Filming the Future: ‘Incentivizing’ a better tomorrow

Jun 24 • FEATURE SIDEBAR, NEWS & VIEWS, Op-Ed, ViewsNo Comments on Filming the Future: ‘Incentivizing’ a better tomorrow

Despite my love for the arts and friends in the entertainment business, my first thought about extending tax incentives to lure Hollywood to Wilmington—and keep business from the backwoods of Georgia and the bayous of New Orleans—was consistent with my conservative friends. It didn’t sit well with me. It seems like a potentially unnecessary government intrusion in a place where, in a fair world, the market should work. Film companies should willingly choose Wilmington because of its beauty, its climate, its easy accessibility to varieties of shooting locations, its relatively low cost of living, and its ever-growing artistic and intellectual community.

Unfortunately, some of the old guard noticed that with a vibrant film industry, thriving artistic community, strong community college and university, and emerging status as a healthcare hub, our region could be overrun by artists, craftsmen, doctors, nurses, and entrepreneurs. In short, extending film incentives places Wilmington in grave danger of leaving the Old South!

The Old South is history, same as the ‘50s. We can’t go back. In a more future-oriented world, scientists, artists, hard-working skilled craftsmen, and even one or two pesky intellectuals are exactly the kind of folks we should encourage to cooperate with the ecosystem and develop a human economy. Not the Pope’s or other plantation owners. Unfortunately, last time I checked it’s not a fair world, and most politicians and businesses are only as future-oriented as polls and quarterly profits allow. 

But if film incentives didn’t sit well with me, neither did my observation that some folks seem to be drinking from the ponds of hog waste flowing from Raleigh. From one pond flows, “If we extend tax incentives for the film industry, we can’t pay our teachers.” 

NC teachers have been getting shafted for years because of “Iron Man 3,” “Revolution” and “Sleepy Hollow”? The numbers don’t add up on that. And, if this administration is looking to regain credibility with parents and teachers, it’s not a good idea to use education funding as a bargaining chip in hostage negotiations for film-industry tax incentives.

Flowing from another pond: Senate Bill 773. This bill helped me find an area of unexpected, albeit reluctant, agreement with my conservative friends. This brilliant GOP proposal will create government grants administered by the Secretary of Commerce. It doesn’t want to end the future of film production here. It wants control of the future that’s filmed! That’s what it amounts to. Bill 773 selectively incentivizes the future some want filmed. 

Let’s shift from movies to cement for a second. From what I recall, tax incentives were a part of a package to the developers of a proposed high-polluting cement plant along the river. Proponents still argue they want to unbridle our industrial potential, stimulate the local economy, and create jobs, jobs, jobs. I’m not sure what jobs they mean. Because of ever-increasing digitized management and robotic production, the need for ‘human assets’ is minimal relative to assembly lines of the ‘50s. Actual employees often become “redundant” and are “downsized.”  What these folks really want is to film a future similar to those grainy black-and-white documentaries of the Post WWII factory towns of the ‘50s. Thousands of high-producing happy assembly-line workers in a community of white picket fences. 

On the bright side, the rivers of hog waste flowing from Raleigh forced me to agree with conservative friends. I agree it’s perfectly legit to use the power of legislation, regulation and tax codes to selectively incentivize the future I want to see filmed. 

Nationally, because of the undeniable human contribution to global warming, I would use federal government to discourage growth of fossil fuel-based industries that are not actively diversifying into solar, wind or other relatively inexhaustible fuels. You don’t have to be Neil deGrasse Tyson to realize oil wells will run dry long before the sun goes dark.      

I’d use government’s legitimate powers to film a future here with a healthy river and coastal ecosystem, where we are a highly desirable tourist and retirement destination, and a hub of solar and wind energy, medical research, and higher education. My vision would be complete with hi-speed rail and cruise ships, vibrant offshore fishing and shrimp, and local farms. And I would definitely use tax incentives—not grants—to keep us Hollywood East.   

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