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With Renewed Film Activity Comes Economic Boost

By Jenny Callison, posted Mar 28, 2019
With shooting on Swamp Thing in full swing, there is a noticeable local economic impact, say local film officials.

Film-related employment has risen significantly, according to EUE Screen Gems Executive Vice President Bill Vassar. With multiple units shooting concurrently to film episodes of the Warner Brothers-made-for-DC Comics production, Vassar said, “Some weeks there are close to 300 people working. Add in the extras and it can be as high as 500 people.”

Vassar compared these numbers favorably to the days of One Tree Hill, which involved 150 to 160 workers on a regular basis.

With Swamp Thing plus a small feature film called Uncle Frank in production, skilled film crew members are a valuable commodity, said Johnny Griffin, head of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission. Because of past years’ downturn in film activity here, some local crew members are currently working in Atlanta or in Charleston, South Carolina, where three projects are shooting.

Add to that the possibility that Hulu’s series Reprisal, which shot its pilot here in October and has been picked up for an initial season, could return to Wilmington for production. While that is not certain, it’s a possibility that local film officials must consider in their planning.

The local union that represents many of the film trades covers North and South Carolina as well as coastal Georgia, Griffin explained. Drawing from this geographic area, there is plenty of film crew talent, but project timing is important so that workers can finish one project and be ready to move to another.

“It’s a good problem to find ourselves challenged with,” Griffin said of the uptick in demand. “Crew is getting a bit tight. If we can keep productions steady, we can maybe build up our crew. Steady is key, because if crew members know something else is coming, they are probably willing to wait a month or two so they can stay here and work. We encourage productions to communicate with each other.”

Employment numbers are just one indicator of a resurgent film industry here. Local companies that supply products or services to film projects have also noticed a bounce in their business.

For The Paint Store of Hampstead, supplying Swamp Thing with paints and related supplies will represent a 10 to 15 percent boost to the bottom line this year, according to store owner Jim Wells. He has worked with film projects for years, and said, “It’s a business I really miss when it’s gone.

“Small businesses like me are really affected when the business is not there,” he continued. “[Studios] do try to do business with local vendors. Of course, they require service: you jump when they tell you to. But we go out of our way to help them.”

The last two to three years have been lackluster in terms of projects shooting in Wilmington – and in the state as a whole. But with House Bill 2, known as the Bathroom Bill, effectively out of the way, North Carolina is coming back onto studios’ radar screens.

Spending is up locally, Griffin said.

“Given current projects’ local spending as of what we know now, it will be in the neighborhood of $100 million for 2019,” Griffin added. “That’s more than we did in 2017 and 2018 combined, and more than any other single year since 2014. And it’s only March. We are hoping for other projects and are in discussion with several.”

When he visited Wilmington earlier this week, Gov. Roy Cooper expressed his support for enhancement of the state’s film incentives program.

“We know we've got the best place to produce films and television in the country," he said ."We know that the reputation for the good work that we do is world renowned, but we had two issues that slowed us down. One was House Bill 2 and the other was the elimination or essentially the stopping of these film incentives. We have been able to get House Bill 2 repealed and we have been able to re-establish film incentives, although they're not where they need to be at this point. I promise you I'm going to continue to fight those battles."

This version of the story corrects the geographical area covered by the local union representing many film trades.
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