New bill proposed to stimulate Maine film industry

On Monday, Representative John Joseph Picchiotti (R-Fairfield) presented a bill (LD 1004) to the state Legislation’s Tax Committee designed to bolster the film industry in Maine. With the support of some local filmmakers and the Maine Film Office, Picchiotti discussed potential amendments to state tax incentives that financially prohibit many large-scale productions from shooting in the State of Maine.

Currently, the state offers a 12 percent tax credit for filmmakers who hire Maine crewmembers paid under $50,000, but LD 1004 would adjust this to a 25 percent credit with a $250,000 wage cap. Out-of-state credits would also rise from 10 percent to 15 percent, incentivizing filmmakers to not only shoot in The Pine Tree State but to also hire Maine workers for “below-the-line” labor, including carpentry, costuming, and production assistant work.

In 2010, Picchiotti proposed a similar bill that died in appropriations. However, Director at the Maine Film Office Karen Carberry Warhola said that a robust film industry in Maine would provide more than just glitz and glamour. “I think that all the possibility associated with this bill is exciting,” Carberry Warhola said. “The main thing to  stress here is that the film industry is a viable industry for Maine. It provides great economic opportunity. The presence of film crews would stimulate growth for Maine businesses.”

While Picchiotti said the he wouldn’t consider himself a film buff, he touted the employment potential associated with the industry. “My whole goal is strictly creating jobs—and good jobs—in the State of Maine, as well as keeping our kids here.”

“There are some great stories written about Maine and by Maine people,” he said, specifically referencing the work of Richard Russo and Stephen King. “Unfortunately, when they make a lot of those movies, they’re not filmed in Maine solely because the state doesn’t have the proper film credits….Tax credits are what producers look at. Period.”

Filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly noted the appeal of shooting in Maine. “I’m from Maine, and I find it really appealing to tell stories [here],” Gaudet said. “We love that you can go around [the state] and the landscapes are so different. There are so many different stories you can tell.” Gaudet and Pullapilly’s documentary, The Way We Get By , about a set of troop greeters in a small Maine airport was nominated for an Emmy in 2010. The duo also released Beneath the Harvest Sky, a narrative drama set in Aroostook potato country, that premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

Both Gaudet and Pullapilly also attested to certain frustration associated with the current tax credits. “There are some stories you can’t tell anywhere else but Maine,” Pullapilly said. “We want to make movies in Maine, but because the incentives are so poor, it’s next to impossible to consider it.” She went on to explain that with more independent films with smaller budgets, the difference in tax credit isn’t as great of a consideration. However, as the budget increases, so does the margin.

“A lot of jobs on film crews don’t take that much training. It takes a lot of blue collar work…and we certainly have that workforce in Maine,” Gaudet said. “Film production can be a two or three month job, but if incentives are there in the state, movies will continue to get made there.”

Carberry Warhola noted a dissonance between the burgeoning film culture in Maine and the current wage incentives and tax credits. “[These incentives] were set a long time ago, when the film bill was first written and passed. It’s not as robust as in other states,” she said. “However, Maine is film-friendly.”

“Filmmakers have nothing but good things to say about communities—how helpful and supportive they are, and I was pleasantly surprised after stepping into the position how consistent filming periods are,” Carberry Warhola said. “I figured it would slow down in the wintertime, but there are several films that have requested snow, and not a lot of states have the diversity of geography—fishing villages, coastline, mill communities, farmland, lakes, mountains….Maine’s not over-exposed in film, and the more [people] see it, the more they want to see.”

“I do think there is a lot of interest in this in Maine,” she continued. “I think there is interest in growing the film industry, but it’s all about finding a specific bill that works for [the state].”

Pullapilly agreed, lauding Picchiotti’s efforts, and added that entering filmmakers into the discussion will help bridge any disconnect between the legislature and production. “One of the biggest mistakes states make is making film bills without incorporating filmmakers,” she said. “If it pans out, the tax bill will be competitive enough to allow many filmmakers to come back in Maine, and we’d be first in line. If it doesn’t pass, what you’ll find is filmmakers from Maine will be having no choice to make movies they want to make [here] in another state.” Both Gaudet and Pullapilly testified in support of another film bill (LD 1853) in last year.

“When Karen helped me rewrite [LD 1004], it was all about trying to get it so this was an acceptable aspiration,” Picchiotti said. “We’re looking to create a solid infrastructure with full-time opportunities.”

The next step for LD 1004 is to pass through a state work session. “If the bill passes, it won’t take long before  productions start calling and scouting Maine. A feature film usually has at least a year lead time, so filming might not come in the first six months, but there are people who have been already looking at Maine,” Carberry Warhola said. “We have a number of projects in the wings—they’re just waiting to see if this passes.”

Comments are closed.