The headline reads: “Perdue proposes training workers for film industry.” The newspaper is dated May 3, 2012. Can it really be only less than two years ago that we had a state government that valued our film industry and wanted to invest in it? How quickly things change.
I am repeatedly on the record talking about how the film incentives positively impact not just my small business but businesses across the region. I was beyond thrilled a few weeks ago when one of the set dressers came in to pick up some science text books and paid with two crisp $100 bills—stamped with “NC film dollars spent locally” in bright red ink!
Yes! I thought, this is what we need: the illustration of film money getting spent and re-spent in this economy. These dollars will recirculate other places and people will see. Actually to really make an impact they need to be paying for things with $20s, $10s and $5s, but we have to start somewhere. Why do the production offices hand out $100s instead of $20s? Because the amount of petty cash they have to get from the bank makes it easier for the tellers and the office to handle $100s.
What are they spending so much cash on? Well, all the buyers are given petty cash for purchases that range from books to drapes to rugs. The same goes for the greensmen who need to buy plants and materials to maintain them. The costuming department has petty cash for thread, buttons, ribbons, accessories, etc. The lighting department spends it on clothes pins, Sharpies, and “streaks and tips” for some simple yet surprising lighting effects. The same goes for the sound department, camera department, production, props, and other departments. Once the petty cash is spent and the receipts are turned in, more gets issued.
Then, there is the wonderful world of “per diem”—music to anyone’s ears. If cast or crew are brought in from out of town (including when Wilmington crew or actors go to Charlotte to work on “Banshee,” “Homeland” or “The Hunger Games”), they are given a daily allotment of cash to cover their expenses. For actors who are basically living on set and are being fed three meals a day, it’s spending money. Seriously, do you think Tom Mison got off the plane from London with a wallet full of American cash? Or Lyndie Greenwood (also on “Sleepy Hollow”), who is Canadian, had any time to go to a bank and exchange currency? No. But they both not only got a pay check and per diem here, they also spent money in this community. That is a long way of saying that the amount of cash the production handles and accounts for would stagger and surprise most people—including our state legislature.
Film money spreads so far. I was walking on Castle Street yesterday when I ran into one of the set-dressers from “Under the Dome.” They were setting up an old newspaper office and needed microfilm machines and microfilm. Remember, there is no Internet under the dome; they have to do old-school research. So, the production gave a nice donation to the New Hanover County Public Library for loaning the machines. Even the local government entities benefit directly.
But, in the immediate calculations about the incentive money, there are two pieces of the puzzle that are failing to get mentioned: tourism and higher education. The tourism piece is hard to track because the ongoing visits from people who are fans of “Firestarter,” “Cat’s Eye,” “Matlock,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “One Tree Hill,” “Dream a Little Dream,” “Muppets From Space,” “Blue Velvet,” and the host of other film projects housed locally continue to visit, get hotel rooms, eat food, and buy souvenirs, thereby paying room occupancy tax, food tax and sales tax.
The other piece of this is the investment and expansion of film programs in our higher education sector. Across the state this is true, but Wilmington, especially, has seen tremendous growth in both UNCW’s film department and CFCC’s program. Not only have both programs grown from small concentrations to, in UNCW’s case, a full department, but both employ multiple faculty.
More so, they attract students from across the country who come here for film studies because Wilmington is a film center. With those students come the spending power that the 18-to-25-year-old set has: housing, food, clothes, alcohol, textbooks—the list is endless. We get more tuition from out-of-state students than from in-state, and their families spend money when they come to move them into school, pick them up, and visit for vacations. Many of our film graduates intern and begin working in the industry before graduation, coming out of college with a career already in place.
Film money cycles endlessly through our economy over and over in many ways. It’s not just a one-time expenditure. Mr. Rick Catlin, you just fail to understand how many lives are touched by this investment. Not only do we need the NC film incentives extended, we need a state government that is interested in benefiting the working people of this state, and making it a better place to live and do business. We do not need a state government that wants to spit in the face of those who feed us.
When the film industry spends a dollar, it is an investment—yes, an investment! It’s for the people of this state, and it keeps on giving years and years to come.
So, how did my small business spend the $200 in cash stamped by the production office? It went into Susan Harris’ pay envelope when we did payroll. As a single mother, she most likely spent it on food, school supplies, and necessities to provide her child with a better life and future. That’s just the first two cycles that money had. How’s that for return on investment?