Local Politics

Take Two: The Quest to Revive a Bill That Would Change Maine’s Film Industry

A film-incentives bill that would greatly increase Maine’s tax credits on film productions has recently energized the local film industry and gained bipartisan support in Augusta because of its potential for both bringing out-of-state projects to Maine and providing new jobs locally. “We’ve had twenty years of battles for this,” says Corey Norman, video/audio professor at SMCC. Film incentive bills have long been proposed – and even passed – in Maine, but since the 2000’s, none of them have actually taken effect. Corey hopes to break the cycle at a hearing in Augusta, with just a group of student volunteers from SMCC and young film workers with a personal stake in this latest bill.

Today, that bill is awaiting judgement in Augusta. LD-1334, ‘An Act to Promote Economic Development through Increased Film Incentives,’ sponsored by State Rep. Suzanne Salisbury of Westbrook, would double tax credits on wages paid to film workers and reduce the amount a film project has to spend on expenses to qualify for credits from $75,000 to $25,000. Put another way, if the bill passes, much smaller-budget productions would be able to qualify for tax benefits they couldn’t attain today and get to write off some of their expenses.

Maine has weak incentives compared to other places, especially Massachusetts, which lets qualifying productions write 25% of all expenses off on taxes, and Canada, which outright offers double the Maine credit on wages to Canadian filmmakers. Film producers shoot films wherever it’s cheapest, and strong tax credits save a lot of money, enticing more productions. The 2017 film ‘IT’ was nearly shot in Maine, and Bangor was scouted, but the production switched to Massachusetts to save on costs. Supporters of film credits point to many other films set in Maine, but filmed elsewhere, as a sign that economic opportunities are passing the state by. 

A film production needs a good deal of food, equipment, and miscellaneous services to keep running, and much of this is bought from the same place the crew is filming, which can generate large amounts of money for local businesses. But many of the bill’s supporters also see LD-1334 as a chance at wider goals than just those funds. LD-1334’s revival has roots in Westbrook, where recent growth has fueled developments like the Rock Row project, an ambitious plan to convert a quarry into what its website calls a “$600 million, 110-acre, open-air streetscape”. Westbrook’s Economic Developer suggested the (then dead) LD-1334 bill to Rep. Salisbury, who sponsored it with some modifications, with the hope that it would help the city continue to grow, perhaps with new plans for theaters and hotels at the Rock Row development. 

The modifications made to LD-1334’s current form helped recast the bill with a new aim at “moderate” budget productions like TV shorts and smaller films, which is the main reason behind the decrease in the expenses (the ‘spend’) needed to qualify for tax credits to $25,000. Corey remarked to the Beacon that the past bills had wildly fluctuated in their choice of spend from $30,000 to $1,000,000, expressing doubt that Maine could even support many productions with budgets on the high end of that scale and calling the new $25,000 figure an “awesome” spend.

A variety of hopes are pinned on LD-1334. Rep. Salisbury stated to the Beacon that she hopes the bill will help show Maine in a positive light to outsiders unfamiliar with the state: “We have all seen movies where we were convinced it was filmed in Maine only to find out it was filmed in Massachusetts or Canada. This film bill opens up the opportunity to show how beautiful Maine is and what a great place it is to live and work,” Corey Norman expressed hope that the bill will give young Mainers a reason to stay in Maine. And Westbrook is not the only city hoping to make the most of a potentially expanding film industry. LD-1334 is cosponsored by both Democrats and Republican legislators, and many actors and film workers have rallied behind the bill. “I’ve received feedback, good feedback from both sides of the aisle. People are excited about this… especially people that have been in the House for a while,” says Rep. Salisbury.

But LD-1334 has nonetheless stalled in Augusta. The Press Herald reports that it was delayed and turned over to the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services for review until the next session. The public hearing will be held in the near future, and that is when Corey plans to make his case. He summarized his feelings on the bill in an interview for this article: “At the end of the day, this bill is important, because it will help keep young people here in the state. If we don’t want to lose these folks to other places, we need to meet them with where they’re at, and provide jobs in their industries here in the state. Film is no exception,”

Categories: Local Politics

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