m-bathfilmbill-010809 Legislator sponsors film-fueled economic stimulus bill

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BATH — Rep. Thom Watson, D-Bath, is sponsoring a stimulus bill geared toward attracting more film production business to Maine through competitive tax incentives.
The bill is based on the Maine Film Tax Incentive Plan, a previous version of which passed in the House during the last session, but failed by a few votes in the Senate, Watson said last week.
While that bill focused on one film production, he said, this one is meant to be more competitive, applying to all productions in Maine.
The bill has yet to be printed and will leave the Revisor’s Office before going to the Taxation Committee, most likely next month, Watson said. Following a public hearing, a work session and an endorsement by the committee, the bill would go to the House and Senate for debate.
A rebate or transferable tax credits are among components of the proposed plan. Incentives could increase based on factors like specific on-camera coverage of Maine in the film and employment levels in a Pine Tree Zone.
One facet of the incentive could be that a film production company could keep what it would normally pay the state through state withholding taxes for its production crew, Watson said.
“Many other states allow that, far more than what Maine has currently on the books,” he said. “And that’s one of the reasons that we’re competing with other states.”
Watson said film production companies will go to states like Rhode Island, which he said has a strong incentive program, to make a movie that is supposed to be set in Maine.
Part of the bill focuses on providing more incentives for independent Maine productions, Watson said, including students graduating from the University of Maine system and trying to establish a production company in Maine.
The plan is a way to not only help promote the state, Watson said, but also to “get a great return on what little investment we have to make.”
“It’s great business because it’s such clean money,” Watson said, noted that the per diem allowance that a film production company is given is spent immediately in local shops and eateries. “All of the business that’s generated by production is just incredible and leaves nothing behind. It leaves no trash behind. It doesn’t absorb any of our resources, it doesn’t pollute. It’s just good clean money injected into the economy.”
Brenda Jepson, chairwoman of the Maine Film Commission Board, has said that $13.6 million was injected into Waterville thanks to the filming of “Empire Falls,” a 2005 HBO production that starred the late Paul Newman. And Watson pointed out that Bath and Phippsburg had benefited from the filming of “Message in a Bottle,” a 1999 movie with Newman, Kevin Costner and Robin Wright Penn.
A 2008 study commissioned by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development found that the direct economic output of the visual media sector was $371 million, and that the total impact from that output for the state was $630 million, Watson said.
“Between an improved incentive program and a bit of guidance to help businesses and municipalities be ‘film friendly,’ this industry could be a lot to Maine,” said Cameron Bonsey, a former television producer who is now marketing director at Coast of Maine Organic. “We have so much to offer.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.