This weekend, writer-director Kyle Rankin began filming his second film in Maine in the past three years.
Maine film festivals seem to grow bigger every year, and this spring, "Island Zero," a horror film written by Maine author Tess Gerritsen also began shooting in the Midcoast. What we hear from writers and directors of films in Maine is that they want to live and work here. So why aren't more of them doing that?
We visited the set of "Island Zero" and spoke with other filmmakers with ties to Maine to find out. Each of them told us the same thing. Financiers of films with even modest budgets want to see better tax incentives. Maine is willing to pay back film investors 10-12 percent of the wages of employees who worked on a film in Maine, and give them a 5 percent tax credit on money spent here on production. Compare that with Massachusetts. That state offers a 25 percent tax credit on both payroll and production, plus a sales tax exemption.
"Island Zero" is being financed by the Gerritsen family, and has a budget of about $400,000. Producer Mariah Klapatch, who is based in L.A. but grew up in Camden says she signed on because she wants to help create more movie work in Maine. "For me, I would like to move home full-time. But there isn't an industry to support myself in. So I thought, why don't I be a part of fixing that and creating one," she said.
Writer and Director Kyle Rankin, who is shooting "The Witch Files" in Portland right now, says he has hit roadblocks trying to bring bigger films to Maine. This film, as well as, "Night of the Living Deb," which he shot in Portland a couple years ago, is being made for less than $250,000.
Desi Van Til, who wrote the film "Tumbledown," knows what happens when films end up with bigger budgets. She calls "Tumbledown" a "love letter" to her hometown of Farmington. She and her husband dreamed of making the movie in Maine, but when actors Jason Sudekis and Rebecca Hall signed on, and the film was given a budget of about $4 million dollars, her financiers told her Maine was out of the question. The financiers wanted the film shot outside Vancouver.
"Shooting it in Massachusetts was a bit of a victory because at least we were in a part of the world that has colonial architecture and the antiquity, and the decrepitude that you have in places that you don't get in a town, you know, outside Vancouver," Van Til said.
Rep. John Picchiotti (R- Fairfield) has twice sponsored bills in the legislature to increase Maine's tax incentive program for films. Both times, the bills passed, but then died in the Appropriations committee because they cost the state money.
Some other states with generous incentives have scaled back, finding movies haven't improved their economy as much as they hoped. Picchiotti says his bill addresses some of the issues that those other states have, and plans to introduce it again, should he be re-elected.
But Maine filmmakers say they will continue to make smaller budget films here because you can't fake the state's beauty, and the people open their doors to you in ways you don't see in other states.