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Industry Leaders Shed Light On Gov. Cooper's First Film Council Meeting

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Dec 12, 2019
Film support and education were among several industry topics brought to the table this week during a meeting of the minds and first gathering of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Film, Television and Digital Streaming.

The advisory council was established by Gov. Roy Cooper, who made a trip to EUE/Screen Gems in Wilmington in October to announce the group and named Susi Hamilton, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, its chair.

“Governor Cooper opened our first meeting of the Advisory Council on Film, Television and Digital Streaming and gave the council members clear instructions to provide him with ways we can continue to grow media production in North Carolina and work to restore our state’s reputation as a hub for the film and television industry,” Hamilton said in an email Thursday.

​The council held its first meeting Tuesday in Raleigh and it was attended by 21 of the 22 members on the council either in person or via conference call, according to Hamilton's office. The members in attendance included several Wilmington locals.

While they were unable to physically attend, local film industry leaders Johnny Griffin and Bill Vassar, and Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, called into the meeting.

The council is meant to be an advisory board, coming up with suggestions, ideas and recommendations for the governor, said Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, adding "there is no budget that goes with this."

“This is not a lobbying entity, and so we will not be engaging as a body with the legislature … as a body, this entity is not charged with that. It's nonpartisan,” Griffin said.

The group includes a broad base of professionals in the industry including industry leaders, educators, film crew members and independent filmmakers, he said.

“It's a wide selection of people, which will help give it a lot of meaning to this because they represent a lot of different aspects of this bigger industry that we have,” Griffin said.

Other issues discussed, Griffin said, including how to better assist the industry from big productions to independent filmmakers, as well as education and finding ways to keep the state’s homegrown workforce.

“Unfortunately, right now, a lot of the students that are trained in the state, end up leaving the state, and are going and working elsewhere. So we’re educating the students but maybe we don’t have the job opportunities for those students here: so what can we do to help connect those students with the industry?

“A lot of these comments were being made … and that discussion will be continued at the next meeting,” Griffin said.

Saffo, who is also chair of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, said from his perspective, the state's film grant incentive program and the money secured for it has helped bring productions to the state, but more could be done.

“I know that we went from this tax credit program and there was a lot of angst when that went away and we’ve gone to this grant program. I will tell you from where I’m sitting today, the grant program is working. We are picking up business. I think the issue we all have is, can we pick up more business?" Saffo said.

"Can it do better? Obviously, it can. How much better? That is something we’ll be looking at … but anything that can enhance the program will benefit not only Wilmington, but the entire state, from where I sit,” Saffo said. “If you get two TV productions in the state next year … that would eat up a lot of that grant money. So an opportunity to enhance that would be great. That is something that I would share with the governor.”

Vassar, executive vice president of EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington, said he served as a member of a similar advisory group under former governors Mike Easley and Beverly Perdue, before such a council was dissolved during former governor Pat McCrory’s administration.

“Judging by the enthusiasm in the room Tuesday, I believe Chairperson Susi Hamilton has assembled a group of accomplished industry professionals who can advise Gov. Cooper on any and all issues facing our industry now and in the future,” Vassar said. “I look forward to working with Susi and Gov. Cooper to grow the film and television industry in North Carolina."

According to Hamilton's office, other local members of the council are: Judy Girard, a retired television executive for HGTV and the Food Network (also founder of the Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington); Dale Williams, a freelance producer and unit production manager; Darla McGlamery, a business agent for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (I.A.T.S.E.) Local 491; Chip Hackler, associate professor in the Film Studies Department at the University of North Carolina Wilmington; Michael McGaha, president of Teamsters Local 391; and Timothy Bourne, a film producer and executive producer.

“I was really excited about the enthusiasm of all the members that were part of the Advisory Council’s inaugural meeting and am looking forward to hearing more on the goals of the group and recommendations they will have for the governor for helping to grow the industry," said Guy Gaster, director of the N.C. Film Office.

The Governor’s Advisory Council on Film, Television and Digital Streaming will meet once a quarter, Griffin said. The next meeting is scheduled for March 10 in Raleigh.

Griffin said other sessions are slated to take place in June, September and December.
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