Tuesday, May 27, 2008

“Building Media Leadership in Maine”

On May 4th I had the honor of being the master of ceremony for the premier of the Maine based Dibacco brothers film “Willows Way”. It was an opportunity to celebrate the film’s international distribution and at the same time celebrate film in Maine.

With a beautiful ballroom at the Wyndam Hotel in South Portland, smelling like movie theater popcorn and a crowd of over 300 enthusiastic attendees, I had the opportunity to talk about the same thing that I write about in this blog. The importance of media, media production and media distribution to the State of Maine, it’s economy, it’s ability to market itself and most importantly the benefit to all Maine citizens.

It also gave me an opportunity to pull out my tuxedo and interact with the crowd instead of sitting behind my computer and writing.

Just before I was about to step out and address the crowd, I listened to the mix of songs that played as the still production photos from “Willows Way” flashed on the screen displaying the moments of laughter, intensity and creativity that are common in the process of most media production. As “We Are Family” slowly faded I nervously stepped to the center of the room in front of the big screen.

I am certainly not a professional emcee and I haven’t received a call from the Screen Actors Guild to host the 2009 Academy Awards. What I do possess is a passion and conviction in my personal belief that media production is good for Maine and we need to do everything in our power to create a culture that attracts and inspires media producers to create their projects within the boundaries of Maine.

So there I was standing in the middle of the banquet room with 300 enthusiastic audience members staring at me waiting to be entertained. As I usually do, I said the first thing that came to my heart and mind, “We are family. That is what it is like to be part of a film crew. You are about to witness the work of a family on the screen behind me. We are also a part of a bigger family that is the film production community in the State of Maine. If you like what you see here today and would like to see it happen again and again in Maine, then I am asking each and every one of you to contact your legislator and your senator and ask them to vote for further film incentives in 2009.” I stopped and held my breath for a moment as the crowd responded with applause.

It is easy to achieve applause and agreement in that situation. In order to actually pass further incentives we will need to improve our structural and individual film industry leadership.

Currently there is a state run and funded film office, an advisory film commission, a non-profit association that was formed in conjunction with the film office in the 90’s called the Maine Film and Video Association and Portland Media Artists, an independent group that shares information with an online forum and meets informally in the Portland area.

If you could take the energy generated by these groups and funnel it into one voice you would generate more power than any group of offshore, wind powered turbines ever could.

It would make sense that the Film Office would be that voice. Unfortunately, the current system and staffing doesn’t allow for that voice to come forward.

When the Blethen newspapers published a misleading article in regard to LD2319, a bill authorizing a tax credit for the Maine based film “Tumbledown”, Barney Martin, a dogmatic film industry advocate, immediately wrote to the film office imploring them to contact the newspaper and request specific corrections. No retraction occurred.

During the legislative process in working on the bill there was no voice from the film office because they simply couldn’t speak .The Baldacci administration had not publicly endorsed or opposed the bill.

Under the current structure, the Film Office cannot advocate for the media industry unless the particular administration that is in place at the time is willing to truly advocate for the media industry. This type of structure does not give the media industry a true voice.

If you visit the Film Office website you’ll find this statement “The film office helps bring film, television and other media projects to Maine; works to expand and improve Maine's in-state production industry; and helps all Maine made media productions succeed.”

“Tumbledown” is a project that wanted to come to Maine, would expand and improve the in-state production industry and could have used the film office’s help in succeeding in those goals.

If we go back to the idea that “We Are Family” then the media industry needs to have a family meeting. As my parents and sisters will tell you I never have a problem presenting my ideas in a family meeting.

If we can put a meeting like this together I’ll be happy to voice my first idea. “Privatize the film office and truly give a focused, passionate and powerful voice to the talented Maine media artists and all citizens of the state of Maine.”

I’ll even wear my tuxedo and pop the popcorn.