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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

House, Senate agree on $30 million for film grants

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Now that the state Senate leadership has agreed to include $30 million for film grants in each of the next two budgets, Johnny Griffin hopes his office gets busier.

“Obviously we are very excited,” said Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission. “We have been in a holding pattern. This will put us back in business, so to speak.”

State House and Senate leaders reached an agreement on the film grants, which means North Carolina will be able to compete for new film and TV productions, Griffin said.

Senators had been reluctant to support film incentives but included $10 million in their original budget released in June. The House had allotted $40 million.

The compromise reached Tuesday was welcome news to Griffin, who said a number of producers had expressed interest in North Carolina as a location for their projects but would not commit without some sort of incentive.

“It doesn’t take much,” Griffin said. “The films are going to be made somewhere.”

North Carolina has a long history with the film industry, which discovered Wilmington in the early 1980s. The film tax credit that expired in December 2014 kept cameras rolling. Last year, productions spent $241 million in qualifying expenses to earn tax credits of $60 million.

This year, $10 million was available, and it already is spoken for.

The phones at the film office weren’t ringing, but Griffin expects to see some activity soon based on conversations and correspondence with several producers.

“If you don’t have it, you’re off the map,” he said of the incentives program. “I think we will see results.”

State Rep. Ted Davis and Sen. Michael Lee have been working with Republican leaders to ensure that adequate incentives were part of the budget. Davis said Wednesday, Sept. 9 he was relieved a compromise was reached.

“Of course, I would like to have more,” Davis said.

But he is pleased in the increase over the $10 million originally allotted for this year.

“It’s been quite a battle, it really has,” he said. “I feel good about it.”

Lee did not return phone and email messages as of press time, but he and Davis issued a joint statement Tuesday in which the senator was quoted as saying, “The film grant program is one of the only small-business incentives in North Carolina and is vital to New Hanover County. I am pleased that my Senate colleagues, after much negotiation, have agreed to increase the funding levels for this important program. While there is still much more that can be done, today is a victory for both our region and our state.”

Some Wilmington-based crew members have moved to Georgia or other states with more active productions, while those who remained have fewer projects to keep them employed in their trade. Griffin said he looks forward to putting the region’s skilled film crews back to work. When productions regain momentum, it will also be good for local businesses that profited from the presences of film and TV projects that suffered when money for incentives dried up.

“Now the focus is on getting jobs for local crew people, and on helping businesses that have been hurt,” Griffin said. “We’re ready to get started.”

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