Lake Norman drafts policies to address filming popularity

Whether it’s the setting for a NASCAR commercial, a hit TV series or a feature movie, Lake Norman has seen a growing interest as a film location over the past two years.

Cinemax’s “Banshee,” Showtime’s “Homeland” and the feature film “Wish You Were Here” are just a few recent projects that have used the area as a backdrop, and surrounding municipalities expect interest to continue.

Mooresville’s board of commissioners approved a town film policy at its April 15 meeting, and Davidson’s board is expected to consider a similar ordinance at its May 14 meeting.

Mooresville Public Information Officer Kim Sellers said the town felt a policy was needed to encourage future projects, as well as to protect businesses and residents. “We had a very busy year last year,” she said. “We saw an increase with ‘Banshee;’ ‘Homeland’ came back for a few shots. We had a few requests for music videos (and commercials). With all this increased activity, our board said we needed to create a film policy.”

The new policy – which Sellers said is similar to a code in Wilmington, also a popular location for filmmakers – focuses on making sure the parties involved know what’s expected through a no-cost permit process and a preproduction meeting.

“If you want to come, we’d love to have you. Here (are) the steps to make sure we’re doing it right for everyone,” Sellers said.

“It has more to do with getting information and requiring things such as a certificate of insurance … working with police if it involves roadways, the fire department if it involves explosives or pyrotechnics, even if it’s small.”

Tyler Elliott is a key assistant location manager for Screaming Spirit Productions, the group that films “Banshee,” which shot in Mooresville on May 1 and 2. Elliott, a Cornelius resident, said the state’s tax incentives made it possible for production groups to explore the greater Charlotte region, and policies like Mooresville’s help make the process simpler.

“Essentially, there’s one person to oversee the whole process and understand our side and needs, and how to relay information,” Elliott said. “Instead of calling 10 different entities, you can just call one person.”

Portions of Neck Road in Huntersville were closed April 29 and 30 as “Banshee” used the road and Rural Hill as a backdrop, and Elliott said it could be a repeat location like Mooresville is. “There’s a lot of future planning around the lake,” Elliott said.

“The area itself is very attractive in many different ways … there’s a dynamic of architecture – whether you need a big, million-dollar mansion on the lake or a farmhouse that could represent being Amish. It’s all easily found between Mooresville and Huntersville,” he said.

“I used to travel a lot, and it’s kind of an honor to work in my neighborhood and meet my neighbors.”

How can Lake Norman towns continue attracting projects? Elliott said part of feeling welcomed comes from the businesses and citizens.

Screaming Spirit personnel passed out more than 200 fliers to Neck Road residents with information about the April filming. “For location scouts, it’s not always easy walking up to someone’s front door and knocking on it,” he said.

“It’s so far out there for some people to imagine an actual film crew is coming, some disregard (what you tell them) before they even feel you out.

“Don’t be surprised if somebody is knocking on your door,” he said with a laugh.

Beth Petty, with the Charlotte Regional Film Commission, said anyone with a home, business or property to offer as a location for filming can have it listed on the organization’s website. Elliott said the online resource is invaluable to location scouts.

“If you get an out-of-towner from L.A. or New York, the first place they’re going to look is that film commission webpage.”

Davidson staff attorney Cindy Reid said while the town’s current municipal code doesn’t address film production, the proposed ordinance could address similar topics as Mooresville.

“We thought it would be prudent to draft some language to give us a process for some folks who want to come to town,” she said. “What we’d like for the board to approve is an application review fee, permit fee and per diem fee.”

Not only could the new code protect town residents, Reid said, but it could be helpful to groups that may not be familiar with state and local laws. “You can’t use explosions or pyrotechnics unless you have written permission from the fire marshal, but folks coming from out of state may not know they need permission,” she said.

“It’s good to have it all in one place so folks know what the expectations are.”

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