Clean jobs. A multiplier effect. North Carolina homegrown jobs – those are some of the ways supporters of the film industry described its effect on the local and state economy at a recent rally in downtown Wilmington.
“This is not about Robert Downey Jr., this is not about the big names out of Hollywood, this is about you guys,” Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover and Brunswick, told a huge crowd of people attending the rally at the foot of Market Street near the Cape Fear River on Saturday, April 20. “This is about the carpenters, the electricians, the plumbers, the lumber guys, this is about the restaurants, the hotel rooms, every single business in the state of North Carolina that has been touched by this industry.”
Hamilton joined film industry officials such as Bill Vassar, executive vice president of EUE/Screen Gems, and several other elected officials – including Rep. Ted Davis Jr., R-New Hanover; Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover; Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender and Bladen; Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, a Democrat; and some members of the Wilmington City Council and New Hanover County Commission – for the bipartisan event, which was organized after a bill was filed to make film incentives nonrefundable.
Primary sponsors of House Bill 994, filed by Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham – and also a bipartisan effort – include local Reps. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, and Chris Millis, R-Pender and Onslow.
“This shines some sunlight on the issue,” Catlin said in a phone interview after the rally. Catlin had earlier filed House Bill 791 to study incentives offered for economic development. “I’m fundamentally against government using money from hardworking taxpayers and picking and choosing who they subsidize and who they don’t.”
But the bill raised criticism from other elected officials and the film industry.
“Catlin and Millis – say what?” New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr. said during the rally. “How dare you try to take away jobs from our community… Film equals jobs.”
Independent producer Tim Bourne spoke at the rally about addressing the bill issue by raising awareness of the film industry and incentives.
“These guys that started this thing, it’s not their fault. They just don’t know. But we need to educate them,” Bourne said. “We need to tell them what this is all about. It’s not cocktail parties on red carpets. We’re not padding the pockets of fat cat producers in Hollywood that sit behind desks and smoke cigarettes. I’ve had the pleasure and the honor to work with a lot of the people out here, side by side for a number of years, and that’s who we’re fighting for here today – our families, our beds, our showers that we get to go to at the end of the day instead of going to Louisiana or Georgia or anywhere else.”
The last-minute turnout for the rally was great, said Vanessa Neimeyer of VanessaNcasting and an extras casting director for the television series, “Under the Dome.”
“It’s clear that we’re doing something and we’re doing it right, why would you change that?” Neimeyer said after the rally.
Film companies earn an income tax credit for qualifying production expenses equal to 25 percent of the qualifying production expenses, and the credit is refundable, Millis has said, adding that under the proposed legislation, the refundability of the credit would be eliminated to instead carry it forward for five years.
“There’s a difference between deferring a certain percentage of someone’s taxes than to actually giving them an additional cream on the top,” Millis said in a phone interview Friday, April 19.
Catlin said the bill was stuck in committee and was not going anywhere. He questioned why the film industry’s incentives must be different.
“Do they have any loyalty to North Carolina?” Catlin said. “I hope they stay. I love having them here… I hope they remember that when they came here they came here because of what we are and what we offer.”