up “watered down.”
“It was basically made to be moot,” he said. “We’re back trying to make it real again.”
Other states have taken action to support their in-house movie making. For example, while Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” was set in Boston, most of the filmmaking took place in New York City and Toronto. Eventually, Massachusetts created new tax incentives for filmmaking.
Van Wyck mentioned a script he saw that was from a Maine writer, set in Baxter State Park. However, the film was being made in Hudson Valley, New York because that state offers much better tax incentives.
Maine has been the location for several movies. The original “Pet Sematary” was filmed in Maine in the 1980s, while the 2019 remake was filmed in locations in Canada. The HBO miniseries “Empire Falls” was filmed in Maine. However, Van Wyck said things started to drop off for Maine in the mid to late 2000s, once other states and Canada starting offering tax incentives. He said most of the films that do get made in Maine are typically lower budget, almost all under $500,000.
“Beyond that price tag it just doesn’t make sense financially,” he said.
The proposed bill would raise production spending reimbursement from 5 percent to 25 percent, would increase wage reimbursement from 10 percent for nonlocals and 12 percent for locals to 20 percent and 25 percent respectively. Reimbursements would only go for below-the-line workers, meaning crew members such as makeup artists and carpenters.
Roche said while smaller independent movies may be shot in Maine, there aren’t enough incentives to draw the big budget movies. He called it a numbers game, and likened it to real estate development: developers will go where the incentives are best.
“We see this as an opportunity for Mainers in general to celebrate a sense of place, to build a larger network,” Roche said. “And as the film industry grows in Maine, there would be adjacent opportunities to backfill talent and skill sets with education.”
Roche said the bill aims to put aside the notion that these subsidies go to Hollywood elites, and that the biggest incentives are given to productions that hire locally.
“We see this as a jobs bill,” he said. “We see this as an economic opportunity for the state that will retain and attract the workforce. There are so many businesses that stand to benefit.”