WILMINGTON – In a time when filmmakers are increasingly relocating outside of Los Angeles and New York City, Wilmington has been named one of “Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker in 2021” by MovieMaker magazine.
The port city was a newcomer to the publication’s list in 2020, ranking ninth out of 10 small cities and towns. In 2021 it secured its spot for yet another year in spite of the challenges presented by the pandemic.
The only North Carolina city honored, Wilmington is among recipients across the U.S. and Canada, including Ashland, Oregon (#10); Richmond, Virginia (#8); and New Orleans (#1).
“It shows that we’re regaining our position once again,” Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, Inc., said. “We’ve been recognized two years in a row. Even a year when we had Covid, we were still recognized as a great place to work, with good business here. So we think things are obviously turning for us and we hope to continue that trend moving forward.”
MovieMaker undergoes a thorough process to select the locations on its list. It sends out surveys, researches the area’s tax incentives and recent productions, and sometimes visits the locations. This year it considered how local industries were coping with the pandemic as well.
Griffin said film has the strictest protocols of any industry in town. Those include constant indoor and outdoor mask enforcement, limited capacity in vans, virtual meetings and routine Covid-19 testing at least once a week (although some crew members receive tests up to three or five times a week.)
Introducing its list, MovieMaker staff wrote of how many filmmakers are reconsidering where they live as the industry adopts more of the remote and virtual practices introduced throughout the pandemic. Especially those in Los Angeles and New York City are weighing whether being in the hubs of entertainment are necessary or worth the high living costs anymore.
“This was obviously a very different year for our annual list of the Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker — it’s a time of incredible upheaval, but also opportunity,” MovieMaker editor-in-chief Tim Molloy said in a press release. “Many in the film and TV industry are looking to change their way of life, and many cities and towns across the country are welcoming these storytellers with open arms.”
In its explanation for Wilmington’s spot on the lineup, MovieMaker specifically highlighted the Cucalorus Festival, calling it “deliciously offbeat, smashingly innovative, charmingly anti-competitive.” Because of Covid-19, the 2020 festival was a hybrid of virtual events and drive-in cinema. Organizers recommitted to paying creators as well as the programmers who vetted films, while also waiving the fee for Black, Indigenous and Latinx filmmakers.
MovieMaker also celebrated the city’s “brimming” film history and statewide 25% rebate that attracts projects to the region. It gave props to the city’s crews, sound stages and diverse locations, calling the area’s “more mysterious than they seem” suburbs a specialty. Although Wilmington also boasts coastal scenery and the 50-acre EUE Screen Gems Studios.
Currently, STARZ’s “Hightown” and Fox’s remake of the BBC show “This Country” are set up in town, as are two feature films, “I.S.S.” and “Static.”
According to the entertainment news site Deadline, “I.S.S.” is a space thriller following astronauts who receive a distressing message from Earth. Put on by LD Entertainment, the movie stars Chris Messina and Pilou Asbaek and is directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite.
There is not yet any information available on “Static.”
“Reprisal,” “Halloween Kills,” “The Georgetown Project,” “The Lost Boys,” “USS Christmas” and “Scream” all wrapped over the last year and a half.
The North Carolina Film Office estimates statewide, projects spent $106.7 million in direct in-state expenses in 2020. That would be roughly $60 million less than 2019 but about double the spending of 2017 and 2018. The economic impact in Wilmington is estimated to be around $65 million in 2020, according to Griffin. That’s more than 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Below are MovieMaker’s 2021 Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker.
10. Calgary, Alberta
15. Oklahoma City
17. San Diego
20. Washington DC
21. Kansas City, Missouri
22. San Antonio
25. St. Petersburg
Small cities and towns
1. New Orleans
2. Santa Fe, New Mexico
5. Victoria, British Columbia
9. Wilmington, North Carolina
10. Ashland, Oregon
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