With cameras rolling on Hallmark movie USS Christmas, and two other projects in the prepping phase at EUE Screen Gems Studios, Wilmington appears to be back in the film business.
After several years of reduced or almost nonexistent activity, does the area have the capacity to handle three projects at once, especially in these days of strict COVID-19 protocols in place on film sets?
Three simultaneous productions do not create a problem, Wilmington Regional Film Commissioner Johnny Griffin said Thursday. He noted that USS Christmas is filming here for just a few weeks, and is not using EUE Screen Gems’ facilities.
The other two projects, Scream 5 and season 2 of Hightown, a series being produced by Lionsgate Television for the Starz Network, are on the lot setting up their administrative functions and building sets.
There’s plenty of room for more, EUE Screen Gems Executive Vice President Bill Vassar said Friday.
“We’ve had as many as six productions on the lot at one time,” he said. “No one production is at the same [phase] as another, and not all productions are on the same timeline.”
Based on conversations he and Griffin have had with studios recently, Vassar said he’s optimistic that one more project could land in Wilmington before the end of 2020. And more could well follow in 2021, both men say.
“There are a lot of people looking at us and looking at a map and saying ‘Wow!’” Vassar said. “And COVID is affecting this area a lot less than other places in the U.S.”
While office space at EUE Screen Gems can be at a premium, with multiple productions needing accountants and other administrative functions to remain longer than the filming activity, the company has plenty of experience in cleaning up and changing over offices almost overnight, Vassar said. He recalled shoehorning in office staffers from subsequent productions in 2012 as Iron Man 3 wrapped up its administrative tasks and vacated a few spaces at a time.
“It happens on the stages also,” he added. “We’ve had projects leaving on a Friday or Saturday, and on Monday, something else moves in.”
The wild card with regard to facilities is, of course, coronavirus spacing and cleaning regulations. “It’s been extra-challenging with COVID. Different productions can’t cross the same space; they can’t intermingle,” he said.
Finding the crews Scream 5 and Hightown need should not be a problem, Griffin said.
“We have the advantage right now that some of our people have been working in Georgia and now they are back home since there’s not as much work in Georgia. So we have those people here,” he said.
Some local crew members are working in South Carolina and in Savannah, Georgia, but could potentially be tapped if additional projects roll into town before the end of the year, Griffin added, saying, “We’d have to do a deeper dive to assess the crew within the region, department by department.”
Union requirements for specific trades can complicate matters for Wilmington-based crew members who have most recently worked in Atlanta or elsewhere. Some unions allow members to work freely across the country; others are territory-minded and require members to establish residency in a new location before they can work there, Griffin explained.
All these skilled trades practitioners will also have to learn a few new procedures, the film commissioner pointed out.
“The overarching umbrella right now is COVID,” he said. “Productions have completely changed the way they do business. They’ve had to change the way they have done things forever. It has taken time to learn that process and it takes time to adhere to those procedures and to do testing.”