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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Sen. Harper Peterson discusses film incentive bill, CAM hosts filmmakers on ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’

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Raise your hand (and your voice) if you want film incentives back…

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“I gotta hand it to Harper: He has hit the ground with fulfilling those campaign promises; it makes me proud to be a new voter.”

FROM ALL ANGLES: At Cameron Art Museum, director of photography Tom Priestly will speak of his work after a screening of the “Thomas Crown Affair,” which he worked on in the ‘90s. Photo by Harry Taylor

FROM ALL ANGLES: At Cameron Art Museum, director of photography Tom Priestly will speak of his work after a screening of the “Thomas Crown Affair,” which he worked on in the ‘90s. Photo by Harry Taylor

Jock was winding up a long story about the assorted places he had encountered Harper, our newly sworn-in senator, just  that week. The story, of course, culminated in Harper appearing outside Folks Café on Princess Street where Jock eats three meals a day.

“Well, as someone who has been voting in this country for over two decades, I have never experienced anything like this,” I noted.

Peterson has started the session as primary sponsor of three bills in the Senate; and he is included as a co-sponsor on 15 additional bills, including the Medicaid expansion and ratifying the ERA.

Usually, I feel pretty ignored by my elected officials who—not entirely but for the most part—seem to have their own agendas after election time. Among the two bills for which Peterson is the primary sponsor is one to expand the existing film grant program.  In addition to clean water and equal justice, Peterson campaigned heavily on the issue related to film business in our state.

Just to recap for readers who might have moved here in the last few years and are unaware how our area used to be known as “Hollywood East,” let me rehash some talking points and previous film industry coverage:

• In 2011, the L.A. Times reported $220 million was spent in North Carolina on film and TV production.

• The film-incentive program we had in place at the time was enacted in 2005, to compete with programs in Georgia and Louisiana.

• In 2013, companies would get a rebate of $0.25 for every dollar actually spent in N.C. 2013 produced $61 million in rebates through the film incentive.

• We were one of the most vibrant filmmaking areas in the country with facilities, locations and world-class crew base to draw upon.

• With the 2012 election, Pat McCrory became governor of North Carolina, and both houses of the general assembly were controlled by the Republican Party for the first time in over 100 years. Among many programs in their cross hairs was the film incentive program.

• Filming picked up and moved to Georgia after the politicians slashed our incentives. The last two seasons of “Sleepy Hollow” moved to Georgia; “Banshee” moved to Pennsylvania.

• When “Homeland” returned to the United States (after filming abroad), it resumed filming in Virginia, not North Carolina.

• Over the next two years, 4,000 film-industry workers moved to Georgia in order to sustain their families. So they were not working here, paying taxes here, investing in the local economy, or participating in the community.

Sen. Peterson is an entrepreneur who has experienced firsthand the cycle of film money flowing through his own businesses, to his employees and getting spent in our economy. Thus he promised during his campaign he would work on getting our film industry restored.  With filing SB 57, he took his first significant step on that road.

“The ‘film grant’ program has been a poor substitute for the film incentive program it replaced in 2014,” Peterson tells encore. “It’s costing our state not millions, but billions of dollars in revenue and thousands of good paying jobs that make up this unique industry.”

He calls the grant program a poor substitute for North Carolina’s previous film incentive. At present, the grant program is unattainable for smaller budget films and has a cap unappealing to larger budget, episodic TV shows.

“[For] example, we have the TV series ‘Swamp Thing’ presently filming,” Peterson notes. “Reprisal” likely will return in May. “If they both [film here,] the grant money will be used up. In addition, each production can only receive $12 million, regardless of the size of the budget and the dollars spent in our statewide communities. Other states, like Georgia and South Carolina, are opening their doors wide with no money limits or no restrictions on the number of productions that can shoot.”

Episodic television is good money for our community. “Matlock,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “One Tree Hill,” “Under the Dome” and “Sleepy Hallow” kept people employed in ILM for almost two decades combined. The lasting impact of tourism from some of those shows—especially “One Tree Hill”—is nothing to sneeze at. Hardly a day goes by at the book store when I do not give someone directions to a “One Tree Hill” location or answer questions about the show’s filming history. One can easily see it first-hand merely by counting the “Keith Scotts Body Shop T-shirts” walking down Front Street on any given weekend.

“I reintroduced the bill to keep the conservation alive on how important this industry is to our state and how important it is we return to a competitive film incentive program that will bring billions of dollars back into our state.”

Peterson admits he is worried the bill will die in committee and never even come to a vote. In the meantime, he is trying to also keep in touch with his constituents back here.

On Thursday, March 14, Peterson was back in town to participate in a fireside chat at Jengo’s Playhouse with Dan Brawley, executive director of Cucalorus, about SB 57 and the future of film. According to the senator, it was a great discussion with three generations of the movie industry present. He mapped a three-part plan to bring a robust film industry back to our state:

“1. Improve the grant program in the short term;

“2. Educate legislators on the economic benefits of film in North Carolina;

“And 3. Flip the Republican majority in 2020 elections.”

It sounds like a tall order, but it’s not an impossible one. The question is: How badly do we want over 4,000 high-paying jobs back in the state?

Remember earlier when I mentioned we have a world-class crew base to draw upon? Well, that is not hyperbole. In an effort to shine a light on some of our filmmakers (and to watch some great movies), Joe D’Alessandro, a long-time staple of  the industry’s camera department, is working with Cameron Art Museum to put together a quarterly film series.  The first screening will be on Thursday, March 28, at 7:30 p.m.  The featured presentation selected for the debut is “The Thomas Crown Affair”—the  1999 remake starring Pierce Brosnan.

Both the script supervisor, Nini Rogan, and the director of photography, Tom Priestley, reside here. A Q&A will be hosted by Priestley, whose résumé also includes “Saturday Night Fever,” “A League of Their Own,” “Sleeping With the Enemy” (also filmed in Wilmington), “A Chorus Line,” “Hair” and “Amadeus” (to name but a very few … See? World-class crew!).

“‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ was unique because it was a blend of the old and the new,” Priestly says. “In my opinion, the remake was far superior to the original: the acting, directing, storytelling, and cinematography created a mosaic of talents that enabled this project to be so successful. We have to explain to our elected officials and the public the benefits of a strong entertainment  industry. This industry is a non-polluting industry, and it infuses large amounts of cash immediately into the community [think purchases from local businesses to rent props and buy furniture for set design, or putting up actors and crew with local accommodations, not to mention their dining and everyday living expenses]. It leaves no residue and employees a large number of workers at above-average salaries.”

And Peterson agrees. “It’s not too late; production companies want to come back to a state they have had a creative love affair with for over three decades. Film crews want to come back and reunite with their families communities they love.”

But he points out it’s going to require help from the public. Peterson emblazons everyone to pick up the phone and dial in.

“Call your legislators, especially Republicans, and tell them your story on how much it has meant to you, your family and community,” he says. “And vote in November 2020 to help put rational and progressive men and women back in the NC General Assembly! It’s not too late.”

The Thomas Crown Affair
Q&A with DP Thomas Priestly
March 28, 6:30 p.m.
Cameron Art Museum
3201 S. 17th St.

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