For what some people have termed a slower year for Wilmington’s film scene, things aren’t going badly. So says Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, who points to three projects currently in production and one in the pipeline.
“The second season of The Summer I Turned Pretty is in production, [the feature film] Eric Larue has a permit from the city and has started filming, and the [second season of] Welcome to Flatch has also started filming,” he said Wednesday. “We have another feature film coming in shortly; I hope to say something about that soon.”
Several other 2022 projects have finished their work here: Season 3 of Starz’ TV series Hightown, along with event series George and Tammy and feature films The Trouble with Providence and A Song for Imogen. In fact, Michael Shannon, who played George Jones in George and Tammy and debuts as a director with Eric Larue, was reportedly instrumental in bringing the latter project to Wilmington from Arkansas because of that state's new anti-abortion legislation.
Not only have this year’s projects kept crews busy; the numbers are looking pretty good as well, Griffin said.
“Last year [the film-related] spend was $315 million locally,” he said of 2021’s historic high level of activity. “So far this year, the projects completed and those on the ground are set to spend in excess of $200 million. If the year ended tomorrow and we had no other projects, we’d still be in pretty good shape, but we feel confident that number will grow. If we had another $50 million TV series drop in, we’d be closer to that number, although it’s unrealistic to think we could reach $315 million this year.”
Earlier this week, another project announced it would be filming in Wilmington for its first six-episode season. Divine Renovation, a new “docu-series” produced by Heartlight Entertainment – according to executives – “takes the runaway success of home improvement shows and adds a spiritual element.” Shooting will begin in late September and continue into October, according to Valerie Smaldone, one of three film and media veterans who operate Heartlight. The series will be hosted by Erik Estrada, who is known for his turns in faith-based television shows as well as for his signature role as Frank Poncherello in CHiPS, a popular crime drama series that ran from 1977 to 1983.
Divine Renovation may not, however, factor into the calculations of the local film commission or the North Carolina Film Office because reality shows don’t usually ask for state incentives, Griffin said. Several home-related reality shows – notably Love It or List It – have shot in the state. Love It or List It filmed several full seasons in the Research Triangle area. Even if they don’t qualify for state film incentives, however, reality shows do hire and spend in the project locations, contributing to local economies.
“Reality series are strongly encouraged to submit ‘intent’ forms to the state film office, but it’s not required and most don’t have spends that qualify for the state’s film rebate program," said Guy Gaster, director of the North Carolina Film Office.
Heartlight Entertainment bills itself as the developer of “a slate of uplifting, inspirational and spiritual programs designed to provide positive energy to audiences sorely in need of elevated programming.”
While producers Smaldone and Matthieu Chazareix are based in the New York City area, the third producer, Monty Hobbs, lives in Wilmington and has connections in the film community as well as the community as a whole, Smaldone said. The producers are working with Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM) and several churches to identify people with home repair needs and inspiring stories. She has also posted on social media to attract other possible subjects.
“Seeking people who need small fixes in their homes; from installing a grab bar in a shower for a senior citizen to creating a wheelchair ramp for a disabled child; from pruning an overgrown garden to fixing a leaky faucet. Let us know who in your community is in need. Small fixes can make big miracles happen,” the post reads.
NOTE: This version of the story corrects the location where filming of Eric Larue was originally to take place. It was to be shot in Arkansas, not Atlanta. It also corrects the nature of the George and Tammy project and adds information about Love It or List It.