The N.C. Department of Commerce announced Friday that it’s awarding three film and entertainment grants worth $10 million – effectively emptying the program that film backers say is a poor substitute for the more generous incentive program eliminated last year.
The move means no additional film or TV productions will receive state funding until legislators add more money to the program. Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposal includes an additional $10 million per year for film grants.
“Any other applications would essentially be put on hold, because there is no funding,” said Guy Gaster, director of the state film office.
Commerce officials say the three grant recipients will spend more than $60 million across the state. The filming sites are Davidson, Wilmington and Western North Carolina.
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“The grant recipients reflect a good mix of productions that will film on our coast, in our mountains and in a major metropolitan area,” Commerce Secretary John Skvarla said in a news release. “These productions will showcase our state’s amazing diversity of resources.”
Gaster said the state received five applications since the program launched in January. Two were rejected, though he declined to name them.
“At the end of the day, it’s what could give North Carolina the best bang for its buck,” he said.
But Rep. Susi Hamilton, a Wilmington Democrat, said the quick draw-down of funds shows the program isn’t working. She estimates the three grants will generate about 300 jobs – far less than the 4,200 film jobs last year under the incentive program.
“The conversation about film – now that we effectively lost the industry – is changing, and particularly in the House of Representatives,” she said. “Now that we’ve seen such a dramatic backslide in the number of jobs, it’s coming home to roost.”
Hamilton said a bipartisan group of House members are considering including some form of film incentive in a new economic development bill they’ll introduce soon. The old program offered a 25 percent credit up to $20 million on qualifying expenses. It paid out $61.2 million in 2013.
She said she doesn’t support more money for grants “unless there’s a dramatic overhaul of the program.”
“Throwing money at a bad program is not in anyone’s best interest,” Hamilton said.
Three film grants awarded
▪ $5 million for the CBS TV show “Under The Dome,” which has filmed in North Carolina for its past two seasons. Based on a Stephen King novel, the show films in Burgaw, Southport and Wilmington.
▪ $4 million for an untitled project from Lionsgate Television that plans to film somewhere “in Western North Carolina.” No further information about the show was released, but reports indicate that Lionsgate is working on TV movie remake of “Dirty Dancing,” which was filmed at Lake Lure. Gaster says Lionsgate is still “scouting locations” and will release more information about the production later.
▪ $1 million for the film “Late in the Season,” directed by Gary Hershberger and expected to star Kevin Sorbo of “Soul Surfer” fame and “Law & Order” cast member Fred Thompson, according to a 2013 news article. It will be filmed on the campus of Davidson College and centers on “a 31-year old Seattle stockbroker with a mysterious past who walks on to a small North Carolina college basketball team and inspires his struggling teammates,” the news release says.