NC film industry showing signs of resilience in Plot which tease

Combined, the film and television studios could create more than 25,000 job opportunities for film professionals and locals, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce. This year’s spending so far has surpassed the previous record of $377 million in 2012.

However, a national strike by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees could put a dent in that progress.

The union alleges that studios and film production companies are making employees work unsafe and harmful hours and paying unlivable wages to the lowest-paid employees, according to an IATSE union statement.

Industry rebound

The film industry has had its fair share of ups and downs, said Guy Caster, director of the N.C. Film Office.

The office, a division within the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, markets the state to outside film and television studios.

The Department of Commerce contracts the EDPNC, a nonprofit, to help recruit outside businesses and expand existing businesses in the states.

The state hosted some major films in the 1980s and ’90s, including “Dirty Dancing” and “Forrest Gump.”

In more recent years, Lionsgate filmed “The Hunger Games” in parts of Western North Carolina and Charlotte in 2011, according to the state Department of Commerce.

Marvel shot “Venom 2” in various locations across the state, including Wilmington, Raleigh and Cary in 2013.

Major blockbuster films can easily bring in millions of dollars in spending. Marvel alone spent about $81 million to film “The Last Duel,” according to a state Department of Revenue report on film credits and grants.

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Between 2010 and 2014, the state offered one type of incentive package to outside businesses, Caster said. The state Department of Commerce offered a 25% refund on qualified spending, with a cap of $20 million.

Between 2010 and 2014, the state refunded more than $250 million, according to Department of Revenue reports. Film and television studios spent more than $1 billion in the state during the same period, reports show. The film industry took a nosedive after the old incentive program expired on Dec. 31, 2014. The General Assembly passed a new program that drastically cut back incentives.

Instead of a refund with an individual cap per project, the new program had an annual budget limit of $10 million as part of The Current Operations and Capital Improvements Appropriations Act of 2014. Film incentives were a heavily debated topic, said Brenda Lilly, a film and television screenwriting professor at Western Carolina University.

Republican legislators argued that film incentives should be cut altogether because the film industry did not guarantee stable jobs the way factories could, she said.

The same legislators argued that the film industry did not stimulate the local economy. Lilly disagrees, arguing that it is common for studios to hire local people to fill various roles beyond acting or production.

I realized that this had to be political because a carpenter is a carpenter, and an electrician is an electrician.

Opponents to incentive cuts argued that the local economies would take a major hit if the cuts went through, Griffin said.

Folks just said no,” Griffin said. “If you do away with it, business will leave, and sure enough that’s what happened. We certainly came close to losing it all.

State and locals lost out

In 2015, the first year of the new program, outside film and studios spent $127 million, almost a $200 million decline compared with the previous year.

Film and television spending continued to decrease, with the lowest point being $48 million in 2018. This total marked the lowest amount of investment since 2007.

Maureen Sandcastle, a Wilmington-based actress since 2008, felt the impact firsthand, she said.

The first few years after 2014, people held out hope that the industry would bounce back, she said.

She and many others did not want to give up their lifestyle to move to a major city with higher costs of living.

By 2018, about half of the people in her circles had left the area to work in New York, Los Angeles or Atlanta. She didn’t have much work in the area aside from local commercials, so she commuted to Atlanta for film work on a regular basis. It’s costly to drive yourself to and from auditions when you don’t even book the part. “It’s a lot of expense that we (actors) have to incur. Between 2015 and 2018, only three studios filmed movies in the Wilmington area, according to the Wilmington Regional Film Commission website. No outside studio filmed in either 2016 or 2017.

Curtis Theimann, director of Port City Films, also remembers the film industry in town tapering off. His studio occasionally works with outside studios by providing equipment or video production services.

After a substantial amount of people left town by 2018, the few people in the industry who stayed regularly asked for work or for some production to squeeze them in.

This year marked a major shift for Thiemann and Sandcastle. Local people haven’t called Thiemann for work in about eight months because they have found work elsewhere.

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