Film industry workers advocate for keeping incentives

earriero@charlotteobserver.com lruebens@charlotteobserver.comAugust 17, 2013 

Film industry workers on Saturday held a forum in Charlotte to defend the state’s film incentives program and urged colleagues to help educate the public about its benefits.

Some lawmakers in Raleigh had targeted the program for elimination but no action was taken by the Republican leadership before the recent legislative session ended. Gov. Pat McCrory has yet to take a position on the program.

Panelists at the North Carolina Film & TV Incentives Summit, held at UNC Charlotte Center City, included the dean of the UNC School of the Arts School of Filmmaking, the director of the North Carolina Film Office and an actor from the television show “Banshee,” which is filmed in the Charlotte area.

“If the incentive goes away, it decimates this industry,” said Aaron Syrett, director of the state film office.

Film incentives have received a lot of attention since 2010, when lawmakers and then-Gov. Bev Perdue expanded the tax breaks after losing a feature film to Georgia. They made changes to pay 25 percent refunds on film spending in the state to production companies. The incentives are not tied to job creation, and there is no cap on how much the state will spend in a year, although any individual project is limited to a $20 million refund per year.

Advocates say the incentives have led to hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity, brought recognition to the state and sustained an industry with as many as 4,000 employees here.

Critics charge that the money could be spent better elsewhere and that across-the-board tax relief would also generate jobs.

During Saturday’s summit, proponents said there is a common myth that the jobs created by productions are transient, meaning that the economic impact is fleeting.

Panelist Jason Rosin, a business agent with a film and TV production union, said that many crew workers own property in the area and send their kids to local schools. “It hurts me when they say these jobs are transient because it’s just a slap in the face,” he said. Other proponents said it’s misleading to suggest that taxpayers are paying for film incentives.

“We’re not taking money out of anybody’s pockets in North Carolina,” said Charlotte City Councilman John Autry. “It’s money that wouldn’t even be here.”

The incentive program also helps businesses outside the film industry, advocates said.

Rick Parris, owner of H&S Construction in Charlotte, said the recession was “catastrophic” for his business.

“Then came ‘The Hunger Games,’ ” said Parris, whose company worked on the blockbuster filmed in North Carolina. He doesn’t think his business would have survived without the film industry. Now, he said, 25 percent of his business is working with the industry.

A stable incentive program would create permanent investment and job creation, panelists and others at the summit said. They not only want to prevent the repeal of the program but also want lawmakers to remove the program’s expiration date, which is Jan. 1, 2015.

In an interview with the Observer before the summit, one incentives expert was critical of parts of the film industry incentive program.

Brent Lane, director of the Carolina Center for Competitive Economies, part of the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC Chapel Hill, said it’s important that jobs are permanent and sustainable for an incentive to be beneficial. “If it’s only a temporary job, the benefits are very limited,” he said.

Lane said he believes long-running television series that have come to the state – including “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill” – have been more beneficial than major film productions.

“There’s a big difference between creating a job that lasts a week than for several years,” he said. “If it’s only a temporary job, the benefits are very limited.”

Arriero: 704-358-5945; On Twitter: @earriero

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