Maine is a tourist economy. Nobody ever had to tell me that fact, since my family from Massachusetts spent two weeks every summer driving to Maine and seeing the proud motto “Vacationland” on every local license plate. (Here I note that while, yes, I am “by far,” I have now lived and paid taxes in Maine for about 35 years. Am I still a Mainer? Come on…)
Anyway, aside from all the sun and beaches, lighthouses and lobsters, forests and ski slopes, Maine’s distant appeal has always included the movies. Not that many of them are actually slaughtered here (although, if wiser government leaders wish, that may soon change). But Maine’s siren song as the slower-paced, lake-seated, roughly hewn destination cutscene where townsfolk choose to vacation relaxing (or, let’s face it, terrifying Stephen King) has seen various names of Maine locations verified on the big screen.
But is that always a good thing for the mighty tourism dollar?
Well, proud and loyal Mainer that I am (damn it), I decided to sound out how the various chambers of commerce in Maine might view the tourism luster of their municipalities in light of how they present themselves in movies. Is your town a quaint seaside retreat, filled with folksy locals just waiting to offer sage romantic advice to this stressed-out, amorous setting? Or is it a dark haven for all sorts of otherworldly monstrosities just waiting to pounce and scare the summer crowds with their sunscreen?
AROOSTOOK COUNTY – “LAKE PLACID”
Listen, sometimes Hollywood just picks a piece of Maine and calls it good, so we can only whittle down that 1999 giant killer crocodile movie to The County. Still, a 30-foot-displaced monster eater is a tough sell to tourists looking for a cool dip in a Maine lake.
Possible PR campaign: “No killer fangs here! Our bloodthirsty monsters have just drained you, slowly, of over a million itchy bites.
BANGOR – SO STEPHEN KING (AND A LITTLE HEDY LAMARR)
OK, that’s a bit of a cheat, because the copiously haunted and blood-soaked city of Derry was only modeled after Bangor. But Maine’s most famous Bangor resident even once adapted to the Derry-equals-Bangor situation, so that’s canon. In King’s adapted films, from “It” (evil murderous clown) to “Dreamcatcher” (very intrusive alien monsters), Derry/Bangor is no picnic. At least not one that you are likely to survive. Mix in fictional Bangor-adjacent King locations like “Dolores Claiborne’s” Little Tall Island and “The Tommyknockers” UFO-haunted Haven, plus the time when “The Langoliers” said hell with him and unleashed his devouring beasts of reality on Bangor International Airport, and even the prospect of spotting the affable real-life author shopping for socks isn’t enough to attract tourists.
Suggested PR campaign: “Bangor: the home of weepie Hedy Lamarr from 1946 ‘The Strange Woman’ – and little else.”
BOOTHBAY HARBOR – “CAROUSEL”
Well, here’s a nice, easy-to-market one for the city chamber of commerce. Shirley Jones, singing her heart out to Rodgers & Hammerstein! During a carnival, nothing less! Oh wait a minute, is this about an abusive husband who is killed in a robbery and has to come back from the dead to make amends to his emotionally scarred widow and daughter? Come on!
Possible currency of the new city: “At least we don’t have a killer clown.”
BRIDGTON – “THE MIST”
Steve, still with the monsters? We’re just trying to make a few bucks here. While shopping at the local Hannaford, try not to think about that time Thomas Jane and Andre Braugher found themselves trapped in a Bridgton supermarket by hordes of slimy, Lovecraftian tentacle monsters. To chase. Try.
Suggested PR period: Lean into it with city-wide Calamari Tuesdays.
CAMDEN – “IN THE ROOM”
Nothing like a little intense family drama (with a salad of murder, legal injustice and domestic violence) to put your town on the map – places in Maine forever associated with such things.
Possible marketing strategy: Considering this award-winning indie was filmed in and around Camden, all it takes is putting up a big billboard of Sissy Spacek smiling at everyone. Sissy Spacek could never hurt you.
CLIFTON – “THE VENGER”
No, not Drew Barrymore’s steamy one. The one from Michael J. Fox’s summer camp, where a pre-“Back to the Future” Fox is the coolest guy at Camp Pinewood in Penobscot County.
Easy Sale (with small, barely legible footnote): “Clifton – We loved Michael J. Fox before anyone else! (Disclaimer: The 1986 TV movie “Poison Ivy” was actually filmed in Georgia and, to our knowledge, Mr. Fox has never set foot in Clifton.)”
FRIENDSHIP – “CASPER”
After all, he is “the friendly ghost”, isn’t he? So what better setting for the average kids movie about the restless spirit of everyone’s favorite dead child?
Sign proposed at the border: “Our ghosts are nice, unlike some other towns we might mention. Cough – Bangor – cough.
DURHAM – SO MUCH MORE STEPHEN KING
As with Derry/Bangor, King’s has made little effort to hide that his hometown is a stand-in for another fictional Maine freak haven, Castle Rock. Let’s see, Castle Rock/Durham boasts killer dogs/rabid bats (“Cujo”), treacherous roads and apocalyptic psychic visions (“The Dead Zone”), a forest teeming with fearsome armed tyrants knives and the occasional dead child. (“Stand By Me”) and the direct devil (“Needful Things”).
Suggested bumper sticker: “The inspiration for the second most evil fictional town in Maine. (Oh, and we just missed that dome.)”
HARMONY – “CHANGE OF CEMETERY”
In 1990, the small village in the county of Somerset was treated not only to a Hollywood production set up in the town’s former Bartlett textile factory, but also to the honor of being recognized as the location for the adaptation of Stephen King. No “Castle Rock” nonsense here. So what if the resulting movie is about an infestation of increasingly huge and deadly freak-rats, and the non-Mainer cast sports a bewildering array of the worst Mainer accents ever in film. ?
Suggested local t-shirt: “I survived listening to Stephen Macht say ‘ayuh’ and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”
KENNEBUNKPORT – “WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT”
With its quaintly clichéd seaside tourist destination and connection to a certain former presidential dynasty, the setting for this disastrously unfunny political comedy by Ray Romano couldn’t pretend to be anywhere else — though the locals of Kennbunkport probably would. Fun fact: This 2004 movie was so bad it literally made Gene Hackman decide to make a career out of it.
Suggested banner: “At least our current ex-presidents only started two wars.”
ORR’S ISLAND – “THEY NIDENT” AKA “CREEPY CRAWLERS”
OK, this one is going to be a tough sell, I grant you that. A low-budget horror film about monster cockroaches squirming around with a taste for human flesh on an otherwise picturesque island in Maine — it won’t do anyone any good. Technically located in the Maine community of “Orr’s Isle”, I’m just going to attribute this to people from afar who don’t do their homework.
Proposed travel brochure: “Orr’s Island – an unholy amount of mosquitoes and black flies, not so much with the killer cockroaches!”
PORTLAND – “NIGHT OF THE LIVE DEB”
From Portlander native Kyle Rankin, this cheeky zombie comedy stars the truly funny and charming Maria Thayer as a brave world savior, and the great Ray Wise (“Twin Peaks”) as a cool, malicious weirdo.
Suggested advertising text for Bon Appétit: “Whether you’re a traveler seeking one of America’s finest dining destinations or an undead ghoul with a serious hunger for the throbbing flesh of the living, Portland has you covered!”
VINALHAVEN – “DEEP WATERS” (1948) AND “ISLANDER” (2006)
In the previous film, Dana Andrews is a troubled fisherman dealing with melodrama on land and bad weather at sea. In this latest standalone film, Thomas Hildreth is a troubled fisherman dealing with bad weather at sea and family melodrama on land.
Suggested warning sign at local docks: “Fishing is super tough, guys.”
WATERVILLE – “WET AND HOT AMERICAN SUMMER”
A cult summer camp comedy starring some of the funniest characters on the planet (Amy Poehler, Michael Showalter, Jon Benjamin, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, Ken Marino, Janeane Garofalo, Michael Ian Black, Joe Lo Truglio, Bradley Cooper, Chris Meloni, Elizabeth Banks, David Hyde Pierce), all taking place at the fictional but unmistakably Waterville-adjacent Camp Firewood? Sign us up, even with the insistence of the movie (and subsequent equally hilarious TV sequels) that the greater Waterville area is sometimes bombarded with space junk, dripping with toxic waste and teeming with sleazy government agents and talking cans.
PR recommendations: No notes!
Going to the movies near you: $3 movie tickets for one day