Saturday, October 1, 2022

Film industry faces hurdles in Kure Beach, town says staff needs more time to grant permits

The Netflix film “Along for the Ride” filming in front of the Kure Beach pier. (Netflix/’Along for the Ride’)

KURE BEACH — Productions that plan to set up in a coastal town on Pleasure Island may face a few more steps before getting the greenlight. Town council wants film permits submitted further in advance and for the production to present details at council meetings. 

The council — which discussed the changes at its Monday meeting — will vote next month, Sept. 19, on the proposed revisions. 

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The town rates film projects at low, medium or high-impact. Those in the latter two categories with major effects on town amenities — roads, businesses, trash and maintenance services — would need to gain council approval at a regularly scheduled meeting, held every third Monday of the month.

“When these film productions come into town, everything has to be put aside, block areas, do something that requires approval from every one of our department heads, all seven of them,” Mayor Craig Bloszinsky said during the meeting.

Kure Beach uses its special event permit for film and handles requests, which they receive through email.

The town does not dedicate specific staff for film needs. Unlike the City of Wilmington’s film and media services office, which has the authority to approve permits, Kure Beach relies on its recreation department to handle the items and other special events. 

According to Recreation Director Nikki Keely, the town was receiving requests a week before a production’s shooting date, thus sending her and town staff scrambling to accommodate the project on short notice. 

“It’s just formalizing the process,” Keely said. 

In the meeting, Bloszinsky said the town needed the time between council meetings — roughly 30 days — to handle film permits. He also advocated for a $2,000 fine on permits that require a quick turnaround, but council did not reach a consensus on the suggestion. It will not be written into the revisions, according to Keely. 

“When we disrupt the whole town, there should be a cost for that,” Bloszinsky said during discussion. “I don’t think they will change the way they do business, I just think we should be compensated for jumping through the hoops.”

Kure Beach charges fees for filming permits and assistance, but council members agreed that it was not enough to justify the staff’s often last-minute efforts. 

The town brought in $9,000 from seven permits in fiscal year 2021-2022, granting 10 permits overall. The previous year it issued seven permits, four of which incurred fees totaling $11,000; Netflix’s “Along for the Ride,” which filmed in Kure Beach last spring and debuted in May, made up $6,000.

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“We all love the film industry being here —” Mayor Pro Tem Allen Oliver said, before being cut off by the mayor. 

“Not all of us,” Bloskinsky interrupted.  

Requiring more advance notice may eliminate Kure Beach as an option for productions. 

According to Wilmington Film Commission Director Johnny Griffin, the ever-changing schedules of Hollywood don’t always allow for earlier notice. 

“This will frustrate the process,” he confirmed and explained television and streaming series will face the most impact because its scripts are not written as far in advance. 

“They may have committed to do 10 episodes,” Griffin said, “and the scripts can sometimes come out literally 10 days before they film an episode. And that’s not going to change.” 

He said feature films have an easier time following the proposed rules considering it’s a single script. Still, Griffin said a month’s notice may be hard to reach, as rewrites and updates can be influx throughout the production process.

“If a town was to say, ‘You have to get it to us early,’ [productions] might just say, ‘Well, we just can’t shoot there, then,’” Griffin said. 

If the town’s permitting revisions are passed, Keely said productions will most likely be required to submit requests by the Wednesday before each month’s council meeting — the town’s deadline to place items on the agenda. 

This means productions have a tight window to get their permit approved by council before a shooting date. For example, projects that want to set up in Kure Beach in 10 days, but are faced with a council meeting being 20 days away, may be out of luck.

However, Oliver told Port City Daily on Thursday he didn’t think the new process would hinder a production’s ability to film in Kure Beach.

“Most of them have planned out well in advance what they’re going to do, and they can get with us,” Oliver said. “We just need the film industry to give us more lead time.” 

Keely clarified productions would be able to amend its permit for scheduling reasons, weather delays or other roadblocks, as long as they were “on the town’s radar” weeks in advance. 

Adding the permit approval to the agenda would also give residents the opportunity to share any concerns ahead of the town’s consideration. 

“That’s not fair to the public, for the council to review it via email, where they don’t have a forum,” Keely said. 

Both Keely and Oliver said they had not received any complaints from residents. The town does not require residents to be notified of film disruptions by a certain date, rather extends early notification as a courtesy.

Port City Daily reached out to multiple Kure Beach residents, none of whom reported major inconveniences. Most said they welcomed the film industry.

Susan Sewell, a resident of Atlantic Avenue, said it was exciting when she granted “Hightown” the use of her driveway, when it filmed last year. The production paid her around $200 for the day. 

“I have never been inconvenienced to the point where I would complain about it,” Sewell said. “It’s exciting to watch, it’s exciting to know we’re on the map.”

Sewell said many Kure Beach residents are more concerned with how the town’s plans to upgrade its boardwalk will affect the film industry. 

As part of its $7.2 million Bike and Pedestrian Plan, the town is looking to replace the boardwalk’s wooden planks with another material, possibly concrete, that will require less maintenance and last longer. Opponents cite numerous grievances against changing the look of the boardwalk — which would also be widened —  for environmental, travel and aesthetic concerns, the latter of which has appealed to productions . 

“The pier has remained one foundational constant of this community,” resident Chris Peterson said during Monday’s public comment. 

In a conversation with Port City Daily last month, Griffin said many productions seek out the Kure Beach boardwalk to simulate a New England setting. However, he didn’t anticipate paving it would prevent films and series from locating there. 

“I don’t think it’s a deciding factor,” Griffin said. “Productions choose the Wilmington area for a variety of reasons.” 

Still, some see a change in film permit requirements, on top of a boardwalk remodel, as an indifference toward the film industry in Kure Beach.

“I walked away from that meeting thinking they don’t want the film industry here and they are going to do everything in their power to keep it from coming here,” Sewell said. 

The town council will review the film permit revisions and discuss the boardwalk at their next meeting on Sept. 19.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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