With film trucks lining downtown streets for shoots for “Sleepy Hollow” and “The Longest Ride,” today seemed as good a day as any for Gov. Pat McCrory to accept an invitation to see Wilmington’s film scene in action.

Attendees at a film industry rally in May held signs and tweeted messages to Gov. Pat McCrory on Twitter. The governor was in Wilmington today but did not take up the industry’s invitation to visit the film studios and local film sets in light of the current film incentive debate. File photo.

But the governor’s visit to Wilmington today was not in response to last week’s invitation by industry professionals and Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, as his tour through the city did not include stops at EUE/Screen Gems Studios or either of the downtown film sets.

McCrory did address a crowd of film supporters gathered at a local television news studio, according to reports. His visit also included a briefing on Tropical Storm Arthur at the New Hanover County Emergency Operations Center and a tour of Wilmington Health on Medical Center Drive.

But his absence at the studios and the film sets prompted a statement from Bill Vassar, executive vice president at EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington, who was among those who invited McCrory to the city in a press conference last week.

Vassar, Saffo and others asked McCrory to see firsthand the industry’s impact on the city in light of the ongoing debate in the General Assembly over the North Carolina’s expiring film incentive, which is scheduled to sunset at the end of this year.

Members of the Senate and the House have proposed alternatives including an incentive based on a grant fund program, but Vassar has said that proposal would not keep North Carolina competitive in attracting productions to the state. The state’s current incentive is a refundable tax credit that offers a 25 percent break for productions that spend at least $250,000.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Governor has not visited our studio and experienced the North Carolina film industry firsthand,” Vassar said in the statement. “We want to work with him to find the compromises he called for in the interview today with WECT. Some of the suggestions he made would hurt the industry dramatically; others will help it grow. That’s why we want the face-to-face time with him.”

The statement notes previous requests to meet with McCrory or invite him to Wilmington that were denied. It also notes recent discussions about New Mexico’s film incentive, which Vassar said is not grant-based, as previous statements from the governor’s administration had suggested.

Bill Vassar, executive vice president of EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington. File photo.

“When you start talking about incentive funding numbers and grants, you have to understand industry nuances and what your competitors are offering. New Mexico’s incentive has been referenced in discussions by state leaders. It is a 25 to 35 percent refundable tax credit,” Vassar said, emphasizing that the incentive is not a grant.

“We want to help the Governor understand what made us a Tier 1 film state—one of the top destinations globally for film and television production,” Vassar added. “If we move away from that Tier 1 status, we will not have enough productions coming to the state to keep the 4,200 full-time, tax-paying individuals working in the industry.

“The state must commit to the industry and maintain Tier 1 status, or the industry—and our three generations of trained crew—will be forced to relocate,” Vassar said, “and the local businesses built around the industry will suffer.”

Legislators are currently in negotiations on a state budget bill that could include a new film incentive. That bill appears unlikely before July Fourth—the timeframe by which lawmakers were aiming to conclude the short session.

A spokesman with McCrory’s office responded to the statement Wednesday evening. He said the governor said several times during his visit that he “would love to visit the studios,” but that today’s event at Wilmington Health had been planned in advance and his visit related to Tropical Storm Arthur.

By Jonathan Spiers