Will South Portland soon become a hotbed of Hollywood-like activity? Maine is a visual paradise—from its billboard-less highways to attractively zig-zagging coastline (which, when you stretch it to full length, measures longer than California’s). No wonder people came here to film flicks like In The Bedroom and The Cider House Rules. But moviemakers have mostly spelunked into our territory to get good film footage, then headed elsewhere to complete the project. They’ve had no capacity to produce their films in-state, as we lack a large-scale commercial production studio.
A few months ago, Maine hoped a guy named Bill Ferrell would follow through on his promise to build two giant soundstages in Camden, which would have made the cozy seaside village the state’s first cradle of the film production economy. Those plans have gone awry, and now South Portland's city council has snatched the fumbled baton.
Their vision is interesting: transform the vacant South Portland Armory into Maine’s bastion of TV and film production. Starting June 1, South Portland (SoPo) will lease the estimated 10,000 square foot building, which it purchased for $650,000 in 2006, to Fore River Sound Stage. The lease has a buy option, and the base rent is a surprisingly low $550 per month. There are no toilets yet, and major repairs will need to be made since the building has crumbled during its three years of vacancy. Beginning in December, 60 percent of gross rental receipts collected by Fore River will go to directly to South Portland, which will reinvest 40 percent of that money into the building's renovation. The city council voted unanimously on the contract, but the deal's naysayers argue SoPo has gambled on Fore River's ability to turn a profit and boost the creative economy.
The leader of Fore River, Eric Matheson, is an art director and production designer who has worked on Hollywood films such as Amistad and The Cider House Rules. According to Keep Me Current, Matheson plans to invest "a couple of million dollars" into renovations so that the upcoming studio can cater to major motion-pictures, and he said, "Our intention is to purchase the building, through our investors, and as soon as we can possibly do that, we will." Find more details on the negotiations in the Portland Press Herald.
The armory is one of the first buildings you see after crossing the Casco Bay Bridge from downtown Portland into SoPo. Local jobseekers from both towns will have easy access: Set designers. Stage crews. And Paparazzi? Plastic surgeons? If all goes according to plan, the Portland area may be introduced to small doses of a culture as foreign to Maine as palm trees.
Photo of South Portland's armory by Current Publishing.