Sometimes I have to wonder if a local entertainment writer’s opinions aren’t as powerful as I imagined. I know, I’m as shocked as you.
Despite testimony from nearly every filmmaker I’ve spoken to (and my own grumpy grumbling), Maine has once again decided it doesn’t want to be in the movie business. At least that is the impression given by the recent rejection by the legislator of yet another bill aimed at promoting film production in the state.
DL 1334 (An Act to Promote Economic Development by Increasing Motion Picture Incentives) was essentially scuppered recently when the Committee on Taxation affixed its “shouldn’t passdesignation on the bill, ensuring that Maine will continue to be represented on screen by states and countries with attractive tax incentives — and enough imported lobster pins and traps to indifferently replace our state.
I try to be right here – but it’s just stupid. Critics cite the dubious long-term economic effects of a major film shoot here, while I would counter that these lawmakers are missing the big picture on what an increase in Maine film production would mean for local businesses and always rambling but perpetually underfunded Maine’s film industry. Maine businesses (hotels, restaurants, stores, and rental agencies, to name a few) would reap tangible benefits if, say, the next Marvel movie moved to the Midcoast. And, hey, wouldn’t it be nice if Stephen King’s next adaptation was actually set in King’s beloved Maine, instead of Newfoundland, South Carolina or carefully framed California?
But even that is nothing compared to the turbocharger that a major film production or two would mean for Maine film professionals. Local casting means jobs (and invaluable exposure) for Maine’s actors, while Maine’s hundreds of talented and hungry movie techs would find opportunities to advance. Meanwhile, aspiring Maine filmmakers would see a career in the business as all the more accessible. And don’t get me started on the tourism that would inevitably result from big movie sets (and big movie stars). In last week’s column, I noticed that I had driven a few extra hours on very narrow roads just to visit the small Irish town where “The Quiet Man” was filmed. I think I read somewhere that tourism is somehow important to Maine’s economy.
What’s most enraged about Maine lawmakers denying this guaranteed money and movie opportunity is how genuinely or willfully petty it is. Groups like the right-wing lobby group Americans for Prosperity have long campaigned against movie incentives, calling them “Hollywood distributions” with just the right amount of thinly veiled contempt to urge conservatives to stick with it. to those damn Hollywood elites. So Maine is once again getting no slice of that big, juicy Hollywood pie rather than a smaller piece that will actually benefit Maine’s small businesses and Maine’s moviegoers. Nice thought there. (Thanks to Rep. Amy Roeder, D-Bangor, for being LD 1334’s title sponsor; at least you tried.)
And while it’s not the most devastating setback to Maine’s profile as a filming destination, the failure of this legislation also ensures that Maine will continue to get the tree when it comes to meaningful representation on the film. Maine is a potential goldmine for filming scouts looking for everything from majestic coastlines to majestic mountains to majestic forests for their productions. (Maine has majesty, or so I say.)
Instead, Maine will be represented by the most hacker signifiers whenever we are the supposed setting for the action. We know we are more than steep lighthouses and steeper lighthouse keepers. We also know that our economy is not limited to lobster and paper mills. But Maine’s vibrant, varied, and growing culture is perpetually mute whenever a film production “from afar” uses us as a mere backdrop. You know, for [shudders] “local color”.
To glance at the list of these movies shot in Maine (but decidedly not in Maine) is to suggest that the state is essentially populated by lonely lighthouse keepers. The original “Pete’s Dragon” has one, caring for an adorably orphaned moppet, while Shirley Temple starred as a moppet in 1936’s “Captain January,” being cared for by – you guessed it. – a crisp lighthouse keeper.
Jack Lemmon and Doris Day bonded over his shipping company losing its lobsters in 1959’s ‘It Happened to Jane’, as any story that unfolds here has to tie into the handful of stereotypes the rest of the world has about Maine. And if the 1979 horror movie “Prophecy” was ridiculously fun, its tale of pollution-bred mutant bear-monsters once again picked up Maine’s easiest signifier to represent us. (Seriously, though, paper mills dump many terrible things in Maine waterways. Drop it.) At least no one in Hollywood has apparently heard of whoopie pies or coffee brandy — yet.
You feel alone drumming for something for so long. Especially when the question is a no-brainer for a state whose film industry should benefit immeasurably from something that would be so easy to do. Double, especially when the reasons given for not doing so are so easily debunked, short-sighted and done with obvious bad faith and ideological stubbornness. It’s a Maine stereotype long overdue for a change.
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.
Live music program: folk, violin and Freddie Mercury