Producer making a name in County

Posted April 01, 2010, at 5:55 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:31 a.m.

REED PLANTATION, Maine — Some people may scoff at the idea that a television producer can succeed in rural northern Maine, but not Michael Fawcett.

Since moving to Aroostook County from Las Vegas seven years ago, he not only has made a name for himself and his Reed Plantation-based production company, The Idea Factory, he also has found a venue for his work to be shown to audiences across the state.

Fawcett, production manager of The Idea Factory, produced the documentary “The Story of Houlton, 1807-2007” in 2007. Created to commemorate Houlton’s 200th birthday, the DVD will be shown on Maine Public Broadcasting Network this month.

The DVD depicts significant times in the town’s history and is peppered with vignettes of the people who shaped the community. Filled with graphics, historical photographs and re-enactments, the DVD is approximately an hour long. The video was created to tell the tale of the town’s founding and preserve that account for future generations.

“I am a member of the Maine Film and Video Association,” Fawcett said during a recent interview. “We were able to convince MPBN to make a special time slot just for Maine programming once a week. They agreed, which means there will be 52 shows a year of films and videos about Maine. ‘The Story of Houlton’ was submitted to them, and they kind of sat on it for a while before news came that it would be shown in April.”

Fawcett founded Network Productions in Las Vegas in 1985. He found success providing television crews and equipment to the networks, producing infomercials and completing other work. Fawcett started The Idea Factory Inc. in 2000 to focus on special projects such as the Las Vegas Video Postcard, a tourism DVD that sold more than 350,000 copies worldwide. But after 20 years, Fawcett said, the industry changed.

“I was doing some very exciting work in Las Vegas, but the industry changed, and it became more like a business and not as much fun,” he said. “It just wasn’t as much of an art form anymore. I wanted a change.”

Fawcett said that he felt he could find the change he was looking for on the East Coast and decided to settle in Maine.

“I was in my dentist’s office in Nevada and he had a copy of Down East magazine in the waiting room,” said Fawcett. “I grew up in Connecticut, so I was familiar with the East Coast. I read the magazine and saw the price of land, and that is what really brought me here.”

The idea for his first DVD production in Maine, “Let’s Move to the Country,” came from his own experience getting settled in rural Aroostook County in 2003.

“I came here and thought, ‘Hey, I’ll build my own house, it’ll be easy,’” he said with a laugh.

“Well, I was wrong. But I decided to help others by filming a documentary and an instructional DVD about me building my own place. I talked about things like what makes land valuable and the mechanics of building a well. It was really kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing, showcasing the mistakes I made so that others could learn from it. It contains first-timer tips and other helpful hints.”

The DVD is for sale on Amazon.com.

At the same time, Fawcett began marketing his own skills and those of The Idea Factory by meeting as many people as he could and talking about what he did. That soon led him to connect with members of the Houlton Historical Video Committee, a group working to put together a DVD about the history of Houlton.

“I met Gregg Swallow [a member of the historical committee],” he said. “I soon learned about the project. The group had done a few interviews and other things, but they hadn’t yet found something that really worked. I offered to make them a five-minute promotional DVD. I did that, and once people saw it, it kind of opened up the flood gates.”

Fawcett was soon on board as the production manager of “The Story of Houlton, 1807-2007.”

He spent about a year writing the script, creating storyboards and more. The DVD drew rave reviews from the community and other viewers, and also “opened some eyes,” according to Fawcett.

“I think that the people who saw it realized that it was a new resource for them,” he said.

“Business owners and leaders of schools and hospitals and nonprofit organizations saw how a promotional DVD can really engage people and give viewers a great visual about what their company or their group can do for other people. They saw that a DVD is just as much of a tool as a Web site or a press release.”

Fawcett began getting calls from interested people throughout the area. He soon created promotional DVDs for Greater Houlton Christian Academy in Houlton and Aroostook Partnership for Progress in Caribou. Officials behind a campaign to raise money for a new arts center at Houlton High School came calling, and he created a human resources DVD for Houlton Regional Hospital.

The town of Houlton also has been a significant client. Fawcett has made an economic development DVD for the municipality, along with a tourism DVD. The financial costs of such projects vary, according to Fawcett.

“Normally, it is about $1,500 a finished minute,” he said. “It is quite labor-intensive, because you need to write it, cast it, shoot it, edit it, make graphics, secure voice-over work and more. It is not something you can just quickly put out. I tell people that it is just as labor-intensive as quilting is.”

Fawcett has made nine DVDs since moving to Houlton and is working on a DVD about wind power in Aroostook County. He has woven himself into the fabric of the community, volunteering for organizations and sitting on boards.

He is a member of the Maine Film & Video Association, a trade association made up of production companies, film and video professionals, TV stations, students, actors, musicians, writers, crew members and others. The group works together to create better business, educational and networking opportunities for the people working in the industry in Maine, according to its Web site.

At the same time, Fawcett said that he has grown to love his life and his work in Maine.

“I love it here,” Fawcett said. “I love this area and the people, and the work I have found here. I am now doing projects that really interest me. I really have started to embrace life here, and the people have been very welcoming of me. This is a great area, a really great place to be.”

“The Story of Houlton, 1807-2007” will be shown on MPBN at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 17, and at 10:30 p.m. Sunday, April 18.

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