Wilmington’s film industry enjoys record-breaking year

The end of 2021 marks a record-breaking year for the film industry in Wilmington.
The end of 2021 marks a record-breaking year for the film industry in Wilmington.(WECT News)
Published: Dec. 31, 2021 at 6:33 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - From box office films to the streaming wars and the increased demand for content — it’s been a blockbuster year for film in the Wilmington region and surrounding areas.

“2021 will be the biggest year in history in filmmaking both in the Wilmington area and the state of North Carolina,” said Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission.

There are still some final numbers that need to come in, but estimates show that the film industry in Wilmington generated between $300- $325 million, according to Griffin.

The previous record was set in 2012 when films Iron Man 3, We’re the Millers and The Conjuring were all shot in Wilmington. That year brought in about $247 million.

The years following 2012 were challenging for the film industry in North Carolina. A transgender bathroom ban drove away new productions and a previous governor ended film subsidies.

“In years past we’ve certainly had issues with the incentive, with HB2, with hurricanes, with different things that have sort of caused little bumps in the road and made it where we know that our clients are looking at that and thinking like, ‘well maybe that’s not the place to go right now,’” Griffin said.

HB2 is now overturned and big incentives are back on the table.

“Everything is sort of lined up to work in our favor right now,” Griffin said. “We’ve got a great incentive program. The legislature has given us continued funding for that and there’s no sunset date on the incentives so [clients] know looking forward that 1, 2, 3 years into the future the incentive will still be there.”

Which in turn sets the state and Wilmington up for more success in the future.

City leaders also allocated $400,000 in American Rescue Plan funds for a new training program for those looking to get into the business.

“What we have seen, long term, is that it generates a lot more income, it generates jobs for our community, and it keeps people in our community,” Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said back in October.

Governor Roy Cooper touted the film industry’s success back in August when he made a stop in ‘Wilmywood’ to announce that film production projects in North Carolina had already spent a record amount of money in the state.

“With this kind of success in the middle of the pandemic — as soon as we get to the other side I would imagine we are going to see an explosion in this sector here,” Governor Cooper said back in August.

The industry’s growth also garnered the national spotlight. CNBC’s Jane Wells did a profile piece in late October on the area’s film industry.

Movies and TV shows like the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas in Harmony and Fox’s Our Kind of People set up shop in Wilmington over the past year.

Wilmington also helped feed the streaming wars — a beast that is always hungry for more content.

“Streaming has just gone through the roof. There’s all sorts of new streaming services that have been launched during covid,” Griffin said.

Even though film made headlines and turned the heads of both Hollywood and national news networks, Griffin said it’s all about exposure, exposure, exposure.

“What works better than anything is to actually have projects here where the industry starts to talk about it themselves,” he said. “The best thing is to actually have your clients promoting you and that’s what we’ve had real success with this year because we had so many projects here and so many different companies and, again, high level projects that were here this year.”

Ensuring 2022 will be another year for lights, camera, action!

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