A group of small business owners throughout the state is hoping to make its voice heard in the ongoing discussion of film incentives in North Carolina.
Taking the name Small Business for Film, the group has created a website and is actively soliciting membership from businesses throughout the state that have benefited from the presence – and spending power – of the film and television projects.
The initiative took root recently as several small businesses realized they stood to lose significant revenues if film activity withers and wanted their voices to be heard.
“They approached other businesses, including ours, to spread the word about reaching our legislators to make sure these incentives are kept – or the tax credits restored – so we don’t lose jobs and revenue,” said Claire Parker of Wilmington-based Parker Brinson-Communications.
The website went live two weeks ago, thanks to the efforts of Parker-Brinson Communications and fellow founding members Julia’s Florist, Port City Signs & Graphics, Lanier Property Group, Strickland’s Window Coverings and Bon’s Eye Marketing. As of Tuesday, about 250 businesses in cities across North Carolina have signed on as members, according to the website listing.
Although its action plan is not final, according to Parker, Small Business for Film wants to see North Carolina to either reinstate the tax credit program that expired at the end of December or fund the new grant program at a higher level to attract productions. Currently, the grant pool consists of $10 million and is available only through the remainder of this fiscal year that ends June 30.
“This is not a big Hollywood issue; it’s a small business issue. We want people to look at [the incentive program] as a small business incentive that benefits mom-and-pop shops,” Parker said.
Several Wilmington business owners who have gotten involved in the initiative said that local film and TV productions have represented a significant portion of their business.
David Fogelman, owner of Ogden Optical Center, said his store worked with the industry locally for 30 years.
“We were the come-to place for props when it came to any kind of eyewear, or if actors were in town and needed prescriptions for glasses filled,” he said. “The industry was very good for my business. The relationships we made with people in the film industry will last forever. I certainly do miss them, mainly the prop masters.”
The organizers are concerned that state legislators don’t understand the impact the film and television industry has on small business.
“Last year, [the film and television industry] represented a good 60 to 70 percent of our business because so many things were going on here,” said Cindy Coley, manager of The Frame Outlet, who said having the industry disappear “Is going to hurt.”
“We framed for the last episode of Sleepy Hollow a couple of weeks ago and since then we have gotten nothing else from the studio,” she said.
The Frame Outlet offered both printing and framing services to numerous productions. In 2014 alone, its client projects included two Nicholas Sparks movies, Under the Dome, Sleepy Hollow and a couple of TV pilots, Coley said. The company’s work adorned the walls and surfaces of any number of sets, from blackboards and posters in "classrooms" to art work and artifacts – like a collection of African spears she once mounted in a shadowbox – in depictions of homes and offices.
Over the years, films and TV shows also brought “quite a bit of revenue” to Verzaal's Florist, said its owner, Robin Cox, who said she couldn’t sit idly by and not put her name to an initiative that is trying to advocate for effective industry incentives.
Loss of the industry “is going to be a huge hit for us, because that business has represented significant monthly income for us,” she said. “To see the decisions being made [by the legislature] and the money lost for the whole community – and whole state – is really disappointing. How do [the legislators] think that’s not going to impact our community? I’m hoping we can do something to retain this industry because it’s going to be sad to lose it.”
Meanwhile, the phones are pretty much cradled at the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, one day after the N.C. Film Office opened the grant application period, said commission director Johnny Griffin.
“As far as filming goes, nothing has really changed [from what was planned]. Sleepy Hollow has ended production, Under the Dome is coming back soon and Bolden! is still filming,” he said. “As far as inquiries and new productions, that’s where we’re seeing the difference. There is no interest right now. People are not talking to us.”
Griffin said he had just had a conversation with an industry person about prospects for television pilots.
“He told me, ‘You have no money,’” Griffin said. “We’re off the radar at this point. It’s just silent.”
Small Business for Film is focusing on increasing its membership all over the state, Parker said.
“We’re still trying to garner as much attention as we can. We’ve gotten good response in Charlotte, Raleigh and Winston-Salem,” she said. “We want people to see this as a North Carolina issue, not a local issue, and we want to have conversations with our state leaders to get the issue on the table.”