Amid the current shutdown of much film activity because of strikes by scriptwriters and actors, there is still some good news in the local scene, according to Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission.
Some reality TV projects, for example, are still shooting. And although they usually go where their projects dictate, sometimes they scout locations on a broader basis.
“Reality TV shows occasionally say, ‘We’re looking for a place that fits with this specific type of adventure’ – say, out in the woods, dealing with some kind of challenge,” Griffin said Tuesday. “We can give location suggestions."
“We’re dealing with a couple of inquiries right now,” he continued. “Usually, these projects don’t spend enough to qualify for the state film incentive.”
This week, High Noon Entertainment is shooting a spinoff of HGTV’s popular Good Bones renovation at a house at 807 Russell Alley, off Queen Street in downtown Wilmington. While projects like these typically have small budgets, they spend money locally for supplies, housing and sometimes for local crew support.
Even during the current strikes, said Griffin, his office continues to field inquiries from potential projects.
“There are studios with scripts on their desks that are making plans for when things do come back,” he continued. “If they can make their location decision now, then when they get the green light, they are ready to go.”
Another favorable development is the groundbreaking next week on additional sound stage facilities at Dark Horse Studios in Wilmington.
“This is news we can promote,” Griffin said. “It’s good news we can put out there, that [Wilmington] is expanding our capabilities.”
Meanwhile, all local projects except the HGTV spinoff are on hold, and Griffin doesn’t anticipate a resolution of the issues over which the unions are striking until October or even November. That timeline means that film activity would likely not resume until early in 2024.
Unlike the years when North Carolina's film industry was largely boycotted by film studios because of the state's so-called Bathroom Bill, which required people to use the public bathroom according to their gender assigned at birth, the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes are affecting activity everywhere, Griffin pointed out.
Tuesday morning, Griffin spoke to the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s Public Policy Committee, providing an overview of the film commission’s mission and the impact that film activity has had on the regional economy and how it has influenced the community.
“Policy is what we do too,” he said. “We advocate for things that attract film projects and benefit the film industry here.”
Part of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission’s job is to monitor film-related legislation before the N.C. General Assembly and to lobby for legislative changes that would benefit the industry - and therefore the state's economy. During this year’s session, no real changes have emerged, Griffin said, adding that the only exception was a bill promoted by proponents in the Charlotte area.
“That area has had issues with building sets with building code implications,” he said. “The General Assembly did pass something about film sets being exempt from building codes.”
Two House Bills that would have affected the state’s film industry went nowhere. One, House Bill 831, would have established a fund in the N.C. Department of Commerce to help underwrite the cost of constructing sound stages.
A second measure, HB 301, would have raised the caps for some reimbursements within the state’s current incentive program while lowering the spending threshold for qualifying projects. It notably would have raised from 25% to 35% the amount of a project’s total spend that qualified for grant reimbursement if at least 75% of the production activity took place within one of the state’s rural counties.
“That bill was approved in committee but never made it onto the floor,” Griffin said, adding that the legislature is still consumed with work on the budget, so he does not expect any film-related activity in this session.