Thursday, April 18, 2024

‘Hightown’ season three renewed, filming returns to Wilmington

Monica Raymund and James Badge Dale star in “Hightown,” which announced season three will begin filming in Wilmington this summer. (Courtesy photo)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Wilmington is poised to become Provincetown, Massachusetts, once again, as STARZ announced season three of its crime drama “Hightown” has been renewed. A spokesperson confirmed production will be in full gear by summer, when cameras are scheduled to roll locally.

Season two of the series, from Lionsgate and Jerry Bruckheimer Television, wrapped in Wilmington last spring.

From executive producer Rebecca Cutter (“Gotham,” “The Mentalist”), “Hightown” follows the story of a gay National Marine Fisheries officer, Jackie Quiñones. In her desire to become a cop, she starts investigating a body that washes ashore in Provincetown. While dealing with murder, organized crime and an opioid crisis in the Cape, Quiñones faces her own struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction.

The show stars Monica Raymund (“Chicago Fire,” “The Good Wife”), James Badge Dale (“The Departed,” “Iron Man 3”), Riley Voelkel (“The Newsroom”), Amaury Nolasco (“Transformers”), Atkins Estimond (“How to Get Away with Murder”), Luis Guzmán (“Traffic,” “Boogie Nights,”) and Dohn Norwood (“The Sinner).

According to Crystal B. Williams, executive director for STARZ and Lionsgate communications, Wilmington makes for a believable Cape Cod double. The show migrated south from New York and Massachusetts during its sophomoric return. 

Southeastern North Carolina’s beaches were the most appealing factor to its location scouts, Williams said, also noting the “relative ease of producing television content in a smaller market like Wilmington.” Projects benefit from less traffic and smaller populations than they would in larger cities.

“Hightown” offices were based on the lot of EUE/Screen Gems Studios in fall 2020, as the film industry was getting back up and running in the midst of the pandemic. Williams attributed the “quality of the local crew” available as another reason to return for season three. 

Johnny Griffin, executive director of the Wilmington Film Commission, gauges “Hightown” utilized a couple hundred film industry workers during its five-month stay.

“I do not have exact numbers,” he clarified, “but for a series of that size I would estimate about 150. Of course, since crew work at different times — prep versus shoot — it could be as high as 200 total.”

Season one premiered in May 2020 with eight episodes. Ten episodes debuted in October 2021 as part of season two. Many filmed at various locations across town: Hanover Seaside Club and Crystal Pier in Wrightsville Beach, St. Mary’s Catholic School on 5th Avenue, Sunset Park, The Harp, the Hannah Block Community Arts Center, among others.

“We are hoping to utilize even more locations to double as Cape Cod this year,” Williams said. “Last season we found so much opportunity there, we’re looking to expand upon it.” 

According to the N.C. Film Office, the STARZ series was approved for a grant rebate of up to $12 million in 2021. Though its final audit isn’t yet available through the state film office, Griffin said “Hightown” would have had to spend at least $48 million to qualify for $12 million in incentives.

“We are excited for their return,” he said.

Griffin also revealed the Wilmington Film Commission is waiting to hear back about renewals from other series that filmed in town in 2021, including Amazon’s “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” Netflix’s “Florida Man,” and Fox’s “Welcome to Flatch” (premiering Mar. 17) and “Our Kind of People” (which debuted last fall and had its last episode from season one air in January).

“Additionally, we are speaking with several other series and feature films, some which could start very soon,” Griffin added.

2021 was the biggest year the film industry has had locally since 2014, when the tax incentive was replaced by the North Carolina Film and Entertainment Grant. The grant tops out at $31 million per fiscal year; productions get up to a 25% rebate, with project caps and minimum budgets in place for feature films, TV series, commercials and made-for-TV films. 

The Wilmington Regional Film Commission is anticipating an economic impact between $300 and $325 million in 2021; the final tally should be released soon. The uptick in productions put approximately 1,300 film employees to work.

 “We expect 2022 to be another successful year,” Griffin said. 

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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