With cameras ready to roll on the newly greenlit Untitled J&L Project, Wilmington is back in the film saddle again. Film commissioner Johnny Griffin is also “pretty hopeful” about the return of “The Summer I Turned Pretty” to shoot a third season in the area, and in discussions with studios about other possible projects. But he sees a possible cloud on the horizon.
That looming shade would be a possible strike by the Writers Guild of America. The 25,000-member union of film, TV and radio writers begins negotiations Monday with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios.
The WGA is chiefly concerned, according to a March 15 article in Bloomberg Business Week, that the rise of streaming services has significantly reduced the writers’ earnings. “Before streaming, writers could count on hefty residual payments – recurring royalties – from films and TV episodes rerunning on cable,” it stated.
But in the world of streaming, a writer’s work is judged by the number of clicks a film or show gets, or whether it’s a big hit, the piece continued. As a result, streaming platforms have often paid writers a flat fee with minimal bonuses if the show does extremely well. And that’s typically far less than what the writers would earn from a big theatrical hit.
“Every three years the Writers Guild contract comes up for renewal,” Griffin said last week. “It’s always a big deal. In 2017 [writers] went on strike, and we are back at that same situation. The contract expires in May. Meanwhile, some companies are not moving forward [with projects] because if you start and they strike, you have to shut down. It affects the whole industry.
“I was in Los Angeles last week, Griffin continued. “Some companies are cautiously moving forward, but things are slower than what we would expect this time of year.”
Griffin also took advantage of an event in early February to plant a seed with state legislators as they consider top issues and funding priorities. At a breakfast hosted by Wilmington officials, he asked them to reconsider one aspect of the state’s Film and Entertainment grant: the cap imposed within the legislation on lead actor salaries. The current cap for a “highly compensated individual,” as the bill text calls it, is $1 million.
“We've had projects that we've gotten 75% to 80% down the pathway with recruitment, and all of a sudden we hit a snag, and at that point, the project leaves,” he said at that time. “And we're now seeing a $20, $30, $50 million project leave the community that could have been here except for that one part of the incentive."
Griffin offered a bit more detail in an interview last week.
“Actors fall into certain ranges,” he said. “There are $1 million, $3 million actors – it refers to the stature of the actor. We’ve had projects in the past that say, ‘Okay, we have a million-dollar actor,’ and move forward with filming in Wilmington. Then they call us back and say, ‘Now we have a $3 million actor.’ They had to pivot and go to Georgia or Louisiana.
“We're not saying make it open-ended,” he said. “Maybe we take the $1 million cap and move it up to $2 million or $3 million.”