In a new movie, Maine takes on a rare role — itself.

The film, “Downeast,” is a crime thriller set on the Portland waterfront, and when the trailer opens with the requisite overhead drone shot, it’s actually Commercial Street — you can see the long, brick Thomas Block to the right and the cupolas of the Custom House off to the left.

That’s refreshing. When it comes to Maine-set movies, that’s not always the case. Just in recent years, towns in Massachusetts and Ontario, Canada, have stood in for Maine on screen. Such movie magic not only misrepresents Vacationland but leaves talented people in our state without opportunities to work in film.

For years, advocates of the Maine film industry have pushed unsuccessfully for lawmakers to ramp up incentives to attract more productions. That continues to feel like a wasted opportunity.

Both the lead actor and producer of “Downeast” are Maine natives who have long wanted to shoot movies here (yes, they know Portland’s not Downeast).

That’s typically how a movie, most of them small, gets made here — the persistence and dreams of someone who loves Maine.

But the tax incentives offered here pale in comparison to other states that have made concerted efforts to attract the industry.

That’s why the film “Tumbledown,” written by a Farmington native as a tribute to her hometown, was made mostly in Massachusetts, with downtown Concord filling in for the Franklin County seat.

And it’s why the “It” movies, from the books by Stephen King and based in fictional town of Derry, Maine — a stand-in for Bangor — were shot in Port Hope, Ontario, a few miles outside of Toronto. Producers even digitally inserted some shots of Bangor into the Port Hope downtown seen in the movie, though they used a Paul Bunyan statue different (and far inferior) than the one that stands in Bangor.

Larger productions do make their way to Maine at times. The Martin Scorsese thriller “Shutter Island” was filmed partly on the Maine coast, and the 2005 HBO film “Empire Falls” brought a number of big stars to film in central Maine.

But as other states have made attracting film productions a priority, Maine has lost out. Attempts to raise incentives here have not made it through the Legislature.

Former state Rep. John Picchiotti, a Fairfield Republican who has supported film incentives, told the Penobscot Bay Pilot recently that lawmakers have failed to consider the benefits of such tax breaks, focusing only on the costs. A cost-benefit analysis would show that the incentives would be a net win for the state, he says.

Picchiotti may well be right. Maine has a lot of talent right here that could be put to work on movie sets — a 2013 study found the movie industry in Maine, such as it is, directly supported 1,698 jobs in 2010. Beyond people with experience in moviemaking, productions are a good source of work for the seasonal, gig and entry-level workers that abound in Maine.

The incentives being pushed by advocates now would reward film productions for coming to Maine and hiring Maine-based talent; the incentives from using out-of-state crews would be low at first before disappearing.

Such incentives could help build a vibrant film production industry around the talent that’s here and ready to work now.

And it would help make sure that when “Maine” appears on screen, it’s actually Maine.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.