June 13, 2013

Bill would woo movie, TV production companies with tax break

Financial incentive sought to augment state's natural beauty, unusual quality of light as lure for production companies

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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click image to enlarge

Eric Matheson is working to convert the South Portland Armory, seen here on May 22, into a movie sound stage.

Maine Sunday Telegram photo by John Patriquin

"Let's find a project that we like and that we could bring to Maine, put the resources behind it and make it good for the producers and for the state of Maine, then take a surgical look at how the project represents the industry and see how well it does for Maine -- or not," Martin said. "Let's do it once, evaluate it, and then figure out where to go from there."

Bonsey suggested capping incentives and creating a film board to evaluate the merits of each project that applied for tax incentives.

"I think we should pass some legislation, but limit it and set up parameters," he said. "Maine is a beautiful place. We have wonderful lighting and great scenery, and so many different things that Hollywood producers love.

"We don't want to just give that away. We're unique, and we should celebrate that uniqueness. We need to come up with an incentive plan that is not like every other state's incentive plan. We should have one that's unique."

'Guaranteed to create jobs'

Eric Matheson, founding partner of Fore River Sound Stage in South Portland, testified in favor of the bill in April. He said he was encouraged by the tenor of the conversation in Augusta. As are others in the industry, he is frustrated that Maine's incentives have stifled the market for filming in Maine.

He believes the bill would create jobs and put Maine tradesmen to work. "We've got people all over the state who are really, really good, and they're ready to work," he said.

Toward that end, the Maine Film Office recently updated its online production guide, which lists all the qualified talent in Maine. That helps video producers gauge the quantity and quality of labor in the state who are available for hire.

Matheson is busy at Fore River, "but I could be a lot busier. I still have to go to Massachusetts to earn a living."

He has a 15-year lease on the former armory in South Portland and is in the process of converting it into a sound stage for filmmakers. Last month, he built sets for the horror film "The Hanover House," by independent Maine-based filmmaker Corey Norman. Featuring local actors, it was shot mostly in western Maine over the winter. Final scenes were filmed at Fore River.

"There seems to be a perception that these film incentives amount to giving money away, but that's not accurate," Matheson said. "The way I look at it, 75 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing. We're not going to get these movies if we do not have incentives that are competitive. It's that simple."

Hamann, the bill sponsor, said Maine is sitting on a great opportunity: Because other states are reconsidering their incentives, now is a perfect time for Maine to improve its film recruitment plan.

"We have an opportunity to step in and compete for that business," he said. "One thing that has not been disputed, even by opponents of film tax incentives, is the fact that it is guaranteed to create jobs. We talk a lot about closing the skills gap by training workers to fill jobs. In this case, we can close the employment gap by bringing in an industry that can employ unemployed and underemployed Mainers who already have the skills to fill film-industry jobs. Construction workers can join a film crew building sets. Electricians could become gaffers. Creative professionals all over the state -- many of whom currently travel out of state to work on films -- could find work locally. Students graduating from Maine's film production programs could remain in the state after graduation rather than having to move out of state to make a living in their profession. We have the crew; we have the talent. This is an opportunity to tap into these creative professionals and employ them at their full potential."

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