Arts & Culture

CBS drama films third season as NC film industry struggles to compete

Rick Davidson, left and Scott Frye, both of Wilmington, operate the camera for the filming of a scene in the eighth episode of Under the Dome's third season, while Dean Norris and Rachel Lafevre act in the scene. The CBS sci-fi drama is continuing to film in Wilmington after incentives for the film industry were cut.
Rick Davidson, left and Scott Frye, both of Wilmington, operate the camera for the filming of a scene in the eighth episode of Under the Dome's third season, while Dean Norris and Rachel Lafevre act in the scene. The CBS sci-fi drama is continuing to film in Wilmington after incentives for the film industry were cut. SPENCER PARTS

Changes to North Carolina’s tax structure made under the proverbial State Capitol dome have resulted in a decline of the film industry in the state, but under the fictional dome of a CBS sci-fi drama, filming has continued.

“Under the Dome,” a TV adaptation of a Stephen King novel, is currently filming its third season in Wilmington, a hot spot for the state’s film industry. The project received a large chunk of what’s left of the state’s incentive program for TV and film production.

Last year, the state legislature eliminated a refundable tax credit program worth as much as $65 million a year in favor of a grant program capped at $10 million per year. Opponents of the credit argued that the money would be better spent spurring on different kinds of economic activity.

“Under the Dome” is expected to receive the maximum grant for a single project under the program, $5 million, according to Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, a group that attempts to draw film projects to the area. Griffin said that is about $3 million less than the show would have received under the previous system.

The remaining $5 million of the grant money has been allocated to other projects filming in North Carolina this year, Griffin said, leaving the state no more refunds to offer those considering filming in the state. He said the cap has resulted in a large drop-off in film spending, to an estimated $40 million or $50 million from last year’s $175 million.

“Under the Dome’s” decision to stay and film its third season in Wilmington pleased locals and actors, even as a decline of the industry in the region looms. Two other big-budget network series left the state to film their newest seasons.

The third season of the show, in which a sleepy American town is sealed off from the rest of the world by a mysterious dome, premieres June 25 on CBS.

Eddie Cahill, a 37-year-old actor on the show who grew up in New York City and lives in Los Angeles, said he finds working in Wilmington a refreshing change.

“I like the space, I like the people,” Cahill said at a Monday press event. He thinks the town is especially supportive of film. “It feels personal here,” he said.

That sentiment has become even more evident since the change to the incentives jeopardized the industry. Bumper stickers that read “Film = Jobs” are common.

Amanda McNeice, 28, moved to Wilmington last summer to audition for acting jobs. She said that activity visibly “petered out” through last fall, and the change is likely to uproot many whose livelihoods are tied to the industry. When she auditions for jobs now, she usually has to say that she would move to Atlanta.

McNeice said that “Under the Dome” provided a glimmer of hope as film supporters continue to advocate for expansion of incentives.

“It’s hopeful,” she said. “It’s like, OK, it didn’t completely die out.”

Because a return to the prior tax credit is unlikely, Griffin said he and other advocates are focused on raising the $10 million cap on grants. The House has adopted a budget with $40 million for films next year, but its prospects are uncertain in the Senate.

Actors on the show are aware of the changes in the town, because of potential effects on the crew, many of whom are longtime Wilmington residents.

“We’re really, really close with our crew,” Alexander Koch, who plays a deputy sheriff on the show, told reporters at the press event, which took place during the filming of the season’s eighth episode.

Koch said threats to their job security hit home for him. “It’s just sad to think that, especially since they’re raising families and they want to have roots down somewhere,” he said.

Ultimately, the decision to stay or go is made by CBS executives, with limited input from those working on the show, Griffin said.

“That’s not really going to sway anything when you’ve got several million dollars at stake,” he said. He mentioned cost of moving and a show’s prospects for renewal as other factors executives consider.

Mike Vogel, the show’s male lead, said he also faces the uncertainty of an industry that has few reservations about picking up operations and moving.

“You never know. There’s never much of a guarantee from one season to the next,” Vogel said. He added that continuity in location benefits the show as well as the people who work on it.

“The place becomes another character,” he said.

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