March 12, 2010

Film incentive feasible, but it's not a wrap


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Gordon Chibroski

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The makers of a film based on Stephen King's novel ''Bag of Bones'' came out of a meeting with state officials Tuesday feeling confident that they will get financial help to make the movie in Maine.

State officials sounded more cautious, however, with a spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci saying the governor would want a film incentive program that truly benefits the state, not just filmmakers.

''Overall, the benefit of any (film program) to the state has got to be greater than the liability,'' said David Farmer, Baldacci's deputy chief of staff. ''The fact that Stephen King is involved brings a ton of credibility to this, but we have to be realistic about the state's financial circumstances.''

''Bag of Bones'' director Mick Garris and producer Mark Sennet talked with Baldacci and other state officials for about an hour Tuesday in Augusta. King was part of the meeting via telephone.

Later in the day, at a press conference at the Hilton Garden Inn in Portland, the two filmmakers said they think the state government will create the kind of incentive program they need before filming in late summer or fall. And they hope the program could be used to entice more film projects and create film-related jobs in Maine.

''The governor and the legislators were very encouraging, and they definitely see the possibilities,'' Garris said at the press conference. ''We don't know for sure it's going to happen, but we're confident.''

Baldacci agreed to begin work on an incentive program that could attract more moviemaking, Farmer said. The governor did not give the filmmakers a firm answer on what kind of program he thought the state should or could provide during the recession.

Farmer said a range of incentives was discussed, from tax credits to loan guarantees. Sennet would like to see Maine adopt a program similar to those in other states, giving film companies a tax credit worth a significant percentage of what they spend in the state.

One important effect of tax credits, Farmer said, is that they represent a possible loss of revenue for the state, because a film company could sell its credit to a Maine company after leaving. Sennet has said he would do just that.

Farmer said any new film incentive program would need legislative approval. Rep. Thomas R. Watson, D-Bath, has proposed a bill dealing with film incentives.

Baldacci thinks that bill, along with input from the state's Department of Economic and Community Development, could be a starting point for the creation of a broad film-industry program.

At the press conference, Garris and Sennet were joined by Cameron Bonsey and Barney Martin, two Maine film industry advocates who had arranged the meeting with state officials.

Martin, an actor and comedian, contacted Garris and Sennet and persuaded them to come to Maine.

They are considering other locations for their film, but Garris said Tuesday that because the story is set in Maine, he'd prefer to make it here.

''We could shoot it somewhere else and fool the rest of the world, but it wouldn't feel the same,'' Garris said.

Set at a lake in western Maine, King's 1998 novel ''Bag of Bones'' is about a writer dealing with his wife's death, a custody battle and a haunted house.

The film version has a $20 million budget, and Sennet expects to spend $10 million wherever the film is made. It has not been cast.

Sennet and Garris have worked on King's material before. They worked together on ''Desperation'' (2006), and Garris directed the TV miniseries version of King's ''The Shining'' (1997), as well as the miniseries of King's ''The Stand'' (1994).

At the press conference, all four men talked about a program that could bring more TV and film work to Maine and help train ''the next generation'' of American filmmakers.

Garris lamented that so many American films are shot in Canada because of that country's lower production costs.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-7454 or at:

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