Shot in NC
Shot in NC How incentives canattract and keep film rolling in the Tarheel State
By Cherryl Aldave
For years, North Carolina has nippedat the heels of Hollywood’s top-dog status in film like an angry pup. TheTarheel State, once second only to California in film revenue, has garneredmore than $7 billion in income since 1980 from more than 800 movies andtelevision series wholly or partially filmed here, including Nights in Rodanthe,The Secret Life of Bees, The Color Purple, Dawsons Creek, One Tree Hill,Forrest Gump and the George Clooney-directed Leatherheads.
The recent economic downturn, coupled with the fact thatother countries lure American film production abroad with financial-incentivepackages, has threatened to stile the US film business, North Carolinaincluded. And with states like Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana alsodrawing film business away with incentives, the Old North State now fights justto stay in the game.
A new 25 percent film tax credit bill, SB 943, signed in thesummer of 2009 by Gov. Beverly Perdue, raises the previous tax credit of 15percent and has many in the local film industry hoping this will put NorthCarolina back in the race, while others caution that there may a dark cloudbehind what looks like a silver lining for North Carolina film.
The Triad is abuzz with possibility.
THE CAST Its 2p.m. on a brisk mid-December afternoon.
Burgess Jenkins coasts along a crowded Winston- Salem highwaybehind the wheel of his charcoal-gray Jaguar. With his assistant ridingshotgun, the 36-yearold Jenkins weaves in and out of holiday traffic on his wayto a meeting with a producer.
Jenkins is in a hurry and cannot be late. Actors who like towork never are.
I was one my way to have lunch with a producer fromStalemate, explains Jenkins in an e-mail exchange. Stalemate, a romantic comedystarring Jenkins that has also co-producing is slated to start filming in NorthCarolina in January.
A handsome blond born and raised in the Twin City, Jenkinsportrayed Ray Budds in the 2000 film Remember The Titans opposite DenzelWashington and was cast as Bobby Irons for 12 episodes of the WB series OneTree Hill. After living in Los Angeles since 1999, Jenkins moved back to hishometown in 2006 to start a family with his wife, actor Ashlee Payne.
Its ironic, adds Jenkins. Half the reason I left LA is thatI got sick of the Hollywood way of things. Producer meetings? Jaguars? Just addthe grande, skinny, sugar-free caramel latte and I’m in full-blown actor mode.
Whether in or out of actor mode, Jenkins, who also teachesacting at Carolina Actors Group on Burke Street in downtown Winston-Salem, isabsolutely thrilled about the new 25 percent incentives.
When the incentive was 15 percent, some of his friends movedto find work in other states with more film business through bigger incentives.
There’s a number of very talented, highly trained cast andcrew people here and were going to keep losing them without higher incentives, Jenkinssays. I know people who have been fighting very hard for increased incentivesfor a long time and I’m ecstatic that its finally become reality.
Casting director Phil Newsome is one of those people. Throwa rock at the Triad and you’ll likely hit someone Newsome once cast in a film.
Newsome’s Winston-Salem-based Altair Casting and ProductionServices has provided casting and production support for several movies filmedhere, including the critically acclaimed Goodbye Solo about a cab driver hiredto chauffeur a suicidal old man to Blowing Rock so he can climb its highestpeak, a scenic spot with winds so ferocious its said to be the only spot onearth where snow falls upward.
Altair also supplied 5,000 extras and some primary cast forthe based-on-a-true-story tear-jerker The 5 the Quarter. The film stars AndieMcDowell and Aidan Quinn as parents of Wake Forest football player Jon Abbateand his younger brother Luke, and centers on how Lukes tragic death in 2006turned into a poignant triumph for Jon who in 2007 helped lead the Deacs to anACC win and their first O range Bowl appearance.
It was a real grassroots effort, Newsome says of the pushfor the incentives. A lot of local filmmakers, actors, casting people and morewere involved.
Tracy Kilpatrick [casting director with Wilmington’s theCasting Office, whose credits include No Country For Old Men and Forrest Gump]was just one of many leaders in this across the state. We all went to the statecapitol in Raleigh and lobbied several times and had big rallies on the capitolbuildings common area. We had people calling en masse. We did an e-mail andletter-writing campaign. We did everything, you name it.
They also worked with legislators like state Sen. LindaGarrou from Forsyth County to push this through, says Altair Casting owner,attorney Ann Guill.
Garrou sponsored the bill, which requires companies to meethiring requirements for North Carolinians and other criteria to qualify.According to the bill, production companies that make films in North Carolinawill qualify for a 25 percent refundable tax credit (i.e.: cash) as long asthey spend $250,000 or more to make the films.
There’s no annual cap with the new incentive, which differsfrom the previous 15 percent credit signed into law in the fall of 2006 by Gov.Mike Easley.
Easley’s credit also rewarded productions that cost morethan $250,000, but the rebate was capped at $7.5 million per project. Thismeant films with $50 million or more invested in state received the same creditregardless of how much over $50 million dollars they spent.
This bill affects the economy here, says Guill.
Without it fewer people are working. There are naysayers butthey are people who don’t understand that this is not an incentive like the onewe gave Dell. You have to spend money here first to get money back.
In 2004, Dell pressed a cash-strapped North Carolina to giveit $280 million in incentives to set up its third US plant outside ofWinston-Salem. Eager for tech jobs, the state acquiesced and Dell agreed toinvest $100 million in the factory and create 1,500 jobs within five years inreturn.
The incentive drew ire from local economic researchers and,according to an Oct. 8, 2009 article in the UKs Register, effected a lawsuitthat claimed using tax revenue to fund grants for private companies isforbidden by the state constitution because tax money can only be used to servea public purpose.
Dell abruptly settled the dispute by closing the factory inits fourth year of business, leaving 905 North Carolinians out of work in theprocess and bitter feelings towards incentives statewide.
THE CREW All this tax incentive can do isgenerate money, and it just might save the North Carolina film industry, saysDavid Lyons, a local crew member whose worked on films shot in North Carolinalike Talladega Nights, Patch Adams, Patriot and 1999s Ride With the Devil.Lyons was also part of the crew for Leatherheads South Carolina shoots.
Strangely vague about his exact job title, Lyons considershimself an artist who gets paid to make shit look pretty.
I once saw a movie set in the 1800s and one scene hadvisible modern car tracks in the dirt. It made the film look like it was madeby amateurs, says Lyons. Everything in a scene has to it with the time periodits supposed to be in. I make sure of that.
I also work on sets that are sometimes used for severalshoots, sometimes filmed several days to months apart, Lyons explains. I makesure everything in the scene, even if the rest of that scene is shot weekslater, is in the same exact place and it takes precision and a lot of exactmeasurements to do that, Lyons says. Its called continuity, and its an art.
North Carolina employs more than 2,500 film-industry workerslike Lyons, who recently took up part-time South Carolina residency to takeadvantage of increased work from incentives there. Has currently a regular crewmember on Lifetimes Army Wives, which is filmed in Charleston.
The [film-industry] recruiting equation in the past 10 yearshas lipped 180 degrees, explained SC Film Commissioner Jeff Monks in theCharlotte Observer. The discussion now begins with: Tell us about yourincentives, and then well talk to you about locations, your crew and yoursuppliers. That’s been the story across the country.
These incentives are good because people in North Carolinaneed work, Lyons continued. Besides, how many other industries can come intoyour town and rent 500 hotel rooms at a time for six months? Guill echo’s Lyonsstatement.
There’s been so much talk about this that I wrote a letterto the editor that I never ended up sending, but it was about how nobodyrealized the impact
the 5 the Quarter filming here had just on Winston-Salem.Five or six local restaurants were featured in the film, as were two funeralhomes, plus there was wardrobe people, prop masters, an art department anentire cast and crew. And they all frequented several bars and restaurants andit was huge business for those places. I think more local people should beginto realize how beneficial the film industry here is to everybody.
We do have some of the best crew in the world, and a lot ofthem graduate from schools here like the film school at Piedmont CommunityCollege and the School of the Arts, starts a cheerful Rebecca Clark. Theyintern on projects filming here when they’re in school, and when they graduatesome of them become producers so plenty of kids are getting jobs here becauseof the film industry.
Director of the non-profit Piedmont Triad Film Commission,located on Greensboro’s Albert Pick Drive, Clarks enthusiasm leaps through thephone as she relates her duties, which are to market and promote the 12-countyPiedmont Triad region for the production of films, commercials, webisodes andindustrial videos and to companies who do still photography shoots, Clark says,as if repeating the information for the millionth time.
Clark, the first person called when a production companywants to film in the Triad, has been with the commission since 1994, and hasseen the careers of many whose films she provided logistical support for takeoff.
Junebug writer Angus MacLachlan is a School of the Artsgraduate, and Junebug was filmed in Winston-Salem, the effervescent Clarkcontinues. That movie did extremely well and really helped Amy Adams make aname for herself. David Gordon Green, another School of the Arts graduate, isnow a huge director thanks to Pineapple Express. It would be nice if more ofthem stayed here though.
Clark also helped Hostel director and Inglourious Basterdsstar Eli Roth with his first movie. Eli came from LA to shoot Cabin Fever here,and I helped to scout locations for it, says Clark. Cabin Fever, shot inMocksville, Mt. Airy, Winston- Salem and High Point, grossed upwards of $33million at the box office and was the highest grossing film Lions Gate HomeEntertainment released in 2003.
In 2008, Clark helped recruit Leatherheads to shoot in theTriad, and met George Clooney when he came to the Piedmont as part of alocation scouting contingent. I told my fianc’ about it and he was like, Great!My fianc’ is going scouting with the worlds sexiest man alive! George Clooneyspent his birthday in Winston, and Scarlett Johansson flew in for it, but I’mnot sure if they were dating at time, says Clark.
North Carolinas been a celebrity magnet since becoming knownas Hollywood East in 1983, the year producer Dino DeLaurentis came toWilmington and built his dream studio around an old brick warehouse.
Firestarter, starring a young Drew Barrymore, was the lots firstproduction.
DeLaurentis christened his dream DEG Studios, which today iscalled Screen Gems EUE. Within ten years, North Carolina ranked second toCalifornia in film industry revenue, with our state earning $504 million in film-industryspending in 1993.
Revenues started to slip around 2000, when Canada emerged asone of the biggest competitors for US film business by using tax incentives,and the debate over what many in the American film industry saw as productionexodus began to echo the fray over US companies moving overseas to boost profits,which critics say costs the American economy billions of dollars and tens ofthousands of jobs annually.
In 2002 Louisiana passed the most generous tax incentivepackage for film production companies in North America at the time, whichoffered an investor tax credit of up to 15 percent and an employment tax creditof up to 20 percent.
North Carolina, already financially hammered by a string ofplant closings across the state, slipped to the middle of the pack as new dogslike Michigan, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Connecticut, New Mexico andMassachusetts joined the incentive race.
In 2004, with other states offering higher and higherincentives, revenue from films shot in NC slipped to $235 million in directspending contributions to the economy. In 2006 the state saw minimal feature-filmproduction and in 2007 the number fell to $160 million. By 2008 the figureslumped to $92 million.
We’ve been watching people leave the state, but when you’rea filmmaker faced with a 15 percent incentive versus 25 percent, why do it hereif you can do the same thing somewhere else? asks actor and filmmaker John S.Rushton. Its just business.
Rushtons Crimson Wolf Production released themultimillion-dollar, sci-fi action thriller Eyeborgs in 2008. Eyeborgs tellsthe story of a near future where robotic surveillance cameras keep constantwatch for possible criminal activity, and was shot entirely in Winston-Salemusing local crew.
Crimson Wolf, based in Lewisville, was started in the Triadbecause we live here, says Rushton, the we referring to his partner in thecompany, Richard Clabaugh.And because there’s lots of great cast and crewpeople and there’s just no reason for Crimson Wolf to move anywhere else. Plusthe new incentives have fired up filmmakers we know to finally get projectsgoing they’ve been putting off, which is only going to grow the filmmakingcommunity already here.
Eyeborgs stars Adrian Paul, known as The Highlander in theTV series and recent feature films, and Danny Trejo who played Machete inRobert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse. Its CGI, or computer generated graphics, weredescribed in a review on the film website the Quiet Earth on April 30, 2009 asbeing more realistic and effective than mega-budget Hollywood spectaculars likeTransformers.
Most of the CGI was done by Chris Watson, who’s a graduateof the School of the Arts, says Rushton. Watson is the former student ofRushtons partner and Eyeborgs director Clabaugh, who once taught at the school.
While Eyeborgs utilizes several Winston-Salem landmarks likethe Millennium Center in several scenes, most of it was shot in the Camel Citysdowntown arts district.
One of the restaurant in the area, Downtown Thai, was amajor favorite for Adrian Paul, Manny Trejo and the guys who were the Hollywoodstars, says Rushton. Adrians eaten in Thai restaurants around the world and hesaid out of all the Thai restaurants where has eaten, Downtown Thai was thebest.
THE FINAL CUTThe bottom line is, there really aren’t enough film productions in the UnitedStates for every state to play in this [incentive] game, said Peter Dekom, inthe LA Times.
Eventually the states where it doesn’t make economic sense aren’tgoing to be players, says the entertainment industry attorney who helped craftNew Mexico’s successful film incentive program.
Louisiana recently stepped up their incentive to a whopping30 percent.
Currently, 43 states are vying for film revenue through taxbreaks and bonus packages in what’s become a veritable incentive go-round, butClark feels positive the incentive increase is a step in the right direction.
Production companies from LA are currently requestinginformation about filming here, everything from smaller studios to majorstudios, some that are looking to make big-budget feature films with budgetsfrom $10 to $50 million on up so we are definitely on their radar again, saysClark of the spike in interest. But we also still feel very strongly aboutworking with local filmmakers.
Some local filmmakers however, are not yet feeling theincentive love.
Rebecca’s great and she’s the happiest person I’ve ever metbut while the incentive is gonna help us compete with almost every other placein America, as an independent filmmaker I think the incentives are really forHollywood to send movies with big budgets out here to shoot, says Andy Coon.
Coons 2002 documentary, Greensboro’s Child, is about theNov. 3, 1979 murder of five activists from the Workers Viewpoint Organizationby an armed band of Ku Klux Klan members and Nazis. In the year of its release,the documentary won the North Carolina Film and Video Festival award for bestindependent documentary, and the Chicago Digital Film Festival for bestresearched documentary.
Coon is currently collaborating with a like-minded group oflocal filmmakers on a project he hopes can qualify for the incentive throughtheir joint fundraising efforts.
Clark remains optimistic. One of the things I’m very excitedabout is the History Channel series that shot here called Madhouse, she says.
Madhouse tells the stories of Bowman Gray StadiumsSaturday-night heroes who race on the longest-running NASCAR short track in theAmerica, and features drivers like Tim The Rocket Brown, Chris Fleming and theMiller and Myers families, known by many race fans as the modern day Hatieldsand McCoy’s.
They filmed here and hired all these locals and filmproduction crew members for an entire five months. If the show does well they’llcome back and most likely re-hire the people they hired before, who will thenhave jobs on the show, Clark continues. The History Channel is going to airthese episodes with the first one premiering on Jan. 10, and it would be greatfor this area if a lot of people start watching the show and they come back todo Season 2 here.