N.C. Film Grant program to get a $20 million infusion

Credit: James Willamor
Credit: James Willamor

Credit: James Willamor

RALEIGH – The General Assembly announced a deal to increase the Film Grant program to $30 million yesterday. The two chambers agreed to a final spending number that should appear in the budget conference report, possibly out later this week. In their versions of the budget, the governor and the Senate maintained the incentive program at last year’s $10 million level, while the House budget proposal increased it to $40 million.

Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) and Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) carried the water on the issue for the past several years, particularly as the old refundable film tax credit was dismantled in favor of a $10 million grant program. The new number announced yesterday adds $20 million to the film grant pot, where movie makers can apply for funds. The old program was criticized because it had no cap and no firm estimates of how much a film project would claim, with union-level wages driving costs up even in temporary projects. According to the Commerce Department’s Jeff DeBellis, manager of Economic and Policy Analysis, the state had a $56 million net loss through the old program.

“The biggest challenge is that we just can’t put a number behind the benefit. We estimate that we got back about 20 percent of what we gave out,” DeBellis said during budget negotiations in July.

Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover

Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover

The new Film Grant program is designed to correct that deficit by sticking with a set, budgeted amount of incentive money, and the list of qualifiers is more stringent. It focuses on incentivizing longer-term work like television series, as opposed to one-time projects.

“I have been fighting tirelessly for the film industry since the day I stepped into office,” said Davis. “Today is a good day for both New Hanover County and the state of North Carolina. I am delighted to hear that the film grant is being increased and I think we can now say that North Carolina’s film industry is officially back open for business.”

The N.C. Film Office is tasked by the Commerce Department with promoting the industry. They said the $10 million pot was gone after the first round of applicants. The additional funds should be well received among the vocal supporters of the program who say the industry creates a long-term economic impact that is hard to capture in support services, restaurants, stores and set work.

Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover)

Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover)

“The film grant program is one of the only small business incentives in North Carolina and is vital to New Hanover County,” said Lee in a statement. “I am pleased that my Senate colleagues, after much negotiation, have agreed to increase the funding levels for this important program. While there is still much more that can be done, today is a victory for both our region and our state.”

The agreement is expected to be included in the final budget conference report that Speaker Tim Moore said could be out as early as Friday.  Others close to the process said expecting it this week might be too tight a deadline, but that negotiators are in the short rows. The budget has been negotiated all summer and General Assembly has had to pass three Continuing Resolutions; the current stop-gap funding law is scheduled to expire Sept. 18.