2013-05-31 / Community

Horror recreated at South Portland film studio

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Over the course of a mostly gloomy, dark, rainy and ominous Memorial Day weekend, South Portland film director Corey Norman and the cast and crew of “The Hanover House” finished shooting the final scenes of the horror movie scheduled for release this fall.

As they did, Eric Matheson, co-owner of Fore River Sound Stage in South Portland, looked on from the set he built to recreate the house that is allegedly haunted and served as the crew’s location for the first 11 days of production this winter.

Matheson, Norman and the almost entirely local team of actors and crew members on “The Hanover House” are the sort of film industry workers Rep. Scott Hamann (D-District 123) is hoping to help find work on productions with larger budgets.

Hamann proposed a bill that recently passed through the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Taxation, LD 1409, that would offer tax incentives to filmmakers who come to Maine, thus providing work for what Hamann called the “very qualified” group of film industry talent in the state, and providing a boost to the local economy.

The bill would provide the incentive for films with a budget more than $1 million, much higher than the budget for “The Hanover House,” but Norman said the horror film has gained plenty of traction online without an expensive marketing campaign. The film’s website, he said, has gathered hundreds of thousands of hits, and the film has been shared through social media by Neil Gaiman, author of the comic book series “The Sandman.”

“The Hanover House” is the first feature film directed by Norman, chairman of the communications and new media department at Southern Maine Community College. It tells the story of Robert Foster, a troubled protagonist who travels home for his father’s funeral.

After getting into an altercation with his mother, Foster gets in a car accident on his way out, running over a young girl in the street. He brings the girl to a nearby farmhouse, where his dead father answers the door. From there, Norman said the main character “battles his inner demons” in the house, personified in scenes of horror.

Part of what sets the movie apart from others in its genre, Norman said, is the creepy events off-camera in the western Maine farmhouse. He said crew members frequently caught glances of dark shadows and floating orbs, and more than one person saw the silhouette of a young boy. Norman said one morning, he woke up to find an old man, supposedly a former resident of the house 100 years ago, standing over his bed.

Norman hoped to shoot the entire movie on location at the farmhouse, but the narrow hallway and small bathroom were too restrictive. Instead, he enlisted the help of Fore River Sound Stage.

Matheson and his team built a set to recreate those two locations based on photos Norman had provided. The set was an exact replica of the two areas, enlarged and fitted with collapsible walls to accommodate the crew. The entire process, Matheson said, took about four or five days.

After “The Hanover House” crew finished shooting over the weekend, Matheson left for Massachusetts to find work. He’ll work on the set of “The Equalizer,” an upcoming Denzel Washington thriller shooting in Haverhill, Mass.

This is the not the first summer Matheson has traveled to Massachusetts for a project, but he hopes soon he can stay in Maine to work at the sound stage, which opened in 2011 in the South Portland Armory building.

“We’ve been doing alright. We can pay the rent and heat the place. There’s a lot more we could be doing if we had these tax incentives,” Matheson said.

Hamann’s proposal would provide a tax incentive that would reimburse filmmakers for 25 percent of “qualified expenditures” if the film’s budget is above $1 million. Hamann defined those expenditures as costs incurred at Maine businesses as well as wages paid to crew members, excluding high-level staff such as writers and directors.

The 25 percent tax incentive mirrors the policy in Massachusetts, but Hamann said the comparatively low cost of doing business in Maine may attract filmmakers for small-budget Hollywood movies or mid-level independent movies. But unlike the system in Massachusetts, filmmakers must purchase equipment in Maine rather than going out-of-state in order to qualify for the incentive.

Hamann said the proposal will both support local businesses and drive moviegoers who see images of Maine to visit.

“It has less to do with the film industry than it does all the economic benefits and residual tourism benefits,” Hamann said.

Matheson said he’s been fighting for a film tax-credit in Maine for 15 years, and has high hopes for Hamann’s bill.

“I think he came up with a great proposal and he’s got a lot of support. It only makes sense that these guys get it together and get it done, otherwise we go through another two years of nothing,” Matheson said.

LD 1409 is set for a vote in the Maine House of Representatives sometime in early June, Hamann estimated. Meanwhile, Norman is in the post-production stage of editing “The Hanover House.” He said the movie is scheduled for an October release, just in time for Halloween.

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Correction, May 31, 2013: An earlier version of this story said films with a budget of more than $100 million would receive a 35 percent tax credit under the bill. That proposal has been removed in the final draft. All films with a budget of more than $1 million would receive a 25 percent tax credit.

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