Film Funding In Senate Budget Falls Short, Some Say

By Cece Nunn, posted May 10, 2017
Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, said Wednesday morning that he’s “very disappointed” in the amount of film funding included in the N.C. Senate proposed state budget released Tuesday evening.

The grant funding makes $30 million available for the state’s film grant program, which in 2015 replaced tax credits. That’s the same amount that’s available now, but $15 million is earmarked as permanent annual funding to give potential TV series that want to film in the area more certainty.

The amount doesn’t send a strong signal to those selecting filming sites that North Carolina wants their business, Davis said.

“What has happened, because of what the Senate has done, No. 1, it doesn’t nearly give the amount of money that is needed to make this grant program a viable program and attract higher-end TV series to come here, and No. 2, it sends a terrible message to those people outside the state that might be interested in coming when there already wasn’t enough money,” Davis said.

He said in his discussions with Wilmington-based Screen Gems Studios, a better number has been $45 million. Working to make up the difference will be “a battle for another day,” Davis said.

As part of the overall state budget process, the N.C. House will now consider how to respond to the Senate’s budget, a nearly $23 billion spending plan.

“So when it comes down to the film aspect, now my burden will be to go and find the appropriate committee in the House that will be addressing that and see if I can get them to give more money,” Davis said.

Additional funding is a possibility, legislators said.

Sens. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, and Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, in a statement Tuesday said, “We are pleased this year’s Senate budget again makes $30 million in total funding available for the film grant program. More importantly, for the first time we’ve converted $15 million of the film grant program’s budget into permanent annual funding that will bring certainty and stability to Wilmington’s film industry. We look forward to working with Representatives Davis and [Holly] Grange [R-New Hanover] to increase funding for the film grant program and make the program’s entire appropriation permanent in the final budget.”

Since the state’s film grant program was implemented in 2015, the news release said, the program has been funded year-to-year with one-time money. 

“The Senate budget matches previous budgets by designating $30 million for the film grant program in 2017-18,” the release said.

For several months, both Grange and Lee had been working on pieces of legislation that would allocate more funding. 

Lee said Wednesday that he, too, was disappointed that the number for recurring funds came in at $15 million in the Senate budget instead of the $30 million he had pushed for.

"I just could not get agreement with the appropriations committee on pushing the number to $30 million recurring. I wanted to start at that number as a floor and then through working with the House hopefully getting it up another $10 million to $20 million," he said.

As far as the funding moving forward, "it's about getting the number moved up from here so that when we have a final budget in a month and a half, that number is more in the range of $30 to $40 million recurring, and that's important to have recurring so we can provide certainty to those who want to locate in our area their film productions," Lee said. 

These days, the industry in Wilmington consists of one major TV project – the second season of TNT’s Good Behavior. The N.C. Film Office’s website lists one other current production – Season 2 of HGTV’s Love it or List It with production taking place in the Research Triangle area – in addition to Good Behavior. Meanwhile, parts of Georgia are currently the site of filming for at least three dozen feature film and TV productions, according to a Georgia Department of Economic Development website.

Because of the parameters of the current grant program, the potential for new productions is limited to a window of projects with budgets between about $7 million to $24 million, said Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission.

“If somebody’s doing a $35 million feature film, they’re not going to look at North Carolina because they can’t get enough incentive to make it count,” Griffin said Wednesday.

On the funding in the Senate budget, Griffin said he is waiting to see what the final number will be.

“It’s a fluid process and a process that is mid-stream at this point as they work on the budget. We’re certainly encouraged any time that we see funding being allocated that would help the industry, but the process is certainly far from over,” he said. “Until it’s finalized, it’s really hard to analyze and say anything about it.”

For those seeking to film multi-year TV projects, Griffin said, “it is a little bit hard for them to focus on Wilmington right now or North Carolina, knowing that there’s not a future right now that is laid out that they can see. We’re very anxious to get through the budget process and know what the future is so we can pitch to those multi-year projects.”
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