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State still pays big for film incentives

By Mark Washburn

A bill to rescind tax incentives to the movie and TV industry is mired in the N.C. legislature and its prospects for passage appear dim.

That’s good news for filmmakers, who can get up to 25 percent back for productions done in the state, like the Showtime espionage thriller “Homeland,” which is filmed in the Charlotte area and got $7.6 million in incentives last year based on $30.3 million in spending.

Supporters of incentives say the practice brings hundreds of millions of dollars in investment to the state. Opponents question whether the jobs created are worth it – most are short-term – and whether the film industry deserves to get such benefits when other businesses don’t.

North Carolina is among the most generous states in offering incentives, along with Louisiana and Georgia. Film investment has increased annually over the last three years since the latest incentives went into effect: $10 million in 2010, $121 million in 2011 and $278 million in 2012.

“Iron Man 3” led the league in payouts from North Carolina last year. Producers reported spending $81 million on the movie shot in Wilmington and got the maximum possible refund from the state, $20 million. Producers reported hiring 2,377 people for the film, which includes extras.

“Hunger Games,” which was shot in the Charlotte region and grossed about $700 million at the box office, was No. 2, with $55 million in spending, earning $13.7 million in incentives. It created 1,133 jobs.

Overall last year, the N.C. Department of Revenue says qualifying productions spent $278 million in the state, created 14,083 jobs and got incentives of $69 million.

During the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” originated from ImaginOn. Producers reported $760,846 in spending and got $190,211 from the state. Producers reported no local hiring, but spent $272,512 that week in wages for staff.

Remember Emily Maynard ’s turn as “The Bachelorette”? Several episodes were shot in Charlotte, including one where she scaled the side of the Mint Museum Uptown. N2K Productions reported spending $3.3 million, hiring 151 people and got $832,169 in incentives.

Commercials qualify for incentives, too. Dale Earnhardt Jr. starred in one filmed in Mooresville for his sponsor, Diet Mountain Dew, which debuted during the Daytona 500. Total spending for the project was $1.3 million, including $1.1 million in wages. Producers said they hired 109 people for the commercial and got $330,938 in incentives.

One persistent criticism of film incentives is that it’s a race to the bottom. Filmmakers go where they can get the best deal, so when the next state offers better incentives you can expect to lose business.

South Carolina has just returned to the film incentive game. Wooing the new CBS legal drama “Reckless,” which is set in Charleston, the state just passed incentives roughly equal to those in North Carolina.

Media Movers

Sean Bell takes over as co-host for the Saturday night “Got Game” show on WCCB (Channel 18). ... Bit of trivia from this week’s network swap with the CW going to WCCB and Fox shows going to WJZY (Channel 46). Ashley Anderson was a reporter for WCCB on its first 10 p.m. news show, on New Year’s night in 2000. On Sunday, the last night of the station’s affiliation with the Fox network, she anchored the newscast. ...

WFAE-FM’s (NPR, 90.7) next Public Conversations forum will be 7 p.m. Thursday at the Levine Museum of the New South for a discussion of “The Gathering Power of Food.” It will be moderated by Levine historian Tom Hanchett and include Rock Hill communal food enthusiast Stephen Crotts and WFAEats editor Amy Rogers. ... Justin LeBlanc of Raleigh will be a contestant on the next season of “Project Runway,” debuting 9 p.m. July 18 on Lifetime.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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