Over the summer, North Carolina’s General Assembly cut the financial incentives for production crews that film in the state. These cuts could impact the availability of film jobs in North Carolina, which is bad news for the more than 1,000 students at Elon University studying communications.
North Carolina has had incentives in place since the 1980s and in 2010, increased its reimbursements for film crews to 25 percent of all their expenses. As a result, the state had one of the largest incentive packages for film crews in the country.
Since the raise in 2010, North Carolina has been the backdrop to movies such as “The Hunger Games” and “Iron Man 3,” and television shows such as “Homeland” and “Under the Dome.”
“There’ve been 800 productions in the last 30 years, and to think that’s all going to go away in one sweep of the political pen is daunting for future filmmakers and for the state as a whole,” said Paul Castro, assistant professor of communications at Elon and a former professional screenwriter.
With North Carolina’s new budget, $10 million is set aside for incentives, with a $5 million cap per production. Elon professors with a background in the film industry like Castro and Doug Kass, an instructor in communications, said the cuts will drastically affectthe state’s production.
“Hollywood is filled with businesspeople, and they’re going to go where business is best. If they can get a better tax break in Louisiana or New York or Connecticut or California or New Mexico or any of the other states with better breaks, they’re going to go there,” Kass said.
While states like Wisconsin have cut film incentives in recent years, others such as New York and Louisiana have made sure to increase or at least keep them at normal levels. California is even considering quadrupling its film incentives.
With so many states after film productions, Kass said North Carolina will lose out if all the state has to offer is its visuals.
“If you look at “Homeland,” you wouldn’t look at that and say ‘Oh, that’s definitely North Carolina,’” he said. “Other shows will have a similar issue. There’s few landscapes in North Carolina you couldn’t find elsewhere, and there’s lot of states with better tax breaks.”
The producers of “Homeland” have already announced that new seasons will be filmed in South Africa instead of Charlotte. “Under the Dome” has been shot in Wilmington, and producers have not said whether future seasons will continue to be shot in North Carolina.
Legislators in the General Assembly who pushed to get rid of the incentives, like House Majority Whip Mike Hager, said the incentives were giving away too much state money that could be better spent in other parts of the state. Kass said the way a production’s financial impact in a state is calculated is not accurate.
“They can count the number of hotel rooms, they can tally up the number of restaurant bills and gasoline bought for the time that production is in town,” he said. “But they don’t look at the possible long-term benefits of having films or TV shows shot in a town. How many tourists come to see those places over a period of time? There’s no mechanism to count that.”
A study at North Carolina State University on the impact the incentives had on the state, commissioned by state film commissions, showed that in 2012, the incentives led to the creation of more than 4,000 jobs and had a net contribution to the state of more than $25 million.
“When the Hunger Games came to North Carolina, it created 300 carpenter jobs alone, and they were all local to North Carolina,” Castro said.
He also pointed out that there are now many film production companies all over the state that will be affected by the cut and will have to redefine, relocate or shut down.
“If productions are not coming to North Carolina, and there are companies that support those productions exclusively, then obviously they are going to have to leave, and a lot of people are going to lose their jobs,” he said.
If incentives come back, Castro said it may not suddenly bring back production. As he put it, crews and companies have families and other concerns to keep in mind. Moving back across the country is not “as simple as flipping a switch,” and companies may wait to see if the incentives in North Carolina will be stable.
Kass had a somewhat different view.
“Basically, Hollywood is business and they’re going to go to wherever they can make the most money,” he said. “If the [incentives] come back, production will come back.”