July 21, 2012By Alison Lee Satake
Film work is off the charts this summer with Iron Man 3 settling into all 10 soundstages at EUE/Screen Gems studios and Warner Bros.’ new television series Revolution kicking off filming this month. The industry has dropped the most dollars in Wilmington’s nearly 30-year film history with spending reaching $179 million-$195 million year-to-date.
“Our business has shot through the roof,” said Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission. “I don’t see how we couldn’t go over $200 million [by the end of this year].”
In 2011, the industry spent $113 million locally, more than double 2010’s spending of $45 million.
“These are some of the biggest years we’ve had,” Griffin said.
And those in the industry hope the momentum continues. New Line Cinema, which produced Journey 2: The Mysterious Island last year and The Conjuring earlier this year,
is back this summer to shoot We’re the Millers starring Jennifer Aniston. Warner Bros. produced
the nine-season run of One Tree Hill and has returned to shoot another series, Revolution, which
will air on NBC.
Many watching the local film industry are banking on repeat business from satisfied studio customers.
“Captain America is considering coming here after Iron Man 3 finishes,” said state Rep. Danny McComas, R-New Hanover, who heard about the possibility from state film commissioners. He said he’s also heard talk about the sequel to The Avengers possibly setting up shop in Wilmington too.
“Once they are established here, they don’t want to move. They have their equipment, props and personnel. It comes at a great cost and expense,” McComas said.
He was instrumental this summer in pushing through legislation that extends the current state film tax incentive, which allows a production to submit receipts for reimbursement of 25 percent of its in-state spending up to $20 million per feature film, to January 2015.
“This gives them added assurance that if they start filming, [and] if they go past January 2014, they would get those tax credits,” McComas said.
Film industry professionals are not the only ones keeping an eye on the state of the incentives.
Homewood Suites general manager Greg Thompson said he was watching every second while the extension was being debated. When the hotel opened in April 2010, it partnered with One Tree Hill right away.
He estimates that the television and film industry makes up about 30 percent of all hotel business in the area.
“It’s a major impact for us,” he said. And business at his 118-suite hotel is up by 13 percent year-to-date over last year, a bump he attributes in part to this year’s film activity. “It’s not just us. It’s good for rentals and apartments,” he said.
The majority of EUE/Screen Gems studios currently is occupied by Iron Man 3 including the 10 soundstages, four editing suites and all of the dressing rooms, said Bill Vassar, executive vice president of Screen Gems.
Safe Haven, based on the Nicholas Sparks’ novel that has filmed primarily in Southport, is currently renting editing and other facilities for its digital dailies or each day’s footage from Screen Gems, which is also providing the high-speed connectivity that allows production staff in Los Angeles to access the files.
We’re the Millers set up offices on the lot. Screen Gems is also providing them some rental equipment and space for their digital dailies.
There was no room at the inn for NBC’s Revolution, which last month began renting a vacant, 56,000-square-foot MCO Transport warehouse on U.S. Highway 421 owned by McComas. But Screen Gems is providing the production some equipment, Vassar said.
In previous years, television projects have been the majority of the work and brought in the most dollars here. But this year, film has surpassed television, especially as One Tree Hill wrapped last year.
Investing for the future
To woo the big production companies such as Marvel, local companies have had to invest in new equipment and state-of-the-art technology.
“One of the things we needed to do to appear totally flawless to the client was to install a whole new Internet system,” said Vassar at Screen Gems. In February, it installed WiFi across the entire movie lot.
“High-speed Internet capability for productions is like running water,” he said. His tenants need to upload art from around the world.
“If they can’t access that and collaborate with someone in California, they’re dead in the water.”
Screen Gems also invested in additional lighting and grip equipment to expand its capabilities in response to the surge of business.
Wilmington-based large scale, high-capital equipment company, Filmwerks, designed and added some new equipment to its arsenal for its work on Iron Man 3.
“It’s just a huge project and everything is about 10 times that of normal,” said Filmwerks president and co-owner Michael Satrazemis, whose company provides large generators, portable air conditioners and mobile stages for a variety of productions and events across the country.
“For Iron Man, we do have some lighting and large format generators and big chillers to cool the stages,” he said. “The studio is being taxed, and the energy is being taxed.”
The production has adapted the facility to accommodate its needs including installing additional power sources and security systems.
“We have an incredible opportunity because Marvel is in town,” Satrazemis said. Although
the bulk of Filmwerks’ business is out-of-state, including previous Marvel projects, the work here has resulted in a 2-3 percent bump in the company’s $10 million annual revenue.
By and large, the majority of North Carolina filming takes place in the tri-county area, Griffin said. And the overall spending of about $179 million thus far does not include projects that have committed to film here but have yet to begin.