If local moviemakers can’t depend on better financial incentives to foster the film industry in Maine — and they can’t, in this budget climate — they can at least focus on creating the infrastructure to support future endeavors. And that’s exactly what’s happening at the new Maine Studios, which opened in August in a 30,000-square-foot, abandoned Nappi Distributors warehouse on outer Presumpscot Street.
The facility houses an enormous green screen (28 by 18 feet, and unofficially dubbed the largest in New England), office and production-studio space and equipment, a photography studio, and many creative minds (as well as some old Nappi office furniture). Several commercials have already been filmed there; the majority of the offices are already rented; local artwork is on display; and open-stage and improv nights are scheduled for local performers. When I visited last Friday, Los Angeles producer and editor John Higgins (who recently returned to Maine from California) showed me a demo reel that highlights some of Maine Studios’ commercial and editing work.
Perhaps most notably, Maine Studios has entered a deal to produce a film based on Finding Amy, former Portland police officer Joseph Loughlin’s account of the investigation of Amy St. Laurent’s murder in 2001. Filming will start by the end of the year, says studio executive John Seymore, one of the brains behind this project and a companion venture, the Maine Film Collaborative, a co-operative non-profit organization aimed at “growing the film making industry in Maine.”
Other near-term goals at the Maine Studios include addressing sound problems — the building was constructed to house beer kegs, not boom mikes, after all — and attracting additional music, theater, and performance groups who want to use the space.
Long-term plans include hosting film festivals, and transforming the entire facility into a “fully functioning performance-arts space,” Seymore says. This could include, much farther down the line, taking the building down entirely and replacing it with a 60-foot-ceilinged, multi-theatered, state-of-the-art studio complex, one that “could compete with any film studio, anywhere.”
And of course, everyone wants to attract a big-name feature film to the Pine Tree State.
Some say that Maine isn’t offering enough in the way of film incentives — tax breaks, credits, and reimbursements for companies that choose to make their movies here — thereby forcing producers to take their films to other states. (See “Fishing for Filmmakers,” by Deirdre Fulton, April 2, 2008.) Last year, a bill in the state Legislature that would have increased Maine’s filmmaker tax incentives died due to lack of money. It’s unlikely that such funding will magically turn up in the near future.
“The film incentives are absolutely really important for us if we’re going to bring in big feature films,” Seymore admits. But he’s realistic about the state’s budget situation. “I don’t see any big changes in the future. I don’t think we need to have the highest film incentives in the nation,” he adds, pointing out that filming in Maine has benefits that aren’t included in the incentives, such as cheaper lodging and food, as well as unquantifiable pluses like natural beauty, proximity to Boston, and talented artists and laborers.