LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: DISCUSSING SMALL BUSINESS FOR FILMS WEBSITE AND NC HISTORY MUSEUM’S LATEST FILM EXHIBIT
“So how about you—at the bookstore? It’s going to affect you, isn’t it?” My favorite banker and I were chatting about the loss of the film incentives.
“Yes,” I confirmed. “We aren’t going to be renting books if there aren’t films here. The only thing I have heard that is staying is ‘Under the Dome’ and I guess ‘Bolden’…” I babbled onward about my concerns. A week earlier, a young lady writing a paper on the film incentives had asked how it was going to impact our business. I had explained to her that we were going to have to “lay off someone.”
“Really?’ she asked, clearly startled by my answer.
I nodded and explained that the film industry brought in enough business every month to pay one salary. Without it I don’t know what we are going to do. It’s February right now—one of our slowest months of the year—but it is usually when production is starting to pick back up after the holidays. So we are struggling a bit and I am doing everything in my power to not cut hours and find a way around a layoff.
Of course, we are just one small business that has come to depend upon the film industry in NC In January I got an email about joining a coalition known as “Small Business for Film,” a grassroots effort and website trying to bring attention to the impact that film has—not on Hollywood producers but small businesses right here. Folk can register their small businesses that support and are supported by film, and have their listings displayed in an effort to show the reach film money has. It actually puts a face on the businesses that benefit. Since early January, over 570 businesses across the state have registered to show just where film money goes.
This is a message that our local political leaders actually understand. (It’s rare when they get it, so we must celebrate the small victories when they actually happen.) One would rather hope that since they “speak the same language” as our state-level leaders that lending their voices to our grassroots effort would have helped sway the events of the last year. Last week they held a press conference at Screen Gems to essentially say the fight is not over and they will continue to work for the re-instatement of the film incentive. By the way, Small Business NC points out it is the only incentive that benefits small business in NC. It’s great to have them in the fight, and let us hope their sober messages will prevail.
In case of galloping irony, “Staring North Carolina: 100 Year 3,000 Films” opened at the NC History Museum in November of last year. The exhibit is literally next door to the state legislature building. (Seriously, it’s where you park when you go visit your representatives. It is closer to speaker Tim Moore’s office than Alaska is to Sarah Palin’s back porch. ) Part of what the exhibit does is shed light on the length and breadth of filming in NC. The 3,000 movies doesn’t include all the made-for-TV movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s—though it does include TV series, like “Homeland” (Charlotte), “Dawson’s Creek,” “Sleepy Hollow,” and more. When I asked the curators about the awkward timing, they pointed out the exhibit had been in the works for over two years before the cut to the incentives was announced.
So, have any of the legislators actually come through and looked at the exhibit? Again, the curators demurred, noting how they can track how many people visit the exhibit, but hey don’t track if members of the General Assembly have been visitors. The exhibit is extensive, and if you have a day in our state capital this year, I highly recommend going to see it. The exhibit will remain open until September 7, 2015.
Perhaps, for me, the display that was the most moving had nothing to do with pictures of people I know, or celebrities I find thrilling, or films that brought me to tears. At the very end, upon exiting, there is a touch screen on a table at about counter height. The image on the screen is of North Carolina with all of our 100 counties outlined and named. When you touch any county with your finger, a list of the films made there pops up. The curators have films listed for every single state in the country.
That destroys the argument that the entire state does not benefit from film money. Yes, Charlotte and Wilmington see it more quickly than others, but it spreads across the entire state. Here, irrefutably, is the visual demonstration of that argument.
With “Sleepy Hollow” moving production to Georgia, I have had quite the bitter sweet week as the episode that filmed in our store hit the air waves. We’ve had people from all over the country get in touch with us as a result of it, and that has been lovely. But the loss of the show meant there would be no hope for us to become a re-occurring location, which would have been lovely and with their story line, a real possibility. The rental brought in a nice bit of money to put toward the mortgage and property taxes, and the notoriety since is a dividend that we expect will continue to pay—just like “Stuck In Love” has and all the “One Tree Hill” fans that continue to flock here. (They even have a convention now.) A couple weeks ago, there was a lovely couple making the rounds of town from Spain who had saved for almost three years to come here to visit the “Dawson’s Creek” locations. Three years. From Spain. Expenses include: lodging, food, transportation, souvenirs—sigh. I am starting to feel like a broken record.
Bottom line: It’s not over. We have lost the incentive before and gotten it back. This time it might be harder and take longer, but we can do it. It’s not just the loss of over 4,000 jobs during the economic recovery that we need to worry about, it’s the bar maids and hotel workers, taxi drivers, and retail employees who are going to get their hours cut or lose their jobs because of the loss of revenue. That’s who we are really fighting for.
Please, check out Small Business for Film, and if you are a business owner who saw film money in your till and now you miss it, sign up to show your support. In the mean time, if you see any nice tourists here visiting because of our film heritage, thank them, and then, please, ask if you can take their picture, and email it to our state legislature. We need to make that piece real, and one way is to put faces to put faces to our visitors and another is to shower them with the sheer numbers that we see. This is a battle we must be part of for the long haul. Together, we will prevail.