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Carolina Cinema

Lights, Camera, Action” is a phrase one would be accustomed to hearing on a film set in Hollywood or New York. But, thanks to North Carolina’s tax incentive plan for production companies that was revamped in 2007 when Aaron Syrett became film commissioner, making movies and great TV here is a reality. North Carolina has jumped on an award winning bandwagon with these competitive tax incentives. “We’re in the top five states for filming in the country,” Syrett said confidently.

A Brief History of Film in North Carolina

Filming in North Carolina started in the late 1970s when Charlotte resident Ed Owensby started making B movies and training those eager to be involved in the industry. Shortly after, Italian filmmaker Dino di Laurentis came to Wilmington and “fell in love” with the area. Accompanying him were his Italian filmmaker friends who began teaching the coastal locals how movies are made. The international film magnate founded EUE/Screen Gems, the largest on the East Coast and one of the biggest in the world. Later, the filmmakers in the western and eastern parts of our state converged.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, North Carolina was the place to make “Movies of the Week.” However, in the early 2000s, the popularity of reality television started growing, North Carolina’s filming was relatively at a standstill thanks to competitive film incentive plans overseas. Most famously, North Carolina lost out to Romania as the set for the 2001 N.C. Civil War era epic, Cold Mountain. Though
at the time, the classic WB teen drama Dawson’s Creek was filming in Wilmington, “N.C.’s film industry was decimated by 2002 and we were not competing at all,” said Syrett.

When the Utah native became film commissioner six years ago, much time and effort was spent reworking our state’s film incentive program. Currently, a production company can spend $250,000 or more and receive a 25-percent tax incentive. In 2010, when Homeland began filming in the Charlotte area, the North Carolina industry emerged again. “We knew that Charlotte would be the first city to ‘blow up’ thanks to its urban feel,” affirmed Syrett.  Topography North Carolina’s topography is diverse. We could create the desolate, mountain landscape seen in The Hunger Games as well as the 1992 Oscar winner The Last of the Mohicans in the mountainous western Appalachian area. “Big budget films can afford to go to those remote locations,” said Syrett.
And in Charlotte, the urban landscape is much like busy, metropolitan Washington D.C. in Homeland (see side bar). We have picturesque beaches that were perfect for Nicholas Sparks’s
Safe Haven and the romantic Nights at Rodanthe. In short, from the beaches to the mountains and everything in between, we have nearly the same topography you can find in the film mecca
of California.

The Tar Heel state has great tax incentives and the diverse landforms needed for many different types of projects. But what about filming in the Sandhills?
Filming in Fayetteville “We do shoot a lot in Fayetteville… people just don’t know about it,” Syrett
revealed. Production companies have largely utilized military bases like Fort Bragg and Pope Army Airfield. With the recent trend of military focused television and film, we could see more
crews in the area. Rick Schroder’s You-Tube project Starting Strong is a military focused unscripted series that filmed this year on Fort Bragg. “And you never know when J. Cole will come and shoot a video in his hometown,” added Syrett. Still, our film commissioner offers a word of advice, “The
leaders of Fayetteville are more than welcoming (for film). They just need to build up their infrastructure.”

One may argue that greater Cumberland County indeed does have the crew and talent needed for production success.  Gregory Foster of Indian Head Productions LLC. is a film graduate of the
School of Visual Arts in New York City and a Marine Corps veteran. He launched his production company to fill the void in the Sandhills region.Mostly, he has filmed commercials for local businesses like Dairy Queen and Cardinal Landscaping. He is currently filming an independent sci-fi
flick, The Steel Battlion, in hopes to shop it around to film festivals across the nation. The entire cast and crew is Fayetteville-based and consists of students and recent graduates of Methodist
University and Fayetteville State University. “I’m a big fan of using local talent. We have an incredible talent base here,” Foster maintained.

Local talent like Ed Ricker, UNC Pembroke graduate who worked in Fayetteville during college at Q98 is finding success appearing in local independent films and recently starred as Andrea Grinnell’s son in Steven Spielberg and Stephen King’s CBS series Under The Dome filmed at EUE/Screen Gems. While he is contemplating making the move to Hollywood, right now he is keeping his career close to home. “The best thing about being an actor in North Carolina is the sense of family. I’ve made so many friends here who share my passion for acting. It’s encouraging
to be a part of a community like that,” Ricker stated.

Now Filming
In addition to Under The Dome, new Fox thriller Sleepy Hollow and the fourth season of the HBO comedy Eastbound and Down are currently in production at Wilmington’s EUE/ Screen Gems. Blockbuster Iron Man 3, acclaimed horror film The Conjuring and comedy We’re The Millers also
wrapped this year at the studio. “We love being a part of the film industry here. We want to keep our tradition alive and continue our great legacy,” said Susan Dosier, spokesperson for
EUE/Screen Gems. She continued, “We offer the quality and service of a major city at an affordable cost with Southern charm!”

Production companies show no signs of stopping thanks to our competitive incentives, geography and talent base North Carolina has to offer. Plus, being one of the friendliest states around doesn’t hurt either. That’s something Film Commissioner Syrett takes note of when he promotes filming
in North Carolina. “Southern hospitality, that’s a real thing.” CV

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