The Washington Post

North Carolina film industry hoping for ‘last-minute Hail Mary rescue’ of tax incentives

A scene from the CBS drama “Under the Dome,” which is filmed in North Carolina. Pictured from left, actors Colin Ford (Joe), Rachelle Lefevre (Julia Shumway), Jolene Purdy (Dodee) and Mackenzie Lintz (Norrie). (Kent Smith/CBS Broadcasting)

North Carolina’s tax incentives for film and television production were not renewed last week when the state legislature adjourned, leading some who work in the film industry there either hope for a last-minute extension of the program or look into moving.

“It essentially renders North Carolina no longer competitive in the industry,” said Katy Feinberg, vice president of McGuireWoods Consulting. “It’s a slap in the face to a lot of working families. They’re all looking at houses in Savannah and Atlanta.”

The state has previously offered about 25 cents for every dollar filming projects spend in the state, which last year totaled about $61 million in tax incentives. Unless Gov. Pat McCrory (R) calls a special legislative session, those incentives will end come January and will be replaced with a grant program with an annual cap of $10 million. A spokesman for McCrory said, when asked the possibility of a special session that, “everything’s to be determined.”

“We’re hoping that somehow there’s going to be a last-minute Hail Mary rescue,” said Chris Bromley, a unit production manager and line producer from Wilmington, N.C., who’s worked on “The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Conjuring,” and “Tammy.” He called the grant program “getting someone who wears size 12 shoes size 6 shoes for Christmas.”

“There seems to be no explanation for why it’s being done,” he said. “For an administration that is running on job creation and job growth and economic development, it’s very difficult to understand.”

Georgia and Louisiana — both with Republican governors and conservative legislatures — offer film and television production tax incentives, but a general opposition to incentives of any kind by conservative state lawmakers have made North Carolina a different case, Feinberg, Bromley and others who spoke with The Post said. A campaign describing the incentives as “Hollywood handouts” from Americans for Prosperity didn’t help.

Carole Peterman, a unit production manager and line producer from Wilmington, N.C., said the effects of the incentives expiring have been immediate for the three projects she’s currently working on, which have either chosen not to film in the state or are considering that option. Those projects are a pilot that’s now shooting in Virginia, a $14 million feature film that could now head to Louisiana or Georgia, and a movie of the week that will film in North Carolina only if it’s able to wrap up filming before the end of the year when the incentive program expires. If not, it’s heading to New Orleans or Toronto.

“The work will follow the incentives,” she said.

North Carolina’s cut in incentives comes as California readies a quadrupling of its incentives to $400 million a year. The California bill has breezed through the legislature with unanimous votes and no vocal opposition; only Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who must sign the bill, has expressed any hesitancy over the increase, viewing it as a race to the bottom.

Hunter Schwarz covers the intersection of politics and pop culture for the Washington Post

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