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Bill Aims to Lure More Filmmakers to Maine
02/04/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

When film companies come to shoot projects in Maine, they can provide temporary jobs for local residents, and generate other economic benefits as well. One Republican lawmaker is convinced that the state should do more to sell itself as a filmmaker's paradise. As A.J. Higgins reports, his idea has taken the form of a bill would provide more than $750,000 dollars in incentives to filmmakers who will give Maine a starring role.

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The idea for the tax incentive program, says state Rep. Lance Harvell, came from a constituent who had witnessed the loss of a potnetial film production in western Maine.

"The daughter of a college professor I know of in Farmington that had written a book, as kind of a romantic novel set, I believe, in the Weld area, and it's been made into a screen play and they're going to make a film, and she had really wanted to do it here," Harvell says. "But due to the tax policy of the state, they went elsewhere."

Harvell's bill, which went before the Legislature's Taxation Committee, would reimburse feature filmmakers for up to $800,000 dollars in expenses for any film that is shot in Maine between now and the end of 2014.

"Maine has got a coastline that, stretched out, is as long as the entire east coast," Harvell says. "We've got mountains, we've got a lot of rural areas and there are a lot of movies that can take advantage of that kind of background and scenery and so on and so forth. And I just think that because of our tax policies, they would go other places rather than here."

Maine already has some incentives that it offers filmmakers, but Harvell thinks the state can do more. Speaking neither for nor against the proposal, Karen Carberry Warhola, director of the Maine Film Office, advised committee members to decide what kind of filmmaking they want to attract before approving any incentive programs.

"Large studio features, smaller independent features, television commercials, catalogue shoots and music videos all have different budgets and production needs and they all look at state incentive plans differently," Warhola told lawmakers. "Determining which type of project the state wants to attract is the first step in tailoring an incentive program that is a good fit for the state and the media productions."

Others question the fiscal prudence of such incentives. Joel Johnson is a economist and policy analyst for the progressive Maine Center for Economic Policy.

"The intentions of this legislation are good, but this proposal to subsidize film production in the state is more likely to be a loss to Maine taxpayers and Maine residents than it is to be a win," said Joel Johnson.

Johnson says it's nearly impossible to gauge the positive financial impacts of such programs. According to the Tax Foundation, film tax credits simply transfer a large portion of potential gains to the movie industry, rather than to local businesses or the state's general fund. Johnson shared similar criticisms.

"What we know is that over 40 states now offer film subsidies - that's up from only a handful 10 years ago," Johnson said. "Filmmakers can now find generous handouts almost anywhere they go -- including Maine. Intensifying their involvement in this beggar-thy-neighbor nonsense will get us nowhere."

Republican state Rep. Gary Knight, of Livermore Falls, says the incentive plan will be a tough sell for his caucus without some proof of its economic value.

"There needs to be some kind of a tracking formula to make sure that we're getting a bang for the buck," Knight says. "And that's the part that leaves me a little bit uncertain at this point."

But the Democratic chair of the Taxation Committee, Sen. Anne Haskell of Cumberland County, says there is considerable interest in the bill, and in another filmmaker tax break proposal that's still in the pipeline.


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