November 25, 2010

Indie Film: Closing of Maine Studios won't stop local filmmakers

By DENNIS PERKINS

As The Portland Press Herald's resident indie film guy, I always meant to do a story on the Maine Studios.

click image to enlarge

On the set of "She Feast," a short horror film written by John Seymore, which just won the Killer Film Challenge and screened at Geno's in Portland last week.

Courtesy photo

COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

MOVIES AT THE MUSEUM

www.moviesatthemuseum.com

Friday: "Kings of Pastry." Foodie movie lovers rejoice -- this documentary follows three hopefuls in the legendary Meilleurs Ouvriers de France sweet-making contest in Lyon. From 6-foot sugar sculptures to the most delicate bon-bons, the best bakers in the world make things that'll put your box of Sno-Caps to shame.

GENO'S ROCK CLUB

www.myspace.com/genosrockclub

Monday: "Jaws." It's Fun Box Night at the Movies, and Geno's celebrates the 35th anniversary of the release of this still-thrilling horror classic, directed by a not-yet-insufferable Steven Spielberg. With a special appearance and Q&A by "Jaws" (and "Jaws 2" and "Jaws -- The Revenge") actress Fritzi Jane Courtney, and a Jaws surf party after the movie.

A small, scrappy local film studio featuring 43,000 square feet of soundstages, production facilities and offices, and blue- and green-screen capability, all devoted to Maine feature film, theater and TV production? Of course I'm going to do a story about it.

Except I waited too long.

The Maine Studios, which opened last year in a long-vacant liquor warehouse on Presumpscot Street in Portland, has shut down -- for now, at least, as studio executive and chairman John Seymore explained.

The Maine Studios came about when Seymore was scouting locations for a film project and lit upon the idea of using the cavernous former Nappi warehouse. When he approached owner Frank Nappi Jr. about filming in the space, he was surprised when Nappi made a counter-proposal -- he would turn the warehouse into a film studio.

Nappi and his associate Tom Dunham, said Seymore, "were just really interested in the film industry especially in developing Maine filmmaking."

When Seymore explained that money was an issue, Nappi offered "ridiculously low rent" for the first year. "Basically," says Seymore, "he made us an offer we couldn't refuse."

Over the Maine Studio's first year, more than 40 local productions made use of the facilities and, just as important, local filmmakers started connecting with each other there.

"The Studio encourages collaboration, and improving your craft it's exciting to see so many people in the state making films, but the only way to grow is to not be insular, to work together," Seymore said.

But the time came when the Maine Studios had to pay the piper. Seymore knew that the only way to keep the venue afloat was to attract a major production.

It didn't (the rejection of a bill offering tax incentives for filming in Maine didn't help), and while he harbors no ill will toward the building owners (he describes their generosity as "ridiculous"), the Maine Studios doors were shut. The studio's equipment has been moved to a less spacious private residence.

Still, Seymore says, "I'm really excited about the state of filmmaking in Maine. It was a great learning experience, and we're already looking at some new spaces."

Putting his philosophy into practice, Seymour is currently shooting a new film ("at my house") involving "a collaboration of four or five different production groups."

In addition, a short horror film he wrote, "She Feast," just won the Killer Film Challenge (www.killerfilmfest.com) and screened in town at Geno's last week.

And Seymore hints at some tantalizing possibilities involving an indie film shooting in Kennebunk "with a major Hollywood star."

The Maine Studios, wherever it ends up, is alive. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

 

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