State lawmakers agree to $30M film funding; TNT pilot coming to Port City

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Production crews for the TNT pilot, 'Good Behavior,' set up offices at EUE/Screen Gems Studios this week, ahead of the state lawmakers' $30 million compromise on film funding. File photo.
Production crews for the TNT pilot, ‘Good Behavior,’ set up offices at EUE/Screen Gems Studios this week, ahead of the state lawmakers’ $30 million compromise on film funding. File photo.

Ted Davis has declared North Carolina’s film industry “officially back open for business.”

The state representative’s statement–made after lawmakers reached a $30 million compromise on the N.C. Film Grant Program–was preceded earlier this week by news that a TNT pilot is set to shoot in the Port City next month.

Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Film Commission, confirmed Wednesday that the production crews for the pilot “Good Behavior” have just opened up offices at EUE/Screen Gems Studios and will film for about two and a half weeks in October. “Good Behavior,” starring Michelle Dockery of “Downton Abbey” fame, is about a thief and con artist who becomes entangled with a hit man’s plan.

“Like all pilots, you wait and see if it gets picked up…and then wait and see whether it can be produced here,” Griffin noted.

Still, he said it’s hopeful news for Wilmington’s film industry,which has taken some major hits this year. Both the Fox series “Sleepy Hollow” and ABC’s “Secrets and Lies” announced their departure from the area this year. And earlier this month, CBS decided to cancel its locally filmed sci-fi show, “Under the Dome.”

Even more promising than a pilot, Griffin added, is the beefed up spending for the film grant program included in the N.C. General Assembly’s 2015-16 budget, which has yet to get formal approval from Gov. Pat McCrory.

Budget leaders agreed this week to allot $30 million to the statewide grant this year. It’s less than the House’s budget proposal of $40 million and a far cry from the tax incentives that expired in 2014.

Between 2012 and 2014, the state awarded tax credits of between $60 and $65 million each year, Griffin said, with the exception of a hefty $20 million for the locally shot “Iron Man 3.” The credit provided a 25 percent tax break for productions that spent at least $250,000, with a maximum per production of $20 million.

But Griffin said $30 million is a good first step on the road ahead to repair the local industry.

“We’re excited that the legislature has decided to extend the film incentive and increase the investment from last year.” he said. “Now, we plan to work hard to put that money to good use.”

It’s still too early to begin promoting the better-funded grant program to potential clients, Griffin said, since it’s not yet official. But if that extra money stays in the pot, he said it will give the commission an opportunity to show how vital the film industry is to this area.

“I look forward to in a year or two being able to look back and say, ‘here’s what we were able to do with that money. With the current grant funding, that went very quickly. So, without more money we didn’t have the ability to recruit productions,” he said.

Senator Michael Lee would agree.

“I am pleased that my Senate colleagues, after much negotiation, have agreed to increase the funding levels for this important program,” he said. “While there is still much more that can be done, today is a victory for both our region and our state.”

Lee and Davis, both Republicans who represent New Hanover County, introduced companion bills earlier this year to up the funding to $66 million.

While $30 million is significantly less, Davis said it’s still a win for an industry for which he has long championed. Davis–who introduced the bill last year that would have extended the tax incentives for one year–said he has worked tirelessly for months to convince his fellow Republicans, many of whom previously opposed any incentive program, to improve film funding, not just for those employed by the industry but for the vendors who benefit from productions.

“I have been fighting tirelessly for the film industry since the day I stepped into office,” he said. “Today is a good day for both New Hanover County and the State of North Carolina.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter for Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.