Film and television productions shot in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties claimed expenses of more than $137 million in 2014 and could receive more than $34 million from the state, according to an annual audit released Thursday by the N.C. Department of Revenue.
Totals for the 12 productions are virtually identical to the previous year’s total.
Across the state, 35 productions – including films, TV series and commercials – are scheduled to be awarded $60 million from the state’s film incentive program, down slightly from the $63.5 million dispensed to productions that submitted in 2013. Collectively, the productions spent more than $241 million throughout the state, which is even with the previous year.
As of April 28, the state has paid $55 million out of the projected $60 million to productions.
The biggest spender in the state was Fox’s locally filmed “Sleepy Hollow,” which reported expenses totaling more than $43 million in New Hanover, Brunswick and Craven counties.
What’s included in “Sleepy Hollow’s” reported expenses is unclear. The series only submitted expenses accrued on its pilot episode in 2013, meaning the remaining 12 first-season episodes and a portion of season two’s 18 episodes could be included.
The final two second-season episodes, filmed in January, are ineligible for the incentive program, as they were produced after the incentive’s Dec. 31 expiration date.
For the series’ reported expenses, it earned $10.9 million from the state.
Local spending on the second season of CBS’ “Under the Dome” reached $35.1 million, up from the $33.4 million spent for its freshman season. It earned $8.7 million back from the state, also up from the $8.3 million it received in 2013.
ABC’s “Secrets and Lies,” which will air its season finale at 9 p.m. Sunday, reported $4.5 million in local spending and recouped $1.1 million. Guy Gaster, director of the state film office, said the figure likely only represents the series’ pilot episode, which shot in March. The final nine episodes produced from July to November.
On the feature film side, Mattel’s upcoming teen superhero film “Max Steel” reported spending of $7.2 million and earned $1.8 million.
Figures from the audit were collected from forms filed by the productions. The report details only the money filed during the most recent tax year, meaning that several productions could still file before the end of the fiscal year.
Locally, productions reported employing 5,094 crew members and background extras, more than half of the state’s total 8,381. Several major productions, including “Secrets and Lies” and Charlotte’s “Homeland” and “Banshee,” did not report employment figures.
The productions will be the last to receive funds from the state’s now-defunct 25 percent incentive program, which was replaced in January with a $10 million grant program.
Gaster said there were no surprises when he looked over the audit report, but noted the figures represent the industry shift that followed the N.C. General Assembly’s decision to end the attractive incentive program.
“Once word got out in the industry about the change, we went from having good mid-year numbers to seeing things slow down towards the end of the year,” Gaster said. “We certainly were starting to find that niche that we were specifically marketing towards.”
Ideally, that niche represents productions with budgets of between $10 million and 20 million, similar to that of the two Nicholas Sparks adaptations shot locally last year. “The Longest Ride,” which hit theaters April 10, reported $23 million in spending and recouped $5.8 million from the state. “The Choice,” which shot in the fall and will open Feb. 5, 2016, earned $2.5 million after spending $10.3 million.
Funding from the new grant program has already been claimed by three productions across the state, including $5 million for “Under the Dome’s” now-in-production third season.
With relief in the form of additional funding for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, still up in the air in the General Assembly, spending in 2015 is expected to be down sharply. In February, local officials estimated spending will only total $40 million to 50 million.
Jonathan Barfield, chairman of the New Hanover County Commissioners, said that while it might be a bit early for the decline in film spending to start showing up in a reduction in county revenues, it’s obvious it’s having an economic effect.
“We’re seeing it daily out there,” he said, ticking off area companies that have seen their film-related business dry up. “We’re hearing about it all the time.”
Commissioner Beth Dawson, who also serves on the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, said the county could take a hit in its sales tax and room-occupancy tax revenue because of the loss of film-related business.
“All the dots are connected,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve seen it yet, but we know it’s something that could be coming down the line.”
The amount of spending claimed by and amount of credits applied for by productions that filmed in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties in 2013
Sleepy Hollow: $43.6 million in expenses, $10.9 million credit earned
Under the Dome: $35.1 million in expenses, $8.7 million credit earned
The Longest Ride: $23.3 million in expenses, $5.8 million credit earned
The Choice: $10.3 million in expenses, $2.5 million credit earned
Max Steel: $7.2 million in expenses, $1 million credit earned
Red Zone: $6.1 million in expenses, $1.5 million credit earned
Secrets and Lies: $4.5 million in expenses, $1.1 million credit earned
Blue Mountain State: The Rise of Thadland: $3.3 million in expenses, $836,448 credit earned
How and Why: $2.2 million in expenses, $1.8 million credit earned
Adrenaline: $536,705 in expenses, $134,176 credit earned
The Sin Seer: $340,138 in expenses, $85,035 credit earned
Well Wishes: $317,916 in expenses, $79,479 credit earned
By Hunter Ingram