State Politics

$4 million freed in film fund after ‘Dirty Dancing’ remake cancels

The “Under The Dome” TV show, shown filming in Wilmington, is the only major project underway in the region.
The “Under The Dome” TV show, shown filming in Wilmington, is the only major project underway in the region. CBS ENTERTAINMENT

Producers planning a remake of the movie “Dirty Dancing” have pulled the plug on North Carolina, freeing up $4 million in state film grant money that can go to other projects.

Lionsgate was one of three grant recipients announced in April from an initial $10 million pot of grant money. The competitive grant program had replaced a more generous tax credit program that lawmakers eliminated last year.

The N.C. Department of Commerce is giving film and TV producers until Aug. 7 to apply for the $4 million in grants.

The announcement is good news for film industry backers in the Wilmington area, where the CBS show “Under The Dome” is the only production currently filming. Before the tax credits ended, Wilmington was a film hotspot, with five or six productions at any given time.

“Prior to this money becoming available, we just didn’t have folks that were interested in coming,” said Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission. “It takes these incentives in being able to attract them.”

Griffin says he’s fielded plenty of calls from small and large producers, but many have been turned off by the uncertainty of the film grant program.

The program has been out of money since April, and its next round of funding is dependent on the legislature’s budget negotiations. Gov. Pat McCrory and the state Senate have proposed $10 million in film grants this fiscal year, but the House budget calls for $60 million.

The conservative group Americans For Prosperity has been lobbying against any film grant money, calling the program “Hollywood handouts.” It is running radio ads and has a website.

No money will be added until a final state budget is approved, and legislators aren’t sure when that will happen.

Until then, the return of the “Dirty Dancing” money means Griffin can recruit new productions. Wilmington has about 250 people working on “Under The Dome,” but leaders there have been worried about what will happen when the show ends.

“You don’t want to go dark at any point in time,” Griffin said. “It’s kind of like a hotel ... if you at least have some guests, you’ve got people who want to do business there.”

Immediately we’ve gotten people who say ‘How can I apply?’ This is the spark.

Johnny Griffin, Wilmington Regional Film Commission

Projects must be able to begin filming within 100 days – a requirement that affected “Dirty Dancing” because the remake is being put on hold. Guy Gaster of the N.C. Film Office could not be reached Thursday but told the Asheville Citizen-Times earlier this week that the producers “still have a very strong interest in being here” but the timing of the project is “still somewhat up in the air.”

Lionsgate had planned to create 1,300 jobs and spend $16 million in the Asheville area this summer as it filmed the three-hour special, which was slated to air on ABC.

The Film Office already has two applications on hold because they arrived after a Feb. 1 deadline. Assuming the producers haven’t found a location elsewhere, they’ll be eligible for the $4 million available.

One is a series of 10 TV commercials for Oscar Mayer’s P3 Protein Packs. The application says the ads would be “comic, 18th century feel, engaging our athletic founding fathers.” The meat company wanted to film at Old Salem in Winston-Salem.

The second late application was for a TBS sitcom series about a family on a road trip, aiming to film in Wilmington and Beaufort. Details in the grant application match an untitled show created by “Daily Show” correspondents Jason Jones and Samantha Bee. The show already filmed a pilot episode in Wilmington.