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Several Factors May Have Doomed 4 Unsuccessful Film Grant Applications

By Jenny Callison, posted Feb 5, 2016
What earned two projects the thumbs up for N.C. Film and Entertainment Grants, in contrast to another four projects whose applications got the thumbs down from state officials? A look at all six applications submitted thus far provides a few clues.

One component is the type of project, according to Guy Gaster, director of the N.C. Film Office, which is part of the state’s Department of Commerce.

“With regards to who is selected, the legislature has said to Commerce that they are most interested in television series, so TV certainly gets a first look when reviewing applications,” he said recently.

A second factor influencing funding decisions is the estimated economic impact of a project.

“With a limited amount of funding, the Secretary of Commerce makes his decisions on what he deems is in the best interest of the state and certainly two of the biggest factors in looking at that is longevity, number of jobs — particularly well-paying crew jobs, as well as in-state spending,” Gaster said.

As examples, TNT’s TV series Good Behavior, approved for a grant for its Wilmington-based production, anticipates employing a crew of 125, of whom 105 will be state residents. Its cast of 100 will include 75 North Carolinians, plus another 1,000 locals as extras. It will be eligible for up to $6.6 million in grant funds if its anticipated in-state spend meets its projected $28.2 million.

The military television drama Six, the other successful applicant that's also shooting in Wilmington, plans to hire 235 crew members, 210 of whom would live in the state. It’s looking at a cast of 59, 44 of whom, along with an additional 1,400 extras, would be from North Carolina. If it hits its anticipated qualified  spending total of $28.8 million, Six would be eligible for $7.2 million in grant funds.

Grants of a combined $13.8 million for those two projects would leave just over $16 million in the $30 million grant pool available for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Both of these productions opened offices at EUE/Screen Gems studios in Wilmington last month, and both anticipate shooting over the course of four or five months, with post-production activities extending into mid or late summer.

By contrast, some films and commercials, although they might have a larger overall budget, typically operate on a much shorter time frame, employing cast and crew members for less time. Movies also don’t offer the possibility of returning for subsequent seasons, as a TV series can if renewed.

Move That Body, a film project whose $5 million grant request was turned down by the secretary of commerce, expected to shoot only for five to six weeks, although its post-production period could extend for another seven months.

Another film that got the red light was a futurist drama called Smoke E.Z., a riff on Prohibition-era speakeasies, except with tobacco serving as the banned substance instead of alcohol.

That film project did not stand a chance of getting grant funds, because it had no firm financing lined up when it applied. The legislation states that a project must have at least 75 percent of its funding in place before applying for North Carolina’s grant program.

It’s also possible that Move That Body – a story of a bachelorette party gone crazy – and Smoke E.Z. , with its burlesque club setting, could have run afoul of one particular provision of the grant legislation.

“The establishing legislation also has some perimeters on what can and cannot receive funding. In particular, one of those perimeters is that no production that is deemed 'harmful to minors' may receive funds,” Gaster said.

That “Harmful to Minors” clause refers most specifically to material that would have “sexually explicit nudity or sexual activity.” The legislation lists specific acts that cannot be depicted in films asking for North Carolina grant funds.

The state has $60 million to disburse in grants over the 2015-16 and 2016-17 fiscal years - $30 million per year. Local and state film officials say they are still in talks with other projects that have a desire to come to North Carolina. The grant process is ongoing, Gaster said.

"There are no hard deadlines for submission — at this time ..." he said. "Project awardings will be announced as they have been accepted by the productions, following notification of an awarding amount by the Department of Commerce."

North Carolina's Film and Entertainment Grant Program was approved in 2015 by the state legislature at the beginning of 2015 as a replacement for the state's former tax credit incentive to bring film projects to the state.
 

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