After being without one for more than six months, the state Department of Economic and Community Development has hired a new director of the Maine Film Office, which works to lure all image-interested folks, from catalog photographers to big-budget movie producers, to the Pine Tree State.
Karen Carberry Warhola, a Maine native who has worked behind the scenes in the film and television industries in Maine and California for 20 years, says her office is "looking at all options right now to bring film projects into Maine" — including the use of financial incentives (such as tax breaks or rebates for production companies). Currently Maine offers producers a wage-tax rebate equal to 10 percent of non-Maine residents' wages and 12 percent of Maine residents' wages on qualified productions, plus an income-tax offset for companies investing in Maine productions. There is also a five percent credit on in-state production expenses.
"I think that tax incentives are part of the industry and built into a lot of producers' budgets," she admits. "But I think there are other things that are important as well. One of the things we offer is that a lot of people really like living in Maine when they're working on a project. That's a really good selling point."
Of course, she has to say so — in this economic climate, there's a slim chance of the legislature passing a more aggressive incentive package. Which means that Maine can't compete with states like Louisiana, New Mexico, and Massachusetts, which offer more generous incentives, such as 25- to 30-percent tax credits, to visual media companies. (See "Fishing for Filmmakers," by Deirdre Fulton, April 4, 2008.)
"As far as feature films go, we can't play in that park right now," former Film Office director Lea Girardin said at a Great Falls Forum lecture in Lewiston earlier this year.
Indeed, even the chair of the Maine Film Commission, which advises the film office, is skeptical that Maine can attract big-money movies. "I think [Maine's incentives] probably aren't [sufficient], but it is very challenging in these economic times to push for better incentives," says Brenda Nasberg Jepson, an independent filmmaker in Aroostook County. "Some states offering high incentives have scaled back, so this may help us somewhat. Better incentives would certainly level the playing field, and we have worked for years toward achieving them, but the economy makes it difficult for improving them."
However, there are bright spots on the horizon. Both Carberry Warhola and Nasberg Jepson are excited that Blue Potato, a feature coming-of-age film from the same company that made the heartbreaking The Way We Get By in 2009, is currently filming on 60 locations in Northern Maine.
"And just [at the end of July], we had Ron Howard visiting Bangor," Nasberg Jepson points out. "Who knows where this all may lead?"
• Speaking of Maine films, mark your calendar for the first-ever MAINE OUTDOOR FILM FESTIVAL, happening August 25 in The Forks. The brainchild of Joe Christopher, who co-owns the Forks-based commercial whitewater rafting outfitter Three Rivers Whitewater, and Nick Callanan, a skilled paddler and the founder of Portland's No Umbrella Media video-production company, the MOFF will screen in a field on the banks of the Kennebec River.
The screenings don't begin until 8:30 pm, meaning that outdoor enthusiasts can "paddle all day and go and check out some cool movies in the evening," Callanan says. The films highlight intense outdoor activities such as whitewater kayaking, sky-diving, runner-sledding, and snowboarding.
Learn more about the festival at maineoutdoorfilm.com.