A bill that would increase financial incentives for filmmakers to produce movies in Maine has been carried over until the Legislature’s next session.
Supporters say they were disappointed by the late-session request to delay the bill so it could be reviewed by the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services. They say it had broad support at a public hearing May 12, and they’ll continue to work toward its passage.
The Legislature’s Taxation Committee voted May 20 to carry over the bill for more work and review. Its sponsor, Rep. Suzanne Salisbury, D-Westbrook, said Wednesday that she’ll work with the department to fix any technical issues regarding the proposed changes to tax policy and hopes to pass the bill next session. The next regular session is scheduled to start in January.
“We were really disappointed to only find out the night before the first work session about this. We hadn’t heard there were any issues,” said Salisbury. The bill had been referred to the committee on March 30.
Erik Van Wyck, an actor and producer from Kennebunkport who researched and wrote much of the bill, said Wednesday he is upset that the legislation is being stalled and felt that issues with its wording or specific incentives could have been dealt with earlier. He said he had heard that Maine Revenue Services – which is under the Department of Administrative and Financial Services – had some concerns or questions that they voiced to the Maine Film Office about the bill, and he doesn’t know why they were not addressed.
“These issues could have been addressed months ago, in the course of an hour or two,” said Van Wyck.
The chairman of the taxation committee, State Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, said his committee voted to hold the bill over after representatives from the Department of Economic and Community Development, which includes the Maine Film Office, said it needed further review.
Chipman, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, said he did not think the move would derail the bill.
“I want this to pass, so maybe taking some time to get it right makes sense. It would be harder to override a veto later on,” Chipman said.
Kate Foye, a spokesperson for the Department of Economic and Community Development, declined to respond to questions about why the bill was carried over or what specific reviews or adjustments might be needed.
“At this late stage in a legislative session it is not uncommon for a bill to be carried over in order for more work to be done in the off session,” Foye wrote in an email to the Press Herald.
The bill, L.D. 1334, is aimed at making Maine more competitive with other states in attracting movie and TV production, but the incentives offered would not be enough to lure most big-budget Hollywood films with stars in every role, said Van Wyck.
The proposed incentives, including tax credits, are designed to be most attractive to films with a budget of $5 million to $8 million. For the past decade or two, Maine has mostly attracted lower-budget indie films, often costing $500,000 or less. Van Wyck and others have created a website called Picture Maine to plead the case for why increased incentives would help create more filmmaking and associated jobs here.
Currently Maine offers a 10-12 percent wage rebate – for people from inside or outside the state – as well as a 5 percent tax credit on production spending. The changes proposed by L.D. 1334 include raising the wage reimbursement, in the form of a tax credit, to 25 percent for residents and 20 percent for nonresidents, but only for “below the line” workers, not producers or star actors. The bill would also create a 25 percent tax credit for all production spending in the state. Both tax credits would be refundable at a rate of 95 cents on the dollar.
A very big-budget movie, say, of $100 million, would be capped at $500,000 in tax credits in Maine but not in Massachusetts. Other states, including New York, have no cap on the amount of tax credits a film can get. Canada offers a 25 percent refundable tax credit on qualified labor expenses, also with no limit.
In recent years, several films in the $5 million to $8 million budget range that were set in Maine were filmed elsewhere, with the filmmakers citing higher tax incentives as the main reason. One was the 2015 romantic comedy “Tumbledown,” written by Portland filmmakers Desi Van Til and Sean Mewshaw and set in Van Til’s hometown of Farmington. The couple really wanted to make the movie in Maine, but when it came time to get financing, their financial backers wanted to take advantage of higher tax credits in Massachusetts.
Another recent movie set in Maine but filmed elsewhere, with a budget of about $4 million, was the murky 2019 drama “The Lighthouse,” starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. It’s set on a remote Maine island in the 1890s, and director Robert Eggers, a New Hampshire native, said the dialogue was heavily influenced by the work of Maine writer Sarah Orne Jewett. The film was shot in Nova Scotia, to take advantage of the tax rebate.
“I think this is a great bill and hopefully we can figure out the issues and have it ready to go next session,” said Salisbury.