Since North Carolina lawmakers passed legislation in 2013 to strip away the tax incentives for filming projects, the filmmaking industry of NC has been on a sharp decline. Yet this year has presented a glimmer of hope for the filmmaking community here as large productions have slowly returned to North Carolina as our system of grants have begun appealing to some productions. The Oscar nominated film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” despite its title, was filmed outside of Asheville in the small town of Sylva. This is just a small step in rebuilding the filmmaking industry in North Carolina, and the struggle to do so is far from over.
This desire to rebuild the filmmaking community in North Carolina is one shared by Jake Camp, Amber Adams and Nick Westfall, all natives of the Triad area who are planning on opening their new production company’s headquarters in downtown Greensboro with hopes to be in full operation by the fall.
The aim of the company will be to produce feature films, commercials, music videos and TV series. Camp has experience working as a production manager on television shows on the Food Network such as “The Barefoot Contessa” and “The Pioneer Woman.” Adams has worked as a director, producer and choreographer and hails from Winston-Salem. Westfall has worked as a writer, director and producer.
Together the three have already united on a feature film titled “8 Slices” written by Nick Westfall; the film questions the realities of the American Dream, a topic that all three must feel personally connected to as the current system of grants for filmmakers in North Carolina is set against smaller productions like their own.
Where the previous incentives system reimbursed the production company 25 percent of its spending inside of North Carolina, the new system of grants is far more limited. The grants for this year total only $34 million, which may seem sufficient for the small community we have in the state but when you dive into who qualifies for the grants it gets much more complicated.
According to the current NC system, 25 percent of a film’s budget can be reimbursed, so long as the grants funds are there. However, in order to qualify for this refund, a film production must spend $5 million to even qualify, whereas before the minimum was only $250,000. It is essentially the same for television shows as well. Each episode must spend $1 million in state before it can qualify for any grants. Similar to the films, the old system for shows had a far lower spending barrier of $250,000 per episode.
To put those numbers in perspective, “The Wire,” “Doctor Who” and “Downton Abbey” spent $1.5 million per episode. So, unless large productions decide to upend themselves and move to North Carolina, those funds are rarely going to be seen – especially not by smaller independent filmmakers. Camp, Adams and Westfall self-financed film “8 Slices” are working with a budget of only $125,000.
This system of grants is disproportionately suited to helping Hollywood studio produced films or well financed independent projects– not the smaller independent projects that many local filmmakers work on or even films like the Oscar nominated independent film, “The Florida Project,” which had a budget of $2 million. Returning to a system that encourages the medium tier of filmmaking will be crucial to restoring a filmmaking industry in North Carolina.
A medium tier would help smaller filmmaking companies like Camp’s remain competitive while still contributing to the economy of the state we call home. There are many structural advantages afforded to filmmakers in North Carolina yet there are not enough to rebuild an industry if the smaller production companies must fight for any government incentives.