WILMINGTON — Making his return to the Port City less than five months after exiting, actor Michael Shannon — who will portray George Jones in the upcoming Paramount series “George and Tammy,” filmed in Wilmington through March this year — is embarking on his next project: “Eric LaRue.”
The film is based on Brett Neveu’s 2002 play, written in the aftermath of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. Neveu also adapted the screenplay for Shannon’s directorial debut.
It deals with the aftereffects of a school shooting and how families left behind work through the trauma. Particularly, the story centers on a mother, Janice, whose 17-year-old son shoots and kills his classmates. As Janice struggles to face the aftermath, she meets with other mothers who are dealing with the indelible pain of losing their own teenagers at the hands of her imprisoned son.
The movie has signed on talent including Judy Greer, Alexander Skarsgard, Tracy Letts, Alison Pill, Kate Arrington, Paul Sparks and Annie Parisse.
The first film permits came in through the city indicating the production will set up at a local nursing home on Monday and a downtown church by mid week.
Shannon — an Oscar nominee for his performances in “Nocturnal Animals” and “Revolutionary Road” — originally had the film slated to roll in Arkansas. He had worked in the state before with Sarah Green and Jeff Nichols, both of whom are producing and executive producing “Eric LaRue.”
Offices were set to open in Little Rock at the end of June, but when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 29, the production switched gears.
The law had a ripple effect in states that set their own laws regarding a woman’s right to an abortion. In Arkansas, it triggered a ban on the procedure, even in the event of rape and incest, with the only exception being if the mother’s life is threatened by a medical emergency.
The federal law also mobilized reactions from the film industry. Producers on “Eric LaRue” contacted local production designer Chad Keith about possibly coming to Wilmington, as North Carolina wasn’t affected by the changed ruling and still allows abortions up to 20 weeks.
Keith and Shannon have a decade of experience working together, including on 2016’s “Midnight Special” and “Loving,” as well as 2011’s “Take Shelter.” Keith had already flown to Arkansas in late May to help secure locations, he said.
“But I knew what they needed there could be done here,” Keith added. “A prison, a church, some basic spots Wilmington can replicate.”
Shannon also had familiarity with the coastal town, due to filming “George and Tammy” with Jessica Chastain last fall into early spring.
It’s not the first time a state’s film incentive has been impacted by legislation. North Carolina has been in the hot seat, most recently in 2017 with the anti-LGBTQ House Bill 2. It effectively targeted transgender populations and required people use public restrooms that corresponded with the sex listed on their birth certificates.
Some productions began boycotting filming in North Carolina thereafter, including Netflix. The streaming giant took its popular hit series “Outer Banks” — which became the most watched show among all streaming services in August 2021 — to Charleston, South Carolina, News and Observer reported. It’s now going into season three of production in the Palmetto State.
HB2 was fully repealed in North Carolina by December 2020 and Netflix has returned to Wilmington for “Florida Man” (release date yet to be announced) and “Echoes” (debuting Aug. 19). Amazon’s “The Summer I Turned Pretty” is now filming its second season in town as well.
“We do not know exactly how many projects were lost,” Wilmington Film Commission executive director Johnny Griffin told Port City Daily in regards to HB2 and the local industry.
He said Raleigh leaders asked that question plenty while in the throes of declining film revenue; 2017 and 2018 brought in $39 and $34 million, respectively. That’s a 10th of what 2021 garnered, one of the local industry’s largest yet at over $300 million just in Wilmington and over $400 million statewide.
“Our response was always: ‘We do not know the number of productions that did not come here due to HB2 because projects did not call and say they would have come but for…” Griffin said.
Still, Griffin confirmed that back then various companies publicly said they would no longer consider spending with North Carolina as long as HB2 was law.
The initial hit came at a time when Wilmington also was climbing its way out of losing its once generous film incentive, another legislation move that hindered the financial impact the industry has on the state. The program offered a 25% tax credit for projects with a minimum $250,000 and a maximum $25 million spend until it sunset in 2014. Legislators revamped it in 2015 as a rebate and implemented more restrictions.
Today, it has a $31 million annual pool to pull from for projects that meet minimum spending requirements, such as $250,000 for commercials and up to $1.5 million for feature films.
At the end of the day, the incentive, Griffin said, really drives in the productions. He told Port City Daily he hasn’t received many more calls from projects looking to relocate to Wilmington since Roe v. Wade legislation changed in the last month.
“We are hearing that the response to various ‘social legislation issues’ will probably be more dependent upon ‘talent’ as opposed to ‘corporate’ decisions,” he said. “In other words, companies will probably still make decisions about where projects locate based more upon cost and creative issues. However, once talent gets attached to a project, their personal feelings will begin to influence the decision making process.”
“Eric LaRue” is produced by Sarah Green from Brace Cove Productions, Karl Hartman from Big Indie Pictures, and Jina Panebianco from CaliWood Pictures. Jeff Nichols, R. Wesley Sierk III, Byron Wetzel, Meghan Schumacher, Declan Baldwin and John D. Straley are executive producers.
Shannon also appears in “Bullet Train,” which opened Aug. 5 — starring Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Joey King.
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