Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Franklin County Decides to become Film Friendly

On Thursday night November 13th I had the pleasure of speaking to the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce at their annual member meeting held at the University of Maine at Farmington.

I had been invited to speak by Matt Wotton, the chamber President, after I had sent an email suggesting that the Chamber support the passage of additional film incentive legislation during the 2009 legislative session.

It had been about 10 years since I last visited the Farmington area and the local development has changed dramatically over that time. I was expecting an audience of maybe 40 or 50 people and I was surprised to walk into a full banquet room at the North Dining Hall at UMF.

I was a little nervous because I didn’t have a set speech prepared. So I headed for the cash bar, bought a Maine made Shipyard ale and walked around the banquet room introducing myself and getting a sense of the people in attendance.

It reminded me of the stories my dad would tell of town meetings and grange hall get-togethers’ in his hometown of Surry, Maine. There was a lot of camaraderie and I could tell that everyone there really cared about Franklin County.

I was seated at a table toward the front. Everyone at the table was kind and interesting and when I introduced myself and told them that I would be speaking about film and film incentives they all had a positive, interesting story to tell.

As I was introduced to speak, my nerves dissipated. After all, I was speaking to my new, old friends. My story was simple as I spoke about the current economy and how I was there to deliver some good news.

I told how my friend Paul Tukey had approached me after I bought a small casting agency and asked me to help him produce a television show called People Places & Plants. We shot the pilot and then I contacted over 500 television station and got very used to the answer “no”. Those “no’s” caused me to dig deeper and keep calling, emailing and writing like some possessed character from a Stephen King novel. Eventually we were picked up by twenty-three broadcast stations around the country and the show was broadcast to thirty-five million homes.

As we produced 46 shows we made sure that we highlighted Maine in nineteen, five and half minute segments showing some wonderful Maine businesses, landscapes and people that make Maine unique and special.

At the end of two years of losing money we decided not to produce any more new shows. Because of the relationships I had built within the industry during those years we were able to sell the show to HGTV where it was broadcast to ninety-one million homes for a year and a half.

We broke even on the show and the State of Maine enjoyed a tourism marketing boost worth 1.8 million dollars during the three and half years that the show was on the air.

I talked about the movie “Tumbledown” that was written about Franklin County by Desi Van Til and how a film like that can drop millions into a local economy impacting restaurants, motels, resorts, lumberyards and virtually every local business in the short term and how movies like “Empire Falls” and “Peyton Place” continue to have a marketing impact on towns like Camden, Skowhegan and Waterville long after the movies have been produced.

Using the Franklin County Chamber’s website as a good example I talked about how counties and municipalities can make themselves more film friendly and I encouraged everyone to talk to their local legislator and senator and ask them to support further film incentives because they can have an immediate economic impact with no upfront investment.

I guess I did a pretty good job because many people approached me after the banquet and gave me their cards and had many questions. A few days ago a received an email from Matt Wotton that contained the following quote:

“I know it will take a great deal of work to make Maine into a state that would encourage directors and producers to bring there products here, but I for one would like to see it happen. Lorna (The Executive Director) and I have spoken and we want the Chamber to start this ball rolling and see what may happen. I'd like to see a major movie filmed in Western Maine within the next 2 years. Who knows if this is a realistic goal, but I only know one way to find out.”
I have a tendency to set goals that aren’t realistic. It makes life interesting. The Franklin County Chamber has given me the energy to pursue an idea that my unrealistic, friend Barney Martin had a few years ago. I’d like to speak to every chamber in Maine, get them excited in regard to the positive economic impact that film incentives can have on every citizen, business and town in Maine and help them become more film friendly. I believe that we can build a nice network of film advocates in all 16 counties that are ready and willing to take a producer by the hand and show them what makes Maine and their local county special.

I’ll start with the Franklin County Chamber and if you know some local chamber that would like to have Barney and I come and speak just let us know. We’ll do our comedy routine and make you laugh while we do something good for the State of Maine and its economy.