Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Senator Mitchell and One Smart Young Lady help to Promote Maine

On Sunday night January 6th I sat and did something that 15 million other people around the United States were doing at the same time. I watched an inspiring story about a Maine family that was filmed in Maine.

At the same time that ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was telling the wonderful story of the Ray-Smith family of Milbridge, Maine, approximately 30 million viewers were also watching CBS’s 60 Minutes as Roger Clemens denied the allegations of steroid use that were part of the Mitchell report prepared by Maine’s legendary Senator, George Mitchell.

A total of 45 million people tuned into two of the three major networks to watch stories that were generated by Maine’s greatest asset…its people.

As I watched Extreme Makeover I was proud of the way that the people of Milbridge and the surrounding communities came together to help in building the Ray-Smith family’s new home. I was impressed by Brittany Ray, her husband Ron Smith, and the way that they have worked together to overcome the enormous challenges that life has thrown at their family over the years.

To me, the biggest star of the show was Brittany and Ron’s 11 year old daughter, Bayley Ray-Smith. Several times during the show Bayley was shown giving her impressions and thoughts on the things that have happen to the family over the years and how the process of getting a new house would impact her and her two autistic brothers. She was articulate, intelligent and thoughtful and it made me think of what a positive light her personality was shining on the entire State of Maine as those 15 million viewers watched.

It also made me think of another articulate, intelligent and thoughtful Mainer whose work was being challenged at the same time on 60 Minutes. George Mitchell may be Maine’s single, most important human asset.

When a group of us were working in 2005 and 2006 to help the Maine Film Office and the Film Commission pass the first round of film incentives, I wrote to Senator Mitchell asking him to endorse the incentives and to write a letter that we could pass along to all state senators and legislators. To my surprise his response was swift and we had the letter in our hands in no time. It became an important piece of the pie in getting the incentives passed.

In May of 2006 during a meeting with the film office and the film commission in which we were discussing ways to promote the newly passed incentives to potential producers who might consider shooting their film in Maine I suggested getting a celebrity, like Senator Mitchell, to shoot a video that could be streamed from the film office website welcoming producers to Maine and would briefly highlight everything that Maine has to offer a production company.

At the time Senator Mitchell was also the Chairman of the Board of the Walt Disney Company. It seemed to make perfect sense to me that he would be a great person to approach for this project. He encompasses everything positive about Maine from honesty and integrity to hard work, creativity, incredible relationships and a great sense of humor. These are attributes that every producer is looking for when producing a film.

Without prior film commission approval I approached Senator Mitchell with a script I had written and again he said yes. When I informed the film commission and the film office that Senator Mitchell had agreed to shoot the piece they turned it down. They felt that streaming the video from their new $20,000 website would be too costly, that the piece would not fit within their larger marketing plan, that there were other people like Paul Newman and Glenn Close that would be a better fit and that potential producers might be confused by Senator Mitchell’s presence because he was an important executive at Disney, a company that hadn’t shot a film in Maine.

Well, I didn’t agree. Having streamed video from websites before I knew the cost would be pennies, I couldn’t understand how it could have a negative impact on any marketing plan and having Senator Mitchell streaming from the film office website would bring more awareness of Maine to the other executives at Disney -- giving us a better shot at getting one of those multimillion dollar Disney projects.

So in October of 2006 I went with my friend, Barney Martin, to pick up Senator Mitchell from a fundraiser in Cape Elizabeth and we brought him to the WSCH studios to shoot the piece. He was exhausted after spending several days in Europe on a business trip. What was amazing to me was that as soon as the cameras started to roll he came alive and simply nailed it.

I gave a dvd to the film office and almost a year and half after shooting the piece it sits on a shelf somewhere at the state offices. So far there is no Glenn Close or Paul Newman video.

So now I have another thought, how about Bayley Ray-Smith welcoming producers to Maine? She certainly is smart enough, hardworking enough and 15 million people around the country are already familiar with her.

I think I’ll give her a call. The worst thing that can happen is that the film office and film commission will say no and I’ll know that I did my best to help promote Maine as a wonderful place, with imaginative, hardworking to people to shoot any film.