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Restore tax credits to bring TV, movie industry investment

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We could have been a contender.

North Carolina’s film industry has struggled to regain the strong footing it had before the Republican-led state legislature axed the tax credits that once made film production companies feel welcome here. But it will take plenty of work to overcome Hollywood’s concerns, as the Winston-Salem Journal’s Richard Craver reported last week.

When it comes to the talent and the locations that draw filmmakers, we’ve got everything it takes to be competitive. But other states, like Georgia, are eating our lunch when it comes to the financial incentives that make a state attractive to the film industry.

The film tax credits created in 2005 and increased in 2009 once drew film and TV productions like “Iron Man 3,” “The Hunger Games,” “Sleepy Hollow” and “Eastbound and Down” to North Carolina. And we were rewarded for the investment. 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 commissioned by the N.C. Motion Picture and Television Industry and several regional film commissions.

The business helped support local folks, too — talented actors, resourceful producers and hard-working cameramen, grips and gaffers. Ancillary businesspeople like caterers, carpenters and hotel owners benefited as well.

But legislators let that credit expire in 2014 and productions began moving away.

Another stumbling block was the 2016 passage of House Bill 2, which gave several industries the impression that our state wouldn’t be receptive to their workers and their customers. Though the bill was largely rescinded in 2017, it’s left a stain. 

“It only takes one key person saying they’re not comfortable with being in North Carolina to kill our chances at a production,” Guy Gaster, director of the N.C. Film Office, told the Journal.

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. But that’s not enough to restore what we once had.

“People want to come back to North Carolina. The interest is definitely there,” Rebecca Clark, director of the Piedmont Triad Film Commission, told the Journal after a recent trip to Hollywood. But since 2015, “not one project that has filmed in (the Triad) has benefited from the film grant,” she said.

Clark remains optimistic, noting TV commercials, series episodes and reality TV series that have taken advantage of the incentives. And the North Carolina Film Office, along with Visit NC, is working hard to capitalize on the success of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which was shot in large part in western North Carolina. The film has attracted some tourism.

For all the talk about “liberal” Hollywood, the movie and TV industry is run by conservative businesspeople who want to be sure they’ll get a return on their investment. They’re looking for the best deals and they’re looking for states that offer stability. What’s really needed is a restoration of the full tax-credit program that was putting us on the map and creating jobs.

We could get back into the game, but we’re going to need a bigger boat.

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