Back to 25 to Survive

Mayor Saffo in Raleigh; senate committee agrees to expand N.C. film incentives

Mayor Saffo in Raleigh; senate committee agrees to expand N.C. film incentives

By Amy Hotz
[email protected]

Published: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 at 10:55 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 at 5:19 p.m.

The Senate Finance Committee agreed to bring North Carolina one step closer to increasing its film tax incentive from 15 percent to 25 percent.

Mayor Saffo testified before the committee in support of Senate Bill 943, arguing that a higher incentive would help the entire state, not just Wilmington’s filmmaking community.

“Obviously, with the employment rate at 10 percent, every job is important,” Saffo said in room 544 in the legislative building.

Much of his testimony relied on numbers.

Saffo said that from 2006 to 2008, 34 projects filmed in North Carolina in 28 different counties. Those films employed 16,000 and spent about $162 million in goods, services and wages.

In Wilmington, he said, “The Marc Pease Experience,” which filmed here in 2007, spent $140,000 in hotel costs; $149,000 in rental cars and $192,000 in catering expenses.

He also gave the example of “One Tree Hill’s” contribution to the economy. It takes the television show eight days to film one episode at a production cost of about $1 million each.

“You name it, and they’re buying it,” Saffo said.

But, he added, 28 states have higher incentives in North Carolina and we’ve already seen productions lured away to those areas.

Sen. Linda Garrou (D-Forsyth), who is the primary sponsor of the bill, introduced Saffo to the committee and added that North Carolina cannot afford to lose another “Cold Mountain,” which was written by a North Carolinian and was set in North Carolina but filmed in Romania. Or another “The Lost Song,” which was also written by a North Carolinian and set in North Carolina, but was recently grabbed by the state of Georgia.

Sen. Garrou also illustrated the prestige filmmaking brings to the state.

When “Nights in Rodanthe” was filmed in Wilmington and the Outer Banks, more than 72,000 hits on the Outer Banks tourism Web site inquired about the movie.

“We know that the movie trade and the tourist trade, all of these things come together,” she said. “It provides a great opportunity for all of us to increase the awareness of our state.”

Sen. W. Edward Goodall (R-Mecklenburg, Union) spoke against the bill, citing a conversation he had with a gentleman in Georgia who said, “The more you give them the more they want.”

“I understand why we want the movies, but I feel it’s a losing battle. We will never win this,” Sen. Goodall said.

Questions were addressed about salary caps and aggregate caps, or how much the state would be willing to pay, in total, to all films shot here. The question of whether taxes generated from film companies and employees were more than incentives paid back also was raised.

Sen. Garrou said the recent Ernst & Young study found that in 2007 the incentive cost the state $23 million, but $29 million was raised by the film industry in state and local revenues.

In the end, Sen. Charles W. Albertson (D-Duplin, Lenoir, Sampson) motioned to give the bill a favorable review and more “ayes” than “nays” were voiced.

If no changes are made, the bill could head to a vote with the full senate.

Amy Hotz: 343-2099

to comment