Fishing for filmmakers

Maine struggles to attract the movie industry
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  April 2, 2008

A comparison of New England’s film-incentive programs, courtesy of the New England Public Policy Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Each state caps rebates and credits on salaries over $1 million.

INCENTIVES Wage reimbursement (10 percent for out-of-staters; 12 percent for Maine employees) | Investment tax credit equal to the amount paid on profits by the production
ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS At least $250,000 spent within 12 consecutive months

20 percent payroll tax credit for wages paid to residents | 25 percent production expense credit
ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS At least $250,000 spent within 12 consecutive months | At least 50 percent of production expenses or filming days must be in-state
LIMITS $7 million per production

30 percent for production expenditures, including wages
ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS At least $50,000 spent in 12 consecutive months, a portion of which must be spent in-state

Rhode Island
25 percent of certified production costs
ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS Production budget of at least $300,000 | 51 percent of production at primary state location

Grant reimbursement for 10 percent of local spending
ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS At least $1 million in local production expenses
LIMITS $1 million per fiscal year

New Hampshire
Stephen King’s short story The Mist describes a monster-veiling fog that envelops the small town of Bridgton, Maine, and traps a group of terrified townies in the local general store. Bridgton is a real place in Cumberland County’s Lakes Region; it has a population of about 5000. It’s a lovely town that draws sightseers and vacationers year-round, and which — so far — has avoided all deadly mist invasions.

So why, when it came time to film the movie version of The Mist (set in Maine, and written by one of Maine’s favorite sons), did the Weinstein-bro producers choose to shoot in Shreveport, Louisiana, a city of more than 200,000 that’s 1764 miles away from Bridgton?

Here’s the quick answer: Louisiana is known as “HollywoodSouth,” with more movies filmed within its borders than any other US state save California and New York. Within the past few years, Louisiana has stood in for Chicago, Atlanta, and Maine on celluloid; Shreveport hosts several sound stages and production studios, as well as a 750,000-gallon wave pool that can produce nine-foot waves.

But behind all those sound stages and the water tank are film incentives — money, in the form of tax credits or rebates, that a state will give a studio in return for its filming business. Incentives were made to lure in cash-hungry companies; the logic is that for however long a corporation or production crew calls one place its home base, that location will benefit from job creation, as well as an influx of money spent at local businesses. Louisiana has generous incentives that make the state an attractive place to shoot.

In case you couldn’t guess, Maine’s incentives, in a word, suck. And despite — or because of — the state’s dismal economic outlook, the scene is set for some improvements.

North Carolina stunt double
Good incentives can trump realism. After all, with sound stages and wave pools, film crews “can make the audience believe whatever they want in terms of where the story takes place,” the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Film and Television executive director, Alex Schott, told NPR last year.

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