Movie review

An unposted op-ed in yesterday’s N&R criticizes this article on state incentives for filmmakers.

Stephen van Vuuren writes:

I just read your article about state film incentives and, as an independent filmmaker in Greensboro, found it misleading and incomplete. I also found it disturbing that it read more like an editorial than a feature story.

As you read van Vuuren’s letter, it becomes clear he believes the story is editorializing against film incentives, which will be doled out to productions spending at least $250,000 in the state.

A mainstream newspaper “editorializing” against incentives, especially for the film industry? Can’t be, I thought to myself. So I read the article again.

The article focuses on a new law that will take effect in January that will cut checks to film companies for 15 percent of their production costs, as long as those costs are over $250,000.

An N&R analysis found several “potential weaknesses” in the measure, the biggest of which is the lack of a cap on annual spending, unlike competitors such as South Carolina and Florida, which cap at $17.5 million and $20 million, respectively. in other words, there’s no limit.

The other issue, according to the N&R, is lack of oversight when dealing with a production company that applies for incentives, which could help state officials “identify potential problems with obscenity,” although the state already bans incentives for obscene films.

On this issue, van Vuuren writes:

You raise the straw man of obscenity from the “News & Record analysis” of the incentive. It’s a non-issue that may play in politics or gossip columns, but your characterization is incomplete.

First, the $250,000 minimum on production means porn films won’t be getting the incentives anyway. As for an obscenity clause and script review requirement, that would mean many leading filmmakers would pass on our state.

The article also quotes state Sen. Phil Berger, who voted against the new law:

“If you have 10 feature films that are each demanding $7.5 million in credits one year, that’s a pretty good hit on the taxpayer.

Even though it shed light on problems with offering incentives , the last two-thirds of the article states the party line from the pro- incentives crowd: stiff competition from other states.

Experts in the industry say production companies are ruthless in seeking incentives, even if North Carolina is perfect for a particular film.
“They say, ‘Well, we’ll just rewrite the script to be Louisiana, New Mexico or anywhere else,’” said Bill Arnold, the recently retired director of the state film office.

Four of the nation’s six major film making corporations wouldn’t even consider North Carolina for their projects until its recent change of heart on incentives, said Bill Vassar of the EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington.
The new law came in response to such states as South Carolina and Louisiana that already had big film rebates.

Arnold and others say the competing states’ existing programs are more generous than North Carolina’s new law, giving back in rebates or refunds much higher percentages of a film’s overhead.

So if I read van Vuuren’s op-ed right, he’s taking the N&R to task for “editorializing” against incentives for filmmakers. It seems to me the article is laid out to give that impression, but in the end signs off on taxpayer funding for filmmakers who will invade our state, spend a few hundred thousand dollars, then leave. Now that’s obscene.

Sam Hieb / Contributing Editor

Sam Hieb is freelance journalist from Greensboro, North Carolina. He is a contributing editor for Carolina Journal and for Piedmont Publius, a blog that focuses on political a...