Television and movie productions in the Wilmington area figured prominently in a positive report issued Thursday on the state’s filming industry.
The report, from state government’s N.C. Film Office, examined the first half of 2013 and put a spotlight on locally filmed TV shows like NBC’s “Revolution,” HBO’s “Eastbound & Down,” CBS’s “Under the Dome” and the upcoming Fox series, “Sleepy Hollow.”
Their investments here–with other productions across North Carolina–are gearing the state up for another high-grossing year, the office concluded, with activity in the first six months of 2013 having a $250 million tally of direct in-state spending and 25,000 “job opportunities for North Carolinians.”
That compares to 2012′s year-end totals of around $376 million in direct in-state spending and 20,000 job opportunities, which included more than 4,100 crew spots, said the report. It was a record breaking year, and 2013′s activity has already met 66 percent of the dollar amount.
But it’s hard to say whether this year will end with a new record; notably, 2012 included power production “Iron Man 3,” the $200-million-budgeted blockbuster that filmed scenes in Wilmington and premiered this past April to rave reviews and more than $174 million collected on opening weekend alone in the U.S., according to IMDb. The Marvel Studios movie starred Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle among other prominent names.
“It was an anomaly, a huge thing,” said Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission.
He said he didn’t think the Wilmington-area’s spending number this year will compete with 2012′s, which was roughly $246 million. Griffin said the low end for 2013 would be $100 million locally, but with the industry unpredictable as a rule, enough projects could come through to push the $200 million mark. “It’s such a broad range,” he acknowledged, but that’s because a single production itself can inject $20 million. A few of them can add up quickly.
Either way, the Wilmington area and North Carolina overall remain a hotbed, film officials say.
“North Carolina continues to be a preferred location in the film industry,” Film Office Director Aaron Syrett said in a release Thursday. “Our talented crew base, vast array of locations and the state’s tax incentive–while not the largest in the nation, it’s certainly the smartest–provide filmmakers and industry leaders the right mix for bringing their productions here and showcasing them to viewers worldwide.”
The state gives production companies 25-percent breaks for expenses on taxable materials and for the compensations of highly paid employees (those making up to $1 million). The limit is $20 million for a single film.
According to the Film Office report, 35-plus productions by July 1 had filed “intent to film” forms in North Carolina–accounting for productions that have already filmed or soon will–adding up to 4,300 production days across 30 or more counties.
“The job opportunities include more than 3,000 crew positions for the state’s highly skilled film professionals, 1,000 well-paying talent opportunities and 21,000 background talent positions,” it said.
20th Century Fox Television announced last month that it had selected Wilmington for its “Sleepy Hollow” series, “a thrilling new modern-day retelling of Washington Irving’s classic story” known for its wicked Headless Horseman. The show has offices and soundstages at EUE Screen Gems Studios off of 23rd Street and expects to begin production this month. The show is scheduled to air Monday nights this fall.
“Under the Dome,” a series born of a Stephen King novel, began airing on CBS last month, while “Eastbound & Down” is making its final season for HBO currently. Both film in Wilmington.
“Television series have chalked up a large number of production days, starting with the final first-season episodes of the hit NBC series ‘Revolution,’” another show whose cameras rolled here before heading west for new scenery. The Film Office also points to North Carolina-shot series like “Banshee” and “Homeland” as well as a number of reality shows.
“In regard to films, the studio feature ‘Tammy’ recently wrapped its production while the independent features ‘Careful What You Wish For,’ ‘The Remaining,’ ‘An Evergreen Christmas,’ ‘The World Made Straight’ and ‘Grass Stains’ have all hired North Carolina film professionals and talent during their production.”
The office also noted the making of nationally broadcast commercials around the state, with brands including Fiat, PepsiCo, Planters Peanuts and NASCAR.
Direct in-state spending from productions over the past five years exceeds $1 billion, said the state, with activity picking up dramatically after 2010, when the current level of incentives went live.
While several other states, from South Carolina to New Mexico to Michigan, have tried recently to increase their bargaining power with new or increased incentives packages of their own, North Carolina remains a good deal, said Griffin, though some Tar Heel lawmakers have said they prefer to end or reduce the practice, viewing it as a way of picking winners and losers with public money.
New Hanover County’s Rep. Rick Catlin and Pender County’s Rep. Chris Millis, both Republicans, caused industry panic in April when they filed a bill that would have removed some of the sugar from the current filming incentive, which affords production companies cash refunds on unused tax credits, similar to the refund check a taxpayer receives for overpayment. The bill sought to strike that system and make those unused credits nonrefundable; instead, the production company could carry those credits forward, for up to five years.
The bill never resurfaced from its first committee assignment.
“We’re just cautious and we’re looking at North Carolina to see what the outcome is going to be,” Griffin said of any legislative intervention, though the current session of the General Assembly is winding down.
“As of right now, all signs are still go for North Carolina and Wilmington,” he said. “But the future is what everyone is watching right now.”
By Ben Brown