Mooresville is already feeling the impact of the expected shrinkage of North Carolina’s film industry.
With the General Assembly’s decision to allow the state’s current film incentives program to expire on Dec. 31, movie production companies are fleeing the state for greener incentives pastures, such as Georgia and Louisiana. One of them is the Cinemax cable TV series “Banshee,” which has been a downtown Mooresville staple for several years.
Banshee officials have not officially announced they are leaving North Carolina, but numerous reports have put their fourth season of filming in New Orleans. And last week, production crews were dismantling Banshee signage and other props from several Broad Street buildings in downtown Mooresville.
The incentives that expire on Dec. 31 allowed production companies to receive a 25 percent refund on their expenses from the state since 2005 – one of the most attractive incentives packages in the nation. It made filming in areas like Iredell and Mecklenburg counties particularly more attractive, but with other nearby states continuing to offer the incentives, film crews seem likely to go elsewhere for a financial break.
The budget approved this summer by the N.C. House and Senate has no credits, instead offers flat grants totaling no more than $10 million. Under the current incentives program, the state gave out $61.2 million in credits in 2013.
Other than the novelty of having actors and movie crews here, why should Mooresville care about losing Banshee?
According to data from North Carolina Department of Commerce, the makers of Banshee directly spent more than $67 million in 2013, “with a large portion of those expenditures impacting the Mooresville area.”
Added Courtney Wolfrom, marketing & communications manager for the Mooresville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau: “The production has supported over 3,500 jobs annually across the region, including cast and crew positions, costume designers, set builders, food suppliers, plus has contracted locally for construction, mechanical and technical needs.
“During filming, many of the crew frequented the downtown restaurants and retailers, meaning additional revenue flow for some downtown businesses that would not have been there otherwise.”
Dollars spent here
Mayor Miles Atkins also bemoaned the anticipated loss of Banshee, which apparently will exit the community on the heels of the cable TV series Homeland, which moved its production to South Africa after doing much of 2013 filming in Mooresville.
“Banshee had a positive impact by generating sales at many of our local businesses from buying props, daily or weekly food allowances, renting items and hotel stays,” Atkins said. “All of these purchases generated sales tax that helped the state, county and city. In addition, they paid rent to various property owners.”
He added that he “also heard from many businesses that tourism was generated by people looking to see where the filming location or to visit the business that they saw on TV.”
Over time, said Wolfrom, “beyond the loss of jobs for residents and additional profits for businesses, there is also a loss of tax revenue,” which will affect residents.
“With Banshee filming more than 200 days across our region, their expenditures meant additional contributions to our local and state tax base for 55 percent of the year,” she said. “Even with the production company qualifying for up to a 25 percent tax break, 75 percent of the various tax revenues still benefitted tax funds locally, regionally and statewide.”
In addition, “the many non-residents who relocated here during filming spent monies as well, which translated into direct tax revenues that would not be subject to any incentives or breaks,” Wolfrom said.
“In a nutshell, the additional tax base acquired due to Banshee, translated into fewer taxes that residents have to pay annually.”
The impact of Banshee’s absence isn’t the only economic impact that the loss of incentives will bring to the Lake Norman area, Wolfrom noted.
“The change in incentives also impacts the recruitment and filming of commercials, feature films, documentaries, animation productions, and webisodes,” she said. “There is definitely a potential for additional economic loss, as the number of projects registered to film in North Carolina has already dropped by more than half in comparison to last year.”
Georgia’s 30 Percent
Several area states have already stepped up to the plate to offer competing incentives as North Carolina’s credit program falls by the wayside.
“Since surrounding states have some pretty hefty incentives in place, such as Georgia’s highly competitive 30 percent tax break program, it is probable that most production companies will move their hubs to states in which they receive more financial benefits,” Wolfrom said.
“As they relocate their projects, they will relocate their dollars as well.”
While Banshee producers have not formally confirmed their departure, Wolfrom noted that Director Greg Yaitanes said at the conclusion of season three filming here that “he was saddened at having to leave a community that they had built so many relationships with.”
Wolfrom added that “with the sunset date of January 1, 2015 pending for the current 25 percent incentives bill, quite a few production companies across North Carolina had publicly expressed that they would have to relocate if the bill was not renewed, so I think the majority of those in the industry are not surprised at the move.”
Added Atkins, “It is my understanding that the restructuring of the state film incentives was specifically the reason for (Banshee’s) relocation. At an approximate cost of $1 million dollars per episode, the incentives are a game changer. The cast and crew were great to work with and we will certainly miss working with them.”
A representative from HBO/Cinemas would not confirm Banshee’s departure from Mooresville, saying in a statement: “We are proud of the work that has been done in Mooresville, Charlotte and in the rest of North Carolina. Our attention is currently focused on launching ‘Banshee’ into a successful third season…,” but he not say where production would take place.
By Megan Sprague