With state legislators unwilling to bring back the film tax credit incentive program, supporters of the industry said Thursday that they’ll instead push to expand the state’s new grant program.
The grant program, which began taking applications last month, will award up to $10 million this year – far less than the tax incentive that gave out $61.2 million in credits in 2013. Elected officials and industry leaders held a news conference Thursday in Wilmington to voice support for more grants.
“We can’t find anybody at this point in time who really supports the credit,” Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said. “We felt that we needed to come out and be unified and say that we support the grant program, and whatever we can do to increase the grant program will be very important.”
The Wilmington area has long been a hub for film production in North Carolina. Saffo said the loss of the tax credits will hurt the local economy this year. Film companies spent $170 million in the region last year, he said, but that figure will likely drop to under $50 million this year.
“We’ve only had three inquiries about production in this community in 2015,” he said. By February last year, there were about 15 inquiries, he said.
The N.C. Department of Commerce hasn’t yet awarded the first film grant under the new program. It’s currently reviewing the first applications, said Guy Gaster, the film office director. Grants will be worth up to $5 million per movie or TV show, meaning two large productions could use up the fund.
“I think that the $10 million will probably go rather quickly,” Gaster said.
Saffo said the $10 million cap must be raised “to a level that we think will still be competitive here,” though he didn’t suggest an amount. “What that number is, who knows,” he said.
Film supporters have been lobbying Gov. Pat McCrory to include more grant money in his budget or economic development plan.
Some Democrats have continued to push to resurrect the old program. Rep. Susi Hamilton, a Wilmington Democrat, included bringing back film tax credits in a 61-page economic development bill she co-sponsored last week. Hamilton could not be reached Thursday, but she told WECT that the new approach is “premature” and puts her in a “difficult position.”
While leaders debate the best way to keep film production in North Carolina, Saffo says many in the industry have already moved to South Carolina or Georgia, where incentives are more generous.
But not everyone is uprooting. One of the state’s largest studios, EUE/Screen Gems, says it will stay in Wilmington.
“We’ve weathered storms like this, not just here but in other states where we’ve got facilities,” Executive Vice President Bill Vassar said. “We’ve got two great clients here right now, and we have no intention of closing.”