“Should I stay or should I go?” isn’t just a really good song by The Clash, it’s also the main question faced by aspiring Maine filmmakers. In talking to dozens of Maine movie folk for this column over the years, the decision to remain making movies and attempting to build a film community in Maine or to strike out to places like New York or Los Angeles is inevitable. Some choose to stay, some to go. But as Maine’s most celebrated, still-native creative type once titled one of his stories (later turned into a couple of movies in L.A.), sometimes they come back.
Mariah Klapatch was raised in Rockport, left to get her bachelor of fine arts in film at New York’s Tisch School of the Arts, then spent a decade pursuing a varied and not-unsuccessful career in Hollywood as producer (of, among other projects, the Maine-made thriller “Island Zero”). Klapatch recently moved back to Maine (Owl’s Head, to be exact), and drawing on her multifaceted experiences in the film industry and on both coasts, Klapatch has set down roots back in her home state and seen her creativity bloom in some dark and beautiful ways. Klapatch is preparing to release the second season of her erotic fiction podcast “Reckless Fancies,” which she writes, performs, edits and directs, on ApplePodcasts and has signed on to join several other Maine-based filmmakers with a spooky short called “Ultra Witchy” as part of this year’s all-Maine horror anthology Damnationland.
I talked to Klapatch about making movies in Maine verses L.A., and the irresistible lure of Maine, especially when it comes to the dark.
What brought you back to Maine?
You know, I moved to L.A. for sort of weird reasons. I saw it as a nontraditional path – it was never to go and climb a Hollywood ladder. I had two- to five-year plans at a time, and as it progressed, I saw that coming back to Maine would give me the chance to make movies that I want to make, and that I wasn’t able to do that there. Plus, I wanted to make a life and buy a house, and that was also possible here and not there. (Laughs.)
As someone who’s experienced both, what’s the main draw – and the main drawbacks – to making movies in Maine instead of L.A.?
The benefits are pretty clear, in that I get to work here with people I know and like. On “Island Zero,” everyone was amazing. Sure, I could think of a couple of negatives, but on any film shoot in L.A., at some point I had to deal with someone unpleasant who needed to be handled because they just didn’t care. Sure, people in New York or L.A. have a right to be irritated – working in the film industry means being exploited, and I’d be irritated, too. But people here don’t have that much drama. They’re much nicer.
So what are the downsides to trying to make movies in Maine?
Financial, mostly. I’m a huge proponent of factoring labor as a hard cost, so reconciling not paying people is hard. On “Ultra Witchy,” I did give everyone some money, but it felt more like a gift, not actual wages. Ultimately, I felt OK because I felt like I was giving an opportunity for everyone on set to build relationships and get some work. We had young people, people just starting out, the whole spectrum, everyone doing really cool things. Plus, it was part of Damnationland, which is one of the coolest, most fun community-oriented Maine film events out there.
How do you see that community growing in Maine, or can it?
A: The history of New York and L.A. as entertainment hubs is an elite thing, and that’s just not how it is anymore. It doesn’t make sense to have entertainment concentrated in a couple of major cities. That I could contribute to a bunch of people working for a solid month feels good.
So what is “Ultra Witchy?”
Three women live in a house together, and the dynamic between them reveals that everyone is very creepy except this one girl, not just in the house, but in the whole town. It’s more of a mood-based piece, with me doing a lot of world-building and creating images I guess I’d call “witchy-psychedelic.” (Laughs.)
How was it putting your experiences into practice back in Maine, as a first-time director?
We shot the movie two weeks ago, and I was really pressing myself. Things at one point went wrong – there was this wasp’s nest involved – and we were working these really long days and, on the third day, we didn’t make our day. Every single person on the set came up to me and said, “If I can make it, I’ll come back,” which they did. We managed to pull off a lot of things, elaborate shots, and the fact that people were feeling so invested on top of how much I’d already asked of them was amazing. I’m planning a feature and it feels good knowing that there are people out there as connected as I am and just having pleasant experiences with each other. Plus, I’m always happy when there’s something I have my hands all over. (Laughs.)
Look for Mariah Klapatch’s eerie short film “Ultra Witchy” as part of this year’s Damnationland, damnationland.com, which will have its world premiere on Oct. 12 at Portland’s State Theater. To listen to Klapatch’s adults-only podcast of erotic fiction, “Reckless Fancies,” recklessfancies.com, on ApplePodcasts.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Starts Friday: “Never Goin’ Back.” Two young waitresses flee their Texas diner drudgery to seek some much-needed excitement in the big city in this acclaimed new indie female friendship road movie.
Wednesday: “Black Panther.” Come get your “Wakanda forever!” on as Space Gallery and Bayside Bowl offer a free screening of this thrillingly different Marvel superhero movie.