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Let’s reel film industry back to North Carolina

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Despite last weekend’s beautiful weather, many North Carolinians spent at least some of their time inside movie theaters, adding to the $76 million opening weekend profits of “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” the latest superhero film from Marvel Studios. The sequel beat all other contenders, as well as surpassing the $57.2 million opening of the original “Ant-Man” film in 2015.

North Carolina could have had a hand in making the film — and sharing in its profits. But it was impossible to ignore the words flashing on the screen during the (must-see) closing credits: “Made in Georgia.”

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is the fifth major film directed by Raleigh native and UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus Peyton Reed, who had hoped to shoot the first Ant-Man film in North Carolina, he told The News & Observer of Raleigh in a 2015 interview.

“It’s a bummer,” Reed told the News & Observer. “There’s this notion that movies are only temporary and make no permanent contribution to the state infrastructure, but the benefits are there. I’ve had a long-held desire to make a movie in North Carolina, and that’s tougher now. It’s millions of dollars, and that matters.”

North Carolina, with its varied scenery and local talent, was on its way to becoming a movie-making mecca in the mid-2000s, drawing film and TV productions such as “Iron Man 3,” “The Hunger Games” and “Eastbound and Down.” From 2007 to 2012, the film industry spent more than $1 billion here, including $58.3 million in tax revenue for the state — even after the tax credit, according to a 2014 study sponsored by the film industry.

The film industry also supported the livelihoods of line producers, cameramen, gaffers, grips and actors, as well as ancillary businesspeople such as caterers, carpenters and hotel owners.

But after state legislators let North Carolina’s strong film tax credit program expire in 2014, productions began moving to states such as Georgia that offer robust financial incentives. This cost us many jobs and much prestige.

Just last month, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis told WECT-TV in Wilmington that legislators made a mistake when they ended the film incentives and replaced them with grants. He said that legislators “seriously diminished” the industry’s effect on the coastal economy. (Tillis was the speaker of the state House when the change was made.)

What a dud of a decision. It’s as if we just gave away the money.

“In Georgia, film is a $9.5 billion industry,” Rebecca Clark, director of the Piedmont Triad Film Commission said. “To say $9.5 billion isn’t benefiting the state, its citizens or businesses is absolutely nonsensical. The amount of jobs it provides for its citizens — and our crew, who have had to move there to work — has been phenomenal.”

Currently, the state offers film grants of up to $31 million annually with a 25-percent tax rebate in hopes of renewing film industry investments. The grant program has been tweaked since 2014, slowly becoming more generous, but it has not been enough to restore what was lost.

“I’m hopeful that these positive small changes made each year will lead us back to where N.C. once was,” Clark said, “with an incentive competitive with our neighboring states. We have everything to win once our incentive is improved: jobs for our local crew and graduates from state-supported film schools, millions or billions of dollars coming into our local economy, even new brick-and-mortar businesses that support the film industry (including stages and equipment rental houses) and the worldwide positive publicity that filmmaking provides a state. We have nothing to lose.”

With the success of “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” there will surely be more sequels. Reed’s future also looks bright. North Carolina could prosper with them — if we went big.

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