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Maine Film Set in Farmington Finally Ready to Shoot - in Canada
05/10/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

Maine is becoming increasingly attractive to film-makers, a new study shows, bringing nearly $120 million of economic activity to the state in 2010. However, the Pine Tree State is still falling short when it comes to enticing bigger productions, as evidenced by a decision to recreate the mountains of western Maine in the Canadian Rockies for the filming of a romantic comedy, called Tumbledown, which goes into production later this year. Tom Porter reports.

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Maine Film Set in Farmington Finally Ready to Shoo Listen
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Maine-based filmmakers Desi Van Til, left, and Sean Mewshaw. Photo: Tom Porter.

The film stars Saturday Night Live's Jason Sudeikis, Rose Byrne and Beau Bridges, among others, and it's the creation of two Portland-based movie-makers.

"My name is Desi Van Til and I'm a writer and executive producer of Tumbledown, an independent feature film."

"I'm Sean Mewshaw, I'm director of Tumbledown."

Maine native Van Til and Mewshaw - who are married - spoke to MPBN five years ago when they were just starting on the Tumbledown project. At the time they were determined to shoot it in Maine - the setting, they said, was crucial to the story. They even moved from Los Angeles to Portland to try to make it happen.

The multi-million dollar project is now a reality and everything else has fallen into place - except for the it's location.

"It will be filmed in Canada," Van Til says. "You know how Maine has those 6,000 foot rocky cliffs and redwood forests?"

Van Til - who wrote the screenplay specifically to be set in her hometown of Farmington - says she feels lucky after so many years of effort to have a great cast and to have financing in place. "But there was no economic way for us to shoot it in Maine because we don't have the tax incentives that match surrounding states."

In the end, they were forced to compromise. They say the financial incentives of shooting in Canada - which include tax breaks of up to 35 percent on local employment costs - were too good to resist. The Maine Film Office by comparison offers a 12 percent rebate on labor costs.

Van Til says she cringes when she imagines what her hometown friends will say when they see Farmington recreated on the big screen in British Columbia.

"Looking at the screen going, 'That's not Maine, what are they doing?'" she says. "I don't want to make a film that's inauthentic when all I aimed to do was make a film that was essentially about the life choices of living here, the sorts of people who live here, and what it means to grow up in a community, as I did in Farmington. But my hope is that everyone knows we tried."

Mewshaw says faking a location is a common challenge for a filmmaker. "The expression that's used is that film is '24 lies per second,'" he says. "So there's no question that you're faking it no matter where you're shooting, and we'll do our best, I think, to interpolate elements that seem most like Maine, and that'll be a challenge in Canada."

Karen Carbery Worhola is director of the Maine Film Office. She says that while Maine does not have the high percentage rebates that some other states - and Canada - can offer, there are many other advantages to filming here: For one thing, there are no permit fees required for shooting, and the location fees are lower.

Worhola says many production companies fail to realize what the Maine film industry has to offer. "A big challenge we face is a perception that we don't have enough crew in Maine," she says.

And the associated costs of importing crew, she says, are high. "And if producers don't know we have talented crew members in Maine, they're going to start looking at other states where they know local crew can be found."

Gabe 2 - Photo: Jennifer  MitchellWhile it may be a challenge attracting the bigger productions to Maine, a recent study by University of Maine economist Todd Gabe (left) does highlight some steady growth in the industry. Gabe says in 2010, the Maine film and photography sectors directly employed about 1,700 people, providing around $20 million worth of labor income to the state.

"If you include multiplier effects - so these are impacts on other sectors of the economy based on the spending of people in film and photography, the total economic impact is about $120 million in output, supporting just over 2,000 jobs and about $33 million in labor income, which is wages, salaries, things like that," Gabe says.

Between 2007 and 2011, he says, these sectors grew by about 12 percent, outpacing the overall Maine economy, which saw a decline of some 4.5 percent in employment.

Portland-based film-makers Sean Mewshaw and Desi Van Til, meanwhile, would like to be able to contribute to this growth.

And they plan to keep trying. After Tumbledown, they hope to work on an adaptation of Maine author Lewis Robinson's award-winning novel Water Dogs - a story where, for many, the bleak wintry Maine landscape is as important as any of the characters.

Todd Gabe Photo: Jennifer Mitchell

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