McCrory talks film incentives, meets with demonstrators outside WECT Studios

Published: Jul. 3, 2014 at 12:25 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 6, 2014 at 5:02 PM EDT
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Gov. Pat McCrory stopped to talk with pro-film industry demonstrators after an interview in the...
Gov. Pat McCrory stopped to talk with pro-film industry demonstrators after an interview in the WECT Studios

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Governor Pat McCrory pledged his support for continuing some type of program to keep the film industry viable in North Carolina. In an exclusive interview with WECT, McCrory acknowledged that any future plan would likely not be similar to the current Film Production Tax Credit, which expires at the end of 2014.

"I am trying to do everything I can to continue to have a film incentive program, but it is not going to be the same as before," said McCrory in an exclusive interview with WECT's Jon Evans. "We need to have some compromise on it because frankly, there was some abuse of it."

McCrory's budget proposed to cap the tax credit any movie production could recoup at $6 million, compared to the current incentive plan that has a cap of $20 million per project. The current minimum any production must spend in North Carolina to qualify for the tax credit is $250,000. McCrory's proposal increases the minimum to $1 million. That is different than the "Film & Entertainment Grant Fund" proposal approved as part of the state Senate's budget plan, which included $20 million for film projects. Many inside the film industry say that type of approach will not be beneficial to productions looking to locate in North Carolina.

"What I don't want is an all or nothing proposal in Raleigh in the next two weeks," said McCrory with regards to the current budget negotiations between lawmakers in the state House and Senate. "I think we are going to have to find some middle ground to continue film subsidies, but direct the subsidies to more long-term sustainable projects."

McCrory also said he's interested in the state getting more recognition from the film industry when projects are made in North Carolina. The state of Georgia offers an extra ten percent tax credit to productions that embed the "Peach" logo within the end credits.

"I want them to help promote North Carolina more," McCrory said. "I want North Carolina to get something in return, so when Iron Man 3 is filmed here, I really want North Carolina to get the credit. That's what Georgia and other states are doing, asking for something in return for that investment."

After the interview inside the WECT studio, McCrory walked over to a group of about two dozen pro-film demonstrators that showed up trying to get his attention.

One of the demonstrators asked McCrory about a comment made in Wilmington last month by John Lassiter, the head of the state's economic development board. Lassiter told a luncheon group that he believes a grant program will work, if it is paired with other draws like sales tax credits. Lassiter also said that the state of New Mexico has a strong grant program with a cap on it and "we know that has worked".

When asked if Lassiter was indicating McCrory's approval for a New Mexico-style program in North Carolina, the Governor responded "I'm trying to get a bill passed. It's going to take some compromise and reform, but I'm trying to keep them film subsidies that are most important to the long-term film studios in North Carolina, including here in Wilmington. So that's my goal."

Afterwards, members of the group seemed satisfied that they had McCrory's attention and were able to relay their concerns and questions.

"It was a little bit of political speak, but that's par for the course, so we'll see," said Robbie Beck, who is a prop master for Under the Dome, the television series currently shooting in Wilmington.

"Actions speak louder than words, so we'll see what it means when the legislation is put forth," Robbie said. "It wasn't for nothing. Anytime we get a positive word that he doesn't want to see it go away, that he wants something that is renewable, and something that has a permanent base here, that's a positive not for all of us so, coming out here was a good thing."

During a press conference last week, Rep. Susi Hamilton and Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo urged McCrory to visit a film set in Wilmington to see the industry's economic impact on the community.

"If he loves the industry and he cares about these workers and he cares about the investment that is being made in this state, I personally would have taken the time out to come out and take a look at it, to investigate it myself," Saffo said Wednesday.

Bill Vassar, Executive Vice President of Screen Gems, said he sent a formal invitation last week for the governor to visit the studios.

Vassar explained lawmakers from other parts of the state changed their minds about the value of the film industry after visiting the studio.

"Once they got down here and they saw the people working and they saw the resources that were being purchased, they saw what was being paid in sales tax and income tax. They left here kind of having an aha moment," he said.

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