The N.C. Film Office will lead a North Carolina delegation at a film reception in Beverly Hills this week in the hopes of wooing more Hollywood productions to the state.
More than 100 executives from major film studios such as Warner Bros. and Paramount, and executives from NBC and Fox, among others, will attend the Wednesday-night event at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and Wilmington Regional Film Commission Director Johnny Griffin also will attend.
"It's imperative that the government and the private sector are working in lock step to make sure that the studios know that the whole community supports the industry," said Saffo, a film commission member. "Since the city and the county also help fund the film commission, I'll also be able to see what the commission does on these trips on a day-to-day basis."
It's the first time lawmakers from the region will sit in on meetings between Griffin and studio executives, said Saffo, who's been on the regional film commission for six years. Saffo said he will pay his expenses for the week-long economic development mission.
"I don't really know what to expect, but I hope to meet with decision makers," he said. "The number of local filming inquiries has picked up dramatically because of ‘Iron Man 3.' We'll remind them of the movie and listen to see if they have concerns about anything."
N.C. Film Office Director Aaron Syrett said producers from such North Carolina-filmed productions as "Revolution" and "Homeland" will be at the event.
"Those are the types of people who tell our story better than we can," he said. "There's no better testimonial."
The Film Office will spend $10,000 on the reception, and the state's film commissions, including Wilmington's, will kick in $5,000 apiece.
"The event is geared toward studio executives and TV projects," Syrett said. "We want to thank all those who shot in North Carolina in the past three years and invite others who haven't to come here. It's a recruiting mission and networking opportunity for our partners and a chance to show off our strengths in North Carolina."
Some corporate sponsors, such as Wilmington's EUE/Screen Gems Studios and the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage (I.A.T.S.E.) Local 491, will contribute $5,000 each, bringing the event's cost to $60,000, according to the Film Office.
"For us, it's an opportunity to thank our clients and a chance to reconnect with people in person," Screen Gems Executive Vice President Bill Vassar said.
Lawmakers who support the local industry say the recruiting trip is a wise move.
State Rep. Susi Hamilton, a Democrat who lives in downtown Wilmington where many productions film, pushed this past year to extend the incentives program through 2014 during an end-of-session flurry of legislation.
"There's no better way to recruit business than to do it face-to-face and to impress upon them how important we think their business is," Hamilton said of the event. "It's a good investment."
Local film leaders say they want to capitalize on the region's recent filming boom.
"Things are on a roll and looking good," film commission director Griffin said. "(We) want to make sure the momentum is there. We got such good response and it was so effective the last time, we felt we should hold another."
Former North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue attended a similar economic development mission and reception in 2010.
"It was really successful," Syrett said. "It was a mission to see what North Carolina needed to do to be competitive in the face of other states' film incentive programs. She really wanted to hear it from the studio heads themselves. They were very honest with her."
Perdue took what she learned at the studios back to Raleigh.
A few months later, lawmakers approved a range of new tax perks, including allowing film companies to recoup 25 percent of their qualifying expenses, up from 15 percent. The changes also increased the per-project cap from $7.5 million to $20 million and eliminated the 6.9 percent income tax on the incentive, allowing production companies to realize a full 25 percent of their qualifying expenses.
"Clearly it was extremely effective when Perdue went, because look what happened – film revenues jumped to $376 million in 2012 from $220 million in spending in 2011," Hamilton said. "Governor Perdue was always clear on her position on the film industry. That endorsement at the highest level of state government has been very important to the industry and the state's economy."
Gov. Pat McCrory did not receive an invitation to the reception, Press Secretary Crystal Feldman said in an email on Friday.
Wit Tuttell, director of tourism marketing for the state's Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development, said Friday that the Governor has an open invitation to any state-sponsored events, but that the reception was designed mainly for those in the film industry.
The state's Department of Commerce also will not send staff members, Tuttell said.
Wednesday's event, which has been planned for about six months, is "less about shaping the incentive and more about educating people on it," Film Office Director Syrett said.
"We have certainty on the incentive up until Jan. 1, 2015," he said. "We realize it's set to sunset, but we've been successful the past six years in extending it."
The extension, however, doesn't take into account film and other targeted incentives to industries will be on the table during a broader debate this year among lawmakers on how to overhaul the state's antiquated tax system.
"Nothing is certain in any state with film incentives," Screen Gems' Vassar said. "Everyone will ask about incentives and I can tell them we have one in place until 2015. And ours is the most efficient and easy to understand."