EXCLUSIVE: State to surpass $275m spend target this year; also will host TV shoots for second season of Showtime hit Homeland and Alan Ball’s Banshee.
After its starring role in The Hunger Games, North Carolina is set to host a number of other high-profile shoots, led by Iron Man 3 and Matthew Weiner’s feature directorial debut.
Both films will start shooting this month at various locations across the state.
Aaron Syrett, head of the NC Film Office since 2007, notes that Iron Man 3 will be the largest project the state has ever hosted. “We have the largest studio campus outside of Los Angeles here [in Wilmington],” he notes. Iron Man 3 will do “a lot of studio work but also shooting in various parts of North Carolina.
Mad Men creator Weiner’s You Are Here will shoot in and around Winston-Salem, and will star Owen Wilson, NC native Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler and Laura Ramsey. “[Weiner] is such a well respected writer for Mad Men, so this film is a really good ‘get’ for NC. I think it’s a great cast, he’s such a creative person,” says Syrett.
Syrett, who previously was Utah’s Film Commissioner, confirms that other recent projects to shoot in the state include Piranha 3DD, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, and Dan Pritzker’s jazz story Bolden! Also, Charlotte, NC will soon host TV hit Homeland again for its second season, and Alan Ball’s new Cinemax series Banshee will also shoot in that area.
Of course, luring The Hunger Games to shoot entirely in the state was a huge coup. “They were looking at a lot of places, but we had a really good relationship with Lionsgate, they had shot two TV pilots here…In 2010 we signed a pretty aggressive film incentive so we knew we were in the game. [The incentive is true 25% with a cap of $20m.]
“They wouldn’t give us the script, but reading the books, we knew it took place in Appalachia. We don’t have coal mines, but we certainly have the mountains. We spent a good eight or nine months recruiting this film to come here… The key location to find was District 12. We found parts of it. A location friend of mine said, go to the Henry River. We shot it, they came out to see it, and that kind of sealed the deal, along with our incentive.”
Syrett is confident that the second Hunger Games film, Catching Fire, will also return to the Tar Heel state. “For the second book we know they need for part of it a tropical location, so we know part of it won’t be here … but we’re confident we can get 40-50% of it, we’re talking now. And the third book [Mockingjay] is set in the underground, we could do that all here.”
The total production spend in 2010 was $75m and reached $228m in 2011, while the spend for the year-to-date has already reached $249m in a year when the stated target was $275m. Also, tourism is booming related to The Hunger Games, as well [see itinerary here.]
Of challenges facing the state, it’s currently a lack of major post-production facilities - something that could change soon: “We have a couple of high level post houses looking to open an office here,” Syrett says. Another concern is the scarcity of direct flights from Los Angeles to NC’s major cities.
The state’s current governor, Bev Perdue, has also been very active in meeting with studios and understanding what they need from a state incentive [the current one is in place until at least January 2014.]
Syrett says NC’s incentive is not only strong, but stable. “Around 2004, all the states were trying to out-percentage each other. In NC we were slower getting into the game, we were kind of watching what everybody did. I believe we have the smartest film incentive. We devised a way to give a lot back with that 25%, and a million dollar cap on salaries, and we can still compete with Georgia and Louisiana because we have the infrastructure, we have 30 years of trained people.
“We have an industry and want to keep an industry, and we don’t need an outrageous incentive to do that. Some other states have such a high incentive because people have to bring their crews in. Here we are about eight crews deep.”
Syrett spoke to Screen at last month’s RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, NC.