Deal to bring startup movie studio to Camden gets mixed reviews; vote set for May 10

Posted April 10, 2011, at 7:30 p.m.
Last modified April 12, 2011, at 3:31 p.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — A deal the town of Camden struck with a startup film company was publicly attacked, praised and scrutinized by residents at a meeting last week.

Residents, town officials and Camden residents discussed the contract the Select Board signed that will give town land to B.D’Turman’D Entertainment for $1 upfront and then force the company to create 24 jobs in town in five years — or risk owing the town $175,000 for the riverfront land.

The company plans to build two 18,000-square-foot warehouselike sound stages where it will film movies, according to one of the company’s owners, Bill Ferrell, who represented B.D’Turman’D Entertainment at the meeting. The company has planned $270 million in movies for the next three years in Camden.

Although the Select Board signed a purchase and sale agreement with the company in late March, town voters must approve it at the ballot box May 10. Some of those voters are displeased with the plan. About 80 people gathered at the Camden Opera House on Thursday, April 7, for a four-hour public hearing on the agreement.

Rob Draper, a Camden resident who has worked in the film industry for more than 30 years, doesn’t like the idea of this particular company coming to Camden. He compared B.D’Turman’D’s business plan to a B-movie and said it showed a “complete lack of understanding” of the industry.

“It’s a joke. This is all smoke and mirrors. It’s Hollywood. It’s gloss and glamor,” Draper said.

Draper and a handful of film-industry retirees who now live in Camden attacked the plan Thursday night. Maine’s weather is too unpredictable and actors don’t live here, were among reasons they found the project unfeasible.

So far the business has no financing, according to Ferrell. The company is working with banks now to get loans for its operation. Originally, Camden voters asked the town to bring in a company that would create two dozen jobs. The voters asked that the town charge the company $200,000 upfront for the 2.8 acres and then reimburse the company that fee when it created 24 jobs in town. But the Select Board switched the plan and offered the land to B.D’Turman’D for $1 upfront and will penalize the company with a $175,000 fee if it fails to create enough jobs in five years.

Some people were upset about this change.

The town’s lawyer, Bill Kelly, said this was done at the company’s request.

“[The company’s] rationale was, ‘Every $175,000 is important upfront. We have a lot of money to invest,’” Kelly said at the public hearing. ”There are similar programs in the country like this, and they use a back-end penalty not an upfront payment. The voters either agree with that or not, but it’s legally agreeable.”

Select Board Chairperson Karen Grove also supported the change, saying that she would rather the company owe the town than have the town owe the company.

Some people voiced fears of giving the company the land and then the company going bankrupt before it could either make the 24 jobs or pay the town the $175,000 for the property.

“If the deal goes south in three years what is the risk to the town?” resident Jeff Scott asked the town board.

“The risk to the town is collecting $175,000 from B.D’Turman’D LLC,” said town attorney Kelly.

“If they’re bankrupt?” Scott asked.

“I guess that’s a risk,” Kelly said at the meeting.

Jack Churchill, who retired to Camden after 40 years in the film industry, said it took him five minutes to stop laughing when he heard about B.D’Turman’D moving to town.

“I went on their website, D’Turman,” he said. “I saw four horribly done photoshopped posters for slasher films with a description of what each one is going to be. We could be the slasher capital of the Northeast. We could say, ‘Camden: Where the blood meets the sea.’ The reason I make jokes about this is that I’m really angry.”

Churchill scrutinized the work of the three owners of the film business: Ferrell, Jerome Turman and Larry Reed.

“It has the lowest rating of any movie on [the Internet Movie Database],” Churchhill said of Ferrell’s last production, “Zombie Wars.” “One of my [high school] students said, ‘I could have done this in my sophomore year better.’”

Churchill said the only reason the company came here was that they couldn’t make it in Hollywood.

“I don’t think [this company] has a snowball’s chance in hell. I’m sorry to say that.”

In addition to attacks on the business’s plan, Camden residents laid down concerns about the company owners themselves.

“I had a chance to Google Bill Ferrell and Turman and I couldn’t come up with anything, as hard as I tried,” said local businessman Leonard Fuchs. When he finally found some results, “it raised a lot of red flags about the ability of you guys. I have real questions about your ability to perform. I don’t want to be the guy who shoots the goose who lays the golden egg, but why is there no paper trail?

“I’d love to support you, but I just can’t from what I’ve found out,” Fuchs said.

Ferrell was at the meeting to defend his company.

“Look: We’re not Warner Brothers. We’re not Steven Spielberg. We’re not Sony. They’re not coming here. B.D’Turman’D Entertainment can come here and create a world of difference. We haven’t produced any movies, but when you look at the background of the team, there have been probably 100 movies produced,” Ferrell said to the crowd as he stood onstage Thursday night. “We’re asking you to give us a chance.”

Local supporters of the project were also in the audience Thursday.

“I’m excited about the potential here. What excited me particularly about this is the appeal to young people and young workers — the energy behind this kind of a business,” said resident Anita Brosius-Scott. “[It] would be the type of thing to keep our young people here and bring more young people here.”

Others said the business would boost the downtown economy and bring a business to a plot of vacant land that used to be an old tannery.

“Camden could be recognized as Sundance east,” said resident David Lyman. “I don’t think there is anything in the way of the town of Camden trying this. Stranger things have happened in this town, and this is a strange thing, but I’m in favor of it.”

Voters will take up the issue on the ballot May 10 at town meeting.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated resident Rob Draper was inaccurately described as a film industry retiree. Draper still works around the world as a cinematographer, director of photography and consultant, and he operates Northern Light Films Inc. out of Camden.

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