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C-Suite Convo: Hollywood East Rebounds

By Vicky Janowski, posted Sep 27, 2021
Guy Gaster
State film officials and Gov. Roy Cooper announced last month that state film spending estimates are on track to hit a high point this year.
 
Already, as of the August announcement, productions have spent about $409 million this year in North Carolina, marking the most activity since the state switched in 2014 from a tax incentive program to a grant-based system to lure projects.
 
Much of that spending – about $300 million – has taken place in the Wilmington region.
 
Below is an excerpt from a recent Q&A with N.C. Film Office Director Guy Gaster.
 
What are some of the reasons for the increase in film activity and spending from productions this year?
“We have worked for several years on making the grant the best possible version it can be and really stabilize it so that it provides the best guarantee we can to studios and film executives and shows that North Carolina is committed to the industry. That has included removing the program’s sunset date and making the program recurring. That stability, along with the sunsets of both HB2 and HB142, have played huge roles in getting North Carolina back in front of the decision-makers. Thankfully, our workforce and infrastructure’s reputation of being some of the best in the business have also survived during some slower times as well.”
 
This year’s spending is the largest amount since the state moved from a film tax credit to offering rebates funded through a grant system in 2014. Is that a sign that the grant system has become more competitive with other states like Georgia, which still offers a tax credit for productions?
“Not only is the figure the biggest since the ‘grant’ program began, it is also the largest since the state has started offering any type of incentive and is definitely the highest when looking at actual figures provided by the productions themselves. What the state and its partners continue to do well is know what types of projects work best with our program and really go after those – thus creating a special niche within the industry.”
 
With the jump in filming statewide, how is Wilmington fitting into the activity?
“Wilmington remains the heart of the state’s film industry due in part to the amount of private investment in infrastructure in the area as well as the number of film professionals living in the area – some of which have been part of the industry for more than 30 years.
 
As such, we typically see at least half of the annual spending taking place in Southeastern North Carolina. This year, we are definitely seeing even more of the production spending taking place in the (Southeast) region, closer to 2/3, but I believe we will see production and production-related spending increase in other areas of the state soon.
 
One of the great things to date about the success in 2021 is that not only are we seeing this record-breaking spending, but film activity is also taking place in all eight of the state’s prosperity zones.”
 
When it comes to the film workforce in the state, are there ways to increase training or attract more workers based here?
“Being able to prove that someone could find steady work here in North Carolina within the industry has been key. We are there – now, it is time to reintroduce the industry to some and also start reaching out to the next generation to let them know about opportunities within the industry.
 
Many people, when they think of film, may only think of set builders, camera operators, directors and/or actors, so we need to start retelling the story of the many other opportunities that are available with a production including but not limited to office personnel, accounting, hair and makeup, set dressing/interior design, welders, drivers, location management personnel and many more.
 
Thus, showing how someone might be able to transfer these skills into the film industry will likely play a key role in growing the film workforce.”

What are some of your priorities as you look ahead at the state’s film industry?
“For the State Film Office, first and foremost it will remain recruiting new productions to the state. That said, the state film office is also working with the N.C. Department of Commerce as well as other state and local/regional officials to help try and tackle the need for expanding the workforce as well as increasing representation within the industry – including within the crew and vendors.”
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