By Rep. Lynne Williams
A bill was recently introduced in the Maine Legislature that would provide a moderate tax credit to Maine filmmakers. The amount would be dependent on the amount spent on Maine talent, crew, services, lodging and equipment utilized in the production of a film.
I was one of the co-sponsors of the bill because I believe it would contribute to economic development in Maine and also because I know and understand film financing. I have a certificate in Independent Film Producing from UCLA, and I recently made a short film.
My film, “The Mushroom Huntress,” was completed in early 2020. It was shot in Bar Harbor and was fully supported by local businesses and individuals. This production contributed more than $35,000 to the Maine economy, over a period of a few weeks. It directly created jobs for at least 14 Hancock County residents, plus work for some actors and crafts people from southern Maine. Spending on goods and services, such as a camper to use as a dressing room, outdoor heaters, lodging, gas, meals, equipment rentals, set decoration and so on, also contributed. The executive producer, screenwriters, director, producer, and much of the crew live in Hancock County.
Because of my experience making this film, I happily agreed to become a co-sponsor of LD 1334, “An Act To Promote Economic Development through Increased Film Incentives.” I spoke at the public hearing in favor of the bill, as did many others, including actors, directors, agents, producers, engineers and writers. While the Maine
Department of Economic and Community Development testified “neither for nor against” the bill, they did state that “[u]nlike some tax incentives programs, the benefits of incentives in this industry are realized immediately – in various sectors of the State’s economy – and the return on investment of the incentives is readily quantifiable. An investment in the growth of this industry can help existing businesses and fuel new business development, and is an investment in the recovery, economic development, and growth of the Maine economy.”
Daniel Stevenson, Westbrook’s director of economic development, stated in his testimony, “LD 1334 has been thoroughly vetted for the greatest economic impact with minimal public sector involvement.” And a letter submitted to the committee by famed director Todd Field, who lives in Rockport, explained that in order to make the feature film “In the Bedroom” in Maine in 2002, he had to use his own funds, as he could not find investors. I lived in Rockland at the time, and what that film brought to the state and to the Mainers involved as crew and extras, and to the locations featured in the film, was incalculable. Literally, there were tourists in Rockland for years who said they were visiting because they had seen “In the Bedroom.”
Yet, at the end of the committee hearing, the Maine Center for Economic Development testified against LD 1334, stating that the arts are usually supported by grants and the state should focus on “resources on producing good family sustaining jobs that provide stable income and good wages that workers can rely on.”
Creative work should not be dismissed as not being a real job, as something that should be dependent on grants. This is an insult to all who work in the creative economy… of the aspiring actors, actresses and stand-up comedians who found their muse in high school productions; likewise, of those whose successful educational path winds through the Hancock County Career and Technical High School, or other similar state high school programs, where they can learn video production, sound design, animation, scriptwriting and other creative skills.
We are educating future film professionals. Do we want them to be forced to leave the state, or do we want to support the industry they have chosen to work in and from which they can make a good living?
We already provide financial incentives to businesses in Maine, including the Pine Tree Zone and Tax Increment Financing (TIF), and I feel comfortable stating that the efficacy of those programs is mixed, with some successes and some failures.
Considering the modest level of state funding that this program would require, and the potential that exists for creating a new economic development opportunity for the state, as well as new and exciting career paths for our young people, it is my fervent hope that our state legislature supports LD 334.
Lynne Williams is an attorney residing in Bar Harbor and a member of the Maine House of Representatives representing Bar Harbor, Lamoine and Mount Desert.