County leaders press for film funding as local film foundation begins grant push

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Over a week ago headlines were made when a producer opted out of coming to North Carolina to film a series for Netflix. County leaders are pushing the state to move more on film funding.

Since tax credits were taken off the table, various grants now fuel the rather dull N.C. film industry. Lawmakers have made steps to improve the grants year after year, but local leaders here want to see more.

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At the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) Legislative Goals Conference that met last Friday, New Hanover County Commissioners Jonathan Barfield, Jr. and Rob Zapple advocated to rebuild the state-wide film industry by adding it as a legislative priority for the state association.

“It’s not working, we need to get back to the basics,” said chairman Barfield.

The basics being shared at the fILM in NC 2019 Forum that hosted current and aspiring filmmakers. Cucalorus Film Foundation executive director Dan Brawley tells us about how they work to get money into the hands of film projects.



“It’s a catalyst for you know new work being made in North Carolina,” said Brawley.

That spark is coming from their own local grants they push to filming both big and small.

There is the desire from producers and directors to be in Wilmington,” said Brawley. “We just need to make it a little bit easier for them to sell that to the financial side of it.”

It’s money from Raleigh that Brawley and others also want to see more of.

“We’re seeing so much money go to other states,” said Barfield.

Barfield along with commissioner Rob Zapple sent a message to Raleigh that he wants filming in our area to be a priority. The push comes as Wilmington hosts only one production right now. It’s also on the heels of a Netflix producer telling the StarNews that they passed on filming in the state because of an add-on in a revised HB2 that prevents local leaders to propose antidiscrimination laws.

“Looking at what happened with Netflix right now just gives us further of a need to recognize to bring some type of, the right incentive back here to bring jobs back to our community,” said Barfield.

It’s a community that still understands film equals jobs.

“The goal is to get those kind of big projects here and give the local filmmakers a chance to get on those big projects to learn from others that have done it before,” said Guy Gaster who is the director of the North Carolina Film Office.

Gaster says the goal to get past the HB2 backlash is for the state to become consistent with its financial support of film to return. At the peak of the states film credits around 2012, the state department of revenue recorded upwards to $340 million was spent by film productions. Millions of that was reimbursed by the state.

Since the credits were taken away, the state created incentive grants that in the past years have been increased and a sunset date was taken off them allowing funded by the state to be recurring.

“There have been great strides in the grant program,” said Gaster. “Granted it’s baby steps but they are steps in the right direction.”

Wilmington saw key productions like ‘Words on Bathroom Walls’ and ‘Swamp Thing’ in 2018. ‘Words’ received funding through the states incentive grants. ‘Thing’ according to Barfield is already leaving an imprint on the local economy.

“I had a film commission meeting this morning and it was pointed out that with ‘Swamp Thing’ being here they’re signing over 300 paychecks a week,” said Barfield.

Barfield says he plans to take the will of the commission to lawmakers in May.