Film industry returns to NC in 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) –  When it comes to television and film, North Carolina has made a name for itself.

More than 400 productions have been shot all over the state, from commercials to short television series and even box office blowouts.

It was a shaky year for the local industry in 2015, but 2016 is looking up.

EUE/Screen Gems Studios and Film Community

The anchor for the film industry in North Carolina is nestled near the coast in Wilmington. EUE Screen Gems Studios is a more than 50-acre facility with 10 full-service sound stages and more than 150,000 sq. ft. of shooting space. “Dawson’s Creek,” “One Tree Hill,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “Iron Man 3,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Under the Dome,” “We’re the Millers,” “Eastbound & Down,” “Tammy,” and hundreds of other productions were shot at the facility.

Screen Gems
Screen Gems

But Executive Vice President Bill Vassar said the industry is really state-wide.

“There are 100 counties and just about every single one of them throughout the last 20 or so years has been affected positively,” Vassar said.

With a vast variety of shooting locations and an abundance of resources Vassar said North Carolina has a lot to offer.

“Dino De Laurentiis had built this operation back in the 80s and brought people in from all over the world to work on the shows – painters carpenters, gaffers grips, riggers, and taught locals how to do it,” explained Vassar.

Vassar said what he left is a legacy of local crews ready to work and a community that knows how to service the film industry, along with the millions of dollars it brings with it.

Jobs and Economic Growth

“The money keeps going through the community,” said Vassar. He said it’s also a job creator.

“An average TV show or film is going to have 125 people that work for them,” he said.

“Those series when they’re here are probably employing 90 to 95 percent local individuals on those productions,” explained Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission.

His job is to help recruit and keep films in the area. He said 2014 was good year.

“Locally (in Wilmington), film production spent about $175 million. Statewide it was about $300 million,” Griffin said.

But in 2015 the industry in our state took a bad hit.

Leaving N.C.

“The state got a bit more frugal, and didn’t see the importance of the film industry to the economy,” said Vassar.

Filming in North Carolina
Filming in North Carolina

After a lengthy back and forth, the N.C. General Assembly let the state’s long-lived tax incentive program run out. It was replaced with a much smaller grant program. It was capped at $10 million.

“It was a drastic impact for us,” said Griffin.

“People have left. They’ve moved to Atlanta and Florida and other places where there’s plenty of work,” said Vassar.

Productions started fleeing the state.

“People basically say, ‘We’ve heard you no longer have an incentive and if that’s the case then you’re not on our list to do business with anymore,’” said Griffin.

And it’s not just the local film crews who were hurting.

“We’ve had businesses contact us and say their revenue for the year is down 40 percent, 20 percent,” said Griffin.

“When you don’t have that amount of people coming in, it makes it tough,” explained Jed McDonough. He owns Image Monster, an all-in-one print shop.

His business had nothing to do with film but the silver screen ended up being one of his biggest customers.

“Anything you can think of you that see in a movie, if it was shot [in Wilmington], we probably did it,” said McDonough.

That is, until 2015.

“When incentives stopped, it was like turning off the faucet. It literally ended,” he explained.

A New Deal and Bright 2016

But late in the year law makers realized North Carolina had to get back in the game. The passed a new grant program that, starting in 2016, secures funding to provide up to $30 million in tax incentives. The program is set to expire in 2020 but is only funded through 2017.

Film incentives by date
Film incentives by date

It’s a cap that’s about half of what incentive claims have been in the past three years, but it’s the news the industry was hoping for.

“It got things cooking down here again,” said Vassar.

Griffin said it’s not enough to grow the industry, since the $30 million still limits the number of productions they can support, but it has put the state back on the map.

“We’ve got two projects coming in later this month. We’ve got others that we’re talking to, so once again we’re back on the list and getting a positive reception,” said Griffin.

An article about the new History Channel show "SIX."
An article about the new History Channel show “SIX.”

Beginning this month, TNT will be shooting a show at EUE Screen Gems Studios called “Good Behavior.” The History Channel will also begin shooting a scripted show called “SIX”, inspired by the real SEAL Team Six.

Griffin said in the future, incentives may not be as important, but for now it’s the only way to keep the cameras rolling in North Carolina.

“If we want to stay in the business and if we want to keep all of these crew people we have not just here in Wilmington but all across the state, then this is a temporary measure we need to do to keep the business here,” Griffin said.

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