Kennebec Journal - April 15, 2008

Filmmakers ask state for $800,000

State House: A bill would reimburse some of the cost of shooting a movie in Maine.


Director Sean Mewshaw and screenwriter Desi Van Til, center, lobby Sen. Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, Monday at the State House for money for a film they want to shoot in Franklin County. Credit: Andy Molloy/Blethen Maine News Service

Director Sean Mewshaw and screenwriter Desi Van Til, center, lobby Sen. Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, Monday at the State House for money for a film they want to shoot in Franklin County. Credit: Andy Molloy/Blethen Maine News Service

Filmmakers hoping to shoot an independent movie in western Maine this fall are asking lawmakers for up to $800,000 in reimbursements for film-related expenses. Screenwriter Desi Van Til, a Farmington native, and her husband, director Sean Mewshaw, are shopping around a script for a movie called ''Tumbledown.'' If they can get money from the state, it will sweeten the deal for financiers who invest in the film, Van Til said Monday. She said Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island all offer better financial incentives. ''If this can get passed, the playing field will be equalized,'' she said. Rep. Janet Mills, D-Farmington, sponsored legislation that would reimburse up to $800,000 in expenses for the movie production. The payments - up to $200,000 a year - would begin in July 2010 and continue for four years. The reimbursements would be offered only after the production spends money in Maine. The total production cost is likely to be under $5 million, according to the legislation. Van Til and Mewshaw, whose company is called Rusticator Pictures, moved to Portland from Los Angeles about a year ago because they want to make this movie, said Van Til, a 1995 graduate of Mount Blue High School. She said it's important to them to shoot the film in western Maine. ''Franklin County isn't just an arbitrary setting for our film,'' she said. ''The film itself is a love story to Maine, about the quality of life here, the agony and ecstasy of small-town living, and the deliberate choice to take the road less traveled.'' The plot is a ''comedic love story of a spirited woman from Maine's lake country rebuilding her life after the loss of her husband,'' according to information supplied by Van Til. In 2003, Waterville and Skowhegan played a starring role in the HBO movie ''Empire Falls,'' which was based on a book by Maine author Richard Russo. While Mills hopes her bill will enable another film production to come to Maine, the legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, said the bill will be held in the Senate to provide time to ''look at its worthiness.'' ''It has a large fiscal note,'' she said. ''There's been no public hearing. As much as all of us support economic development, we don't know anything about it. I don't know where the money comes from.'' And Assistant Senate Minority Leader Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, said he, too, is concerned that the Legislature hasn't had time to fully consider the bill. The bill is co-sponsored by five Democrats, two Republicans and one independent. Mills, who lobbied senators along with Van Til and Mewshaw on Monday afternoon, said it's a good investment in a project that could greatly benefit western Maine. ''This is a film that could draw interest, activity and money to western Maine, where the unemployment rate has hovered between 7 and 9 percent,'' she said. Van Til and Mewshaw are both graduates of Princeton University. Mewshaw has worked on Hollywood productions, including ''Gangs of New York'' and ''Remember the Titans,'' Van Til said. Together, they made a short film in 2004 starring Frances McDormand that premiered at the Venice Film Festival. While both are producers, she is the writer and he is the director. ''We felt the time was right in our lives to stop working smaller jobs in big films,'' she said.

Author: SUSAN M. COVER        Dateline: AUGUSTA