Monday, March 09, 2009

What lurks in deep Maine waters

Back in 2006, I was poking around on my SiteMeter page, seeing how people had stumbled across this blog, and found that one of my visitors arrived after searching for information about giant eels in Thomaston, Maine.

Three years later, here I am writing a review of a terrific new Lovecraftian script that takes place in Maine and tells the tale of a horrific giant eel monster and its progeny. Who knew?

The script is tremendously exciting, and in fact has already won the prize for Best Screenplay at the 2008 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, beating out over 50 contenders in this ferociously competitive field (read article here). Screenwriter Jeff Palmer, though currently living in Davis, California, has a long history with Maine, and solid family ties within our state. This experience of Maine shows in his writing. Not once did the fictitious Maine of his story feel dislocated, which is a rare quality to find.

The story is rife with the kinds of things that perk my antennae up -- Maine back roads and backwoods, odd homegrown museums packed with weird and obscure historical items, and characters in out-of-the-way places that choose the recipients of their wisdom seemingly at random. The chilling incidents that are woven into the storytelling are honestly creepy. As you get further into the script, the lure grows wilder, dragging you with it as it twines the dual storyline tighter and tighter. Strange things happen with increasing certitude, and by the time you hit this point, there is no turning back.

Beyond the compelling story and its setting, the script itself is tightly crafted. The dialogue is very well written and flows naturally (so rare!), as does the sequencing of events. Never once did I have to stop midstream and page back through to figure out what the heck was going on. Add to that the bonus of a suspense that builds almost palpably! I can honestly say that the phone went unanswered as I read the final part of the story.

My verdict? If this film is awarded the high level of production it deserves, then we are in for a treat the likes of which is seldom to be seen in the horror film industry. Maine horror fans and Lovecraft fans alike will be dancing in the streets, or running down the streets screaming in happy terror. Take your pick!

When I asked Jeff how he felt about the State of Maine, he was happy to explain a point of view that I think many of us share: "Having family roots in Maine and growing up so close to the state, I've always felt a deep connection with the area. The coast, the mountains, and the wilderness foster a strong sense of place with anyone who has vacationed or visited Maine. There's also a sense of mystery -- or perhaps we yearn for it. It's a big state with so many stories just waiting to be heard." This explains one of the reasons he has been able to capture the sense of Maine in his script. He and his wife are happily planning to move to New England this summer.

I was happy to hear that his intention is to film here, instead of the usual cop-out of Vancouver-for-Maine substitution that we have seen recently from Hollywood. I asked him if there was anything folks here could do to help. "Since at least 75% of the story takes place in Maine, the goal is to shoot most of it on location when the time comes. I'm not certain what can be done on a grass-roots level. I've been in touch with [Maine film advocate] Cameron Bonsey and he's very enthusiastic about the project as well as bringing other productions into the state. Tax-based incentives would be a great start as many states are finding it helps attract film and TV productions with multi-million dollar budgets."

So what exactly has the Maine Film Commission been doing to attract business to our fair shores? According to their website, a number of tax-related incentives are offered to films as part of a package deal, including an income tax rebate for investors in media projects, reimbursement on lodging taxes for long-term stays, and a wage-tax rebate plan. The remainder of incentives are simply tax-exempt status for a variety of expenses. Other "additional" offers of assistance are creative and practical -- things like fee-free use of State Parks for filming, and the Maine Surplus Property Plan, which allows qualified productions to borrow - free of charge - furniture and other surplus property from the State of Maine. "In the past, productions have found free furniture and equipment to outfit production offices and to use as props."

Hopefully this is enough to get Jeff's production here, and to allow the project to spend the $250K+ in Maine necessary to potentially qualify for the incentives offered. According to a recent study, which supports my own personal observations about the lack of Hollywood filming in Maine, this is not enough for most film productions to move house here. Based on 2005 data (apparently the most recent batch available), it is notable that of the $371 million in "direct economic impact" that was generated in Maine by the visual industries in 2005, a paltry $7.2 million came from the out-of-state film, video and commercial photography sector. The rest was generated by our own local ("indigenous") industry.

Let's cross our fingers that whoever gives Jeff's project the go-ahead finds that with the help of his persistent encouragement, they cannot resist the lure of the real State of Maine! The film has plenty going for it. Says Palmer, "The Sleeping Deep is a hybrid genre, which makes it accessible to a wider audience and very marketable. Yes, at the core it's a horror movie, but there's so much more going on; elements of fantasy, supernatural, history, humor and thriller are all part of the story. It's an easy script to get behind. The trick is finding that handful of financiers who are passionate about the story as I am. There's a real potential to make a great film or series of films based on these characters - and that means future productions in the state." Hear, hear!

To check up on the latest about The Sleeping Deep, visit the Sleeping Deep blog. Here you'll find artwork as it develops, camera tests, scoring tests, and other juicy tidbits as Jeff gets the film ready and pitches it to the biggest and best in Hollywood.

We'll be sure to keep you updated as events develop.

No comments: