Head of Screen Gems responds to state's proposed partnership
RALEIGH, NC (WECT) – Bill Vassar, Executive VP of Screen Gems Studios, said Wednesday night that an earlier report on proposed changes for the state's promotion of economic development should not be a major concern.
Richard Lindenmuth, who will lead North Carolina's new economic development partnership, questioned the effectiveness of film incentives Tuesday during his first television interview since Gov. Pat McCrory and Commerce Sharon Decker named him to the post last week.
"Unlike a lot of other industries, [in] the film industry, most workers are under contract and they come and they go, so the incentives aren't quite as successful in that area," said Lindenmuth, adding, "I would think that it would be hurtful for us to lose the film industry that we have. They brought a lot of really good things to North Carolina."
As interim CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, Lindenmuth will implement a transition plan that moves the state's business, tourism and film marketing from the Department of Commerce to the private non-profit organization.
Vassar said that the transition is still a process, and one that still needs to be approved by state lawmakers.
Whether it's a partnership or a department, the name of whoever promotes North Carolina should not matter as much as the message, according to Vassar.
"As long as we have someone representing us and our North Carolina film industry to the studios in California to send the work here," he said. "I don't think it much matters what department it's in."
The state's film incentives, a 25 percent tax credit, will expire at the end of 2014 unless extended by lawmakers. Vassar said Lindenmuth, or any organization does not have the final say on the future of film incentives.
"That's up to the legislature," said Vassar.
Lindenmuth, who said he hasn't been actively involved in recruiting films, believes there are multiple reasons why movies and television shows decide to shoot in the state.
"We have a beautiful landscape. That's a wonderful incentive. We have friendly people," he said. "We've got lots of good reasons why people should be here. And at the end of the day, if it's only a dollar here, a dollar there for an incentive, I don't think that's a make or break for a reason why we would be in North Carolina."
"Can we find a way to work together as an extension to give us time, something that's reasonable? I'm not in the political realm, so I may listen, I may contribute to some thoughts there, but more expert people in those areas will be the ones that make some judgments," said Lindenmuth.
The Office of State Management and Budget must approve plans before the public-private partnership can move forward, according to Beth Gargan, communications director at the N.C. Department of Commerce. The plans include severance pay for some Commerce employees, including Aaron Syrett, director of the N.C. Film Office.
Vassar said that there is more to the potential change than severance. He expects those employees with the Department of Commerce who could potentially lose their job to continue their work with applications for the partnership.
He added that a public-private partnership could potentially be better for Syrett's work promoting North Carolina.
"Maybe he'd be able to be a bit more agile in being able to recruit business," said Vassar.
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