Staff photo by Emmy Errante
Businesses set up display booths at the Wilmington Convention Center to share information with and speak to attendees of the 2013 North Carolina Governor’s Conference on Tourism on March 10 -12.
Drawing more visitors and tourism dollars to every area of the state was the central premise of the Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the Wilmington Convention Center this week. More than 500 tourism and marketing professionals attended.
Attracting Hollywood productions like “Iron Man 3,” “Safe Haven,” “The Hunger Games,” “Revolution,” and most recently, “Under the Dome,” the conference’s theme of “Lights! Cameras! Tourism!” was fitting in Hollywood East. One discussion, led by Johnny Griffin of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, and Aaron Syrett and Guy Gaster of the North Carolina Film Office, told attendees how to bring Hollywood productions to their locations.
North Carolina offers a 25 percent tax refund incentive for qualified expenses like goods, services, compensation and wages, per diems, living expenses and stipends. There is a $20 million per project cap and the state will qualify labor expenses up to $1 million for each North Carolina resident and nonresident.
The state’s major competitors are Georgia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and New Mexico, Syrett said. After showing a trailer for “The Hunger Games,” which was filmed in various locations in western North Carolina and spent $61.7 million in the Asheville region, one audience member asked how the state lost the filming of the sequel to Georgia.
Syrett said North Carolina did not lose the sequel to Georgia, but that Georgia had the aggressive incentives in place to qualify the cast’s bloated salaries that resulted from the first film’s success. The film’s star, Jennifer Lawrence, will be paid $10 million for the sequel whereas she was paid $500,000 for the first film. The increased size of the actors’ salaries will cause Georgia to assume some of the costs for having the production there, Syrett said.
“They will soon realize that it is not sustainable,” he said.
Last year there was $376 million in direct spending in North Carolina from 1,009 productions. Gaster said North Carolina’s tax incentives can only go so far and that the best marketing tool is the North Carolina Film Commission’s website. Gaster urged those in attendance to contribute to the site’s photo database of possible filming locations, adding that they never know what kind of location or facility will be requested.
Along with the incentives, the key to making a location attractive to productions is by establishing vertical integration in the community and having the full cooperation of local officials and businesses, Syrett said, encouraging local businesses and services to coordinate with their regional film commissions to create a network of sources for the hundreds of cast and crewmembers to use while filming on location.
“Film tourism is a real thing,” Syrett said. “We believe you should be taking advantage of the tourism money coming in on the front end.”
Like Asheville, the city of Southport cashed in during the filming of “Safe Haven.” Griffin said having a production actually use the name of the city where it was filmed is rare.
“That is a commercial for Southport and North Carolina,” Griffin said. “You try getting a commercial of that quality in theaters and see how much it costs.”
Griffin said it was the cooperation of the community and local officials in Southport that made the process work.
“To have a film production come in with 150 trucks to such a small town during the summer is tough but they worked with them well,” he said. “It can be difficult but just think of the long term effects it can have on the local economy.”