Republican senator’s bill would expand controversial N.C. film grants
Wilmington’s Republican senator has teamed up with a Winston-Salem Democrat to push a bill that would expand North Carolina’s film grant program — a program critics say is actually a money loser for the state.
Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, and Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, are the primary sponsors of Senate Bill 268, which would add $34 million to the Film and Entertainment Grant Fund over the next two years.
That’s on top of the $31 million per year the grant program already receives. The film grants were established by the General Assembly in 2014, and reimburse filmmakers up to a quarter of their production costs for a movie or TV show filmed in North Carolina. The idea is to incentivize major productions — movies with a budget above $3 million and TV episodes costing $1 million or more — in the state, bringing with them jobs and spending.
“Securing the multi-year grant funding would show that the legislature is supportive and responsive to the state’s film industry and the needs of the studios,” Lee wrote on his Facebook page. “That includes their desire to have fiscal certainty when looking to base a potential multi-year production, like a TV series that often becomes synonymous with where it is shot.”
Wilmington, home to EUE/Screen Gems Studios, has a long history with the film industry. It’s been the setting for movies such as “Iron Man 3” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” as well as as TV shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill.”
The Film and Entertainment Grant Fund replaced a film income tax credit program that offered up to $20 million per production. The new grant program has already tripled in size since being introduced fewer than seven years ago.
But studies have shown that film grants and incentive fail to deliver the economic impact they promise. North Carolina’s programs paid out more than $400 million between 2005 and 2018, but brought back somewhere between 19 cents and 61 cents on the dollar, independent analysts show.
States are increasingly exiting the film incentive business. Twelve states have repealed their programs in the past decade.
“As with other incentives programs, taking money from other people caring for their families and working in other productive endeavors to give to, in this case, film production has consistently shown to be on net bad for the state economy,” said Jon Sanders, senior fellow, regulatory studies and research editor at the John Locke Foundation.
Andrew Dunn is a freelance writer for Carolina Journal.