WILMINGTON — The number was $115-million before the year started. By May, it was expected to reach $217 million. It jumped to $331 million in July, and was up to $409 by August.
“Record-shattering,” the governor called it, when he visited EUE/Screen Gems Studios on a summer day. The grounds of the film studio were bustling and local officials had gathered in one of the stages to recognize what they’d all learned to be true:
2021 would be a record year for film in North Carolina — specifically, in Wilmington.
Productions were on track to invest more money than they ever had in the state in one year. It was certainly the largest tally since the creation of the North Carolina Film and Entertainment Grant in 2014.
The Wilmington Regional Film Commission is reporting a local economic impact between $300 and $325 million, though the final tally won’t be known for at least two to three months. Approximately 1,300 film workers were employed at the peak.
The film industry continued to benefit from the strong demand for new content, stemming from proliferating streaming services and consumer trends following lockdowns in early 2020.
North Carolina also saw production companies return to reap the benefits of the state film incentive and after remnants of House Bill 2 expired. Perhaps most notably, Netflix filmed three major projects in southeastern N.C. this year, despite having bypassed the state earlier for its hit “Outer Banks” when the legislation was still in play.
The success didn’t come without threats: Covid-19 still lingered, and nationwide film workers nearly went on strike in a fight for better wages and working conditions.
Let’s take a look back.
Netflix’s film “Along for the Ride” got people particularly excited as crews set up on Pleasure Island. Carolina and Kure Beach served as the “charming beach town” backdrop needed for the story. Cameras started rolling in April and continued through the summer, with crews also traveling to Wilmington and Oak Island.
The movie is an adaptation of a young adult novel by Sarah Dessen, a popular author based in Chapel Hill. The release date is yet known, but when it does come out, viewers could possibly recognize locations such as Nauti Dog Restaurant, Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park and the beach strand.
Wilmington landed back-to-back, made-for-TV movies in the spring and summer, including “Line Sisters,” produced by North Carolina-based company Swirl Films. The Lifetime film premieres Feb. 12 at 8 p.m.
Hallmark filmed two movies: “One Summer,” which premiered in September, and “Christmas In Harmony,” which debuted in late October.
Indie crime thriller “Breakwater” started rolling in the fall.
Amazon Studios’ “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” shot the first season of the upcoming show based on the Jenny Han novel earlier this year. It is produced by wiip Studios.
“Our Kind of People,” a Twentieth Century Television production, premiered its first season on FOX this September and will run its finale Tuesday. The show began pre-production in May and stayed in the area until November. At one point it captured a scene at the Black Lives Do Matter art installation, and the show also highlights other familiar locations, including Station No. 2, Cape Fear Country Club and Brooklyn Arts Center Annex.
“Echoes,” a Netflix mystery thriller about two identical twins who trade lives until one disappears, based its production out of EUE/Screen Gems Studios through the fall into winter. Its release date is to be announced.
“Florida Man,” another Netflix series starring Edgar Ramírez, again has an unknown release date, but once out, viewers should look closely for the set constructed at The Pointe, which features façades of an AutoZone and a barn. The crew also made stops at many local businesses, such as Unifirst, All Ways Graphics, Copper Penny, Hell’s Kitchen and Quanto Basta.
“One True Loves,” a movie adaption of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel of the same title, shot mainly in October. It brought Marvel star Simu Liu to the area, and after it wrapped, he gave a nod to Wilmington when he hosted “Saturday Night Live.” The episode included a sketch poking fun at the Port City karaoke scene.
A miniseries produced by Spectrum Originals, MTV Entertainment Studios and 101 Studios, “George and Tammy” has brought star power to the Cape Fear with Jessica Chastain starring as Tammy Wynette alongside Michael Shannon as George Jones. The production will be released on Spectrum Originals, Paramount+ and Paramount Network. It is one of two projects continuing to shoot as of late December.
“Boys of Summer” is the second project continuing production into the new year. The film stars the controversial and well-known Mel Gibson. Southport is particularly excited about serving as the home base of the movie, perhaps the most enthusiastic since “Safe Haven” was filmed in the city nearly 10 years ago. The mayor even proclaimed “Mel Gibson Day” last month.
Documentary TV took interest in Wilmington, too
The PBS reality show “Start Up,” which profiles entrepreneurs across the U.S., put a magnifying glass on the southeast in its ninth season. It filmed five episodes about local businesses: End of Days Distillery, Bitty and Beau’s Coffee, Genesis Block, Sea Love Sea Salt and Tru Colors Brewery. The 26-minute episodes are available to watch online.
Mike Rowe’s new show “How America Works” chose the Wilmington Police Department as the organization to showcase how law enforcement works in the U.S. The episode was filmed mainly at the headquarters in July and followed five officers.
Governor visits Wilmington to celebrate
Gov. Roy Cooper visited Screen Gems in August to celebrate the fact North Carolina was on track to beat its record. The lot was particularly buzzing that day, with multiple productions in town at the time. Some of the top local officials came out for the announcement and to hear Screen Gems executive vice president Bill Vassar and chair of the governor’s film council Susi Hamilton speak.
“We are bringing the film industry back in North Carolina,” the governor exclaimed. “And I want to say thank you to the people who always believed: The small businesses, the community leaders, who knew how important this industry was, not only to the Wilmington area but all across the state.”
IATSE nearly strikes
Film crew workers were close to walking off sets this year, going as far as putting together picket signs and making arrangements to meet Oct. 18 outside Screen Gems to protest the productions housed there.
But the strike was called off the Saturday night before by leaders of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) after the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) agreed to resume negotiations on its labor contracts.
Previously, bargaining hit a standstill as IATSE demanded better wages and improved working conditions. After the two parties returned to the bargaining table, a deal was struck that included across-the-board raises, meal penalties, mandatory 10-hour breaks between shifts, and 54-hour rest periods on the weekends.
The terms of the three-year renegotiated agreements were met with some pushback from members who felt the deals didn’t go far enough, but it was ultimately ratified by a unionwide electoral college-style vote.
City helps kick-start film job training program
American Rescue Plan Act funds dispersed throughout the nation gave the City of Wilmington an opportunity to allocate seed money toward a new film workforce training program.
The Film Partnership of North Carolina was created as a nonprofit to oversee the program and received $400,000 from the city to kick off the first cohort of 90 people in the new year. There will be a focus on enrolling women and people of color.
Trainees will spend the first few days in a classroom, learning safety precautions of sets and getting an understanding of the industry. Then, they will shift to work on productions for roughly five weeks. Participants will receive $15 an hour in compensation as part of the program.
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