House budget bumps film funding up to $40M


The N.C. House’s proposed spending plan for 2015-16 could be promising for the state’s film industry.

Included in the House’s recently approved $22.2 billion budget for next fiscal year is $40 million for filming–a boost from the already-spent $10 million grant in the current budget, but a drop in the originally recommended $60 million allocation.

Lawmakers whittled that figure down to $40 million in committee last Thursday before taking the budget to the floor.

While any boost is good news, Wilmington Regional Film Commission director Johnny Griffin said $60 million in funding would have nearly returned the state to the days of the film tax incentive program, which expired in December 2014 and was replaced with the $10 million North Carolina Film and Entertainment Grant.

Between 2012 and 2014, the state awarded tax credits of between $60 and $65 million each year, Griffin said, with the exception of a hefty $20 million for the locally shot “Iron Man 3.”  The credit provided a 25 percent tax break for productions that spent at least $250,000, with a maximum per production of $20 million.

“So, to get $60 million in funding from the legislature would put us back in the ballpark,” Griffin noted. “Anything less than that means that we obviously would do less business. At some point you do run out of the money and you do have to tell the clients, ‘That’s it; we’re done.’”

He has had to say that often these days, as the $10 million grant was quickly parceled out to the locally shot CBS series, “Under the Dome” and two other projects shooting elsewhere in the state.

“Under the Dome” received $5 million of grant funds in April, with another $4 million going to an untitled Lionsgate Television Project expected to shoot in the western part of the state and $1 million to “Late in the Season” –about a 31-year-old stockbroker with a mysterious past who walks on to a small North Carolina college basketball team and inspires his struggling teammates’ lives. The latter film will shoot on the campus of Davidson College, just south of Charlotte, and be based in the greater metropolitan area.

“I talk to producers constantly and they say, ‘We’ve considered North Carolina but…,” Griffin said.

Earlier this year, a group of local officials and film advocates announced its intention to work with state lawmakers on a push to increase the existing grant maximum.

Rep. Ted Davis and Sen. Michael Lee, both Republicans who represent New Hanover County, introduced companion bills to up the funding to $66 million because, Lee said, they “felt that was the correct number.”

“While $40 million is significantly less, I think everyone would agree that funding at that level would be welcome by all,” Lee said.

Davis agreed.

“I am ecstatic,” he said. “That is four times the amount that we presently have in the grant. That is four times more than the governor put in his proposed budget. I think it’s fantastic that the House agreed to put $40 million in that budget. I think it sends a strong message to the Senate that the House supports the film industry and wants the film industry to be here.”

Davis–who introduced the bill last year that would have extended the tax incentives for one year–said he has worked tirelessly for months to convince his fellow Republicans, many of whom previously opposed any incentive program, to improve film funding, not just for those employed by the industry but for the vendors who benefit from productions.

“I just have preached the sermon, so to speak, that it goes far beyond those people that may just work [on film sets],” he said. “I have been concerned about the thousands of people who could be losing their jobs, and I guess that’s why I’ve been so passionate about it.”

Now, he added, what happens next is out of his hands.

“I’ve done what I can do. I don’t know how else to say it. I don’t know how I could do any more than what I have done on my end to help the film industry,” he said.

Once the House version is in hand– likely to happen Tuesday—Lee said he and fellow film industry supporter, Brunswick County Sen. Bill Rabon, will be working to keep the Senate figure “as close to the House number as possible.”

But he acknowledged it may be a difficult task.

“The Senate leadership has made no commitment on whether they will support funding the film grant program at this time,” Lee said. “As you may know, the Senate leadership has not been supportive in the past.”

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