State’s Commerce Department advocated to preserve cash payouts for film companies

acurliss@newsobserver.comAugust 10, 2013 

Gov. Pat McCrory hasn’t taken a position on cash incentives for the film industry. His secretary of commerce, Sharon Decker, has been supportive though not outspoken.

But earlier this year, as a bipartisan bill that would have gutted the current incentive program got attention, the Commerce Department’s state film office was not so cautious.

Aaron Syrett, the state film office director, sought to soothe industry workers in several email exchanges in which he characterized himself and unnamed others as advocating to preserve the incentive in a format that allows for millions in cash payouts. Examples:

• After the bill surfaced that would have ended cash payouts as part of the state’s film incentives, he wrote to one filmmaker that “we are taking it very serious and have effectively launched strong advocacy against it and rallied the supporters within the legislature that are for it.”

• He wrote to a producer two days later: “We are still advocating every day and watching it closely to make sure it doesn’t get (any) further traction.”

• He told a location manager that a provision in the bill to make a key part of it retroactive was on shaky legal footing and “is just bad business.”

Messages show frequent contact with film industry lobbyists. In March, he connected national film lobbyists with those in North Carolina, asking that they coordinate advocacy “so we are all on the same message.”

Syrett interacts with film companies regularly and views his job as helping to grow moviemaking in the state. He is not registered to lobby or as a governmental liaison, steps required if the majority of his work was advocacy.

Syrett was unavailable for an interview on Friday.

McCrory has not taken a position on the incentives. As a candidate for governor, McCrory said, “I’ll be offering incentives based on our return-on-investment formula for all industries, including films.”

Most incentive programs in North Carolina grant money based on jobs or wages, but the film production incentive is tied only to how much a production spends.

Curliss: 919-829-4840

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