For many students, the period after graduation can prove to be challenging. For film maker Alex Merill however, graduation in 2010 lead to a position as an executive at the Maine Studios, one of the top film companies in the state.

Originally a Portland native, Merill first attended Syracuse University with the intention of becoming an actor. Despite this positive experience, Merill said he felt like Syracuse was a vocational school where he was expected to move to New York after graduation and try to make it on the stage. “I felt railroaded into the New York stage scene and Broadway,” Merill said.

Merill said he didn’t feel as though that it was the right time for him to be in school, so he left Syracuse after studying there for a year and moved to Portland, OR, where he lived for six years. “I was at a transitional period in my life,” said Merill. “I learned a lot, but Syracuse wasn’t a productive environment professionally for me.”

While in Oregon, Merill said he re-discovered his passion for film and made his acting debut in a local feature. “I started getting into film more because I think film is a very dynamic environment that involves different disciplines like acting, writing and directing.”

Merill decided to return to Maine in 2007 and enroll at USM to pursue a B.A. in English. “I felt like a second-class citizen without a degree,” said Merill. “I went back to school partially to prove to myself that I could do it.”

Despite the six-year span that had passed since leaving Syracuse, Merill said he knew USM would be a perfect fit for a non-traditional student like himself. “USM has given many students a second chance at college,” said Merill. “The open commuter school aspect was nice. I was able to be an adult and go at my own pace, unlike other colleges.”

During the three years at USM, he said the English department proved to be the most beneficial in developing vital skills that he would later use professionally at the Maine Studios. “Talking to professors about what they did in their professional lives was very useful to me, as well as my time on the Board of Student Organizations,” said Merill. “The English department allowed me to hone my reading and writing skills and the close, critical reading of text is also vital at my current job.”

Despite his history of moving between states, Merill said he plans to stay in Maine and that he foresees the state having a promising future in the world of film. “Portland is a lot like other small cities,” said Merill. “Although it is small, it is pretty sophisticated with a thriving art scene, but there is still a long way to go; right now people are still learning the ropes and going through a crash course in film making at the same time.”

One of the biggest incentives for perspective film companies to work in the state, according to Merill, is the “Tourism and Industry Film Production Cash Rebate Program.” The program is currently in the Maine State legislature and would provide tax incentives for production companies that are founded in the state. “It would finally make [film making] a viable industry,” said Merill.

Tax incentives or not, the Maine Studios are thriving and are currently working on a feature film in Portland entitled “SHEFEAST.” “It’s a horror comedy in the vein of Sam Rami’s early ‘Evil Dead’ work,” said Merill. “It is a film about a cult of women who eat men, so it is clearly a fine work in the history of film.”

Additional reporting by John Finison.


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