North Carolina council is intended to advise governor on ways to strengthen film industry across the state

WILMINGTON -- In industry terms, this month’s first meeting of the Governor's Advisory Council on Film, Television and Digital Streaming could be considered an establishing shot – a scene setter for the real action and work to come.


The council, which is made up of nearly two dozen people from across the state, was formed in October to advise Gov. Roy Cooper on "efforts to grow and develop North Carolina’s film industry and support the work of the State Film Office," according to the founding executive order.


The relatively light meeting held last Tuesday in Raleigh saw the members of the council formally introduce themselves and be sworn in, followed by remarks from the governor on what he wants from the assemblage. The group briefly discussed some tactics they would like to see explored in future meetings before adjourning.


They will next meet in March.


Local delegates on the council include Bill Vassar, executive vice president of EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington; Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission; Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo; and local unit production manager and producer Dale Williams.


The council is chaired by former Wilmington state representative Susi Hamilton, who is now the secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR).


Griffin, who phoned into the meeting, said he was interested to see what the council’s goals would be.


"It was sort of like we were asked to serve, but there’s isn’t one of these out there already," he said. "So now we need to hear what the charge is and what we will be doing."


Among the topics discussed during the meeting was what the group won’t be doing.


Griffin said the group made a point to express that it is not an entity that is lobbying the legislature or has a budget for accomplishing projects. What it will be doing is using its collective knowledge of different facets of the business to form a strategy to better promote the reasons why North Carolina is a desirable destination for film, TV, streaming and music projects.


Hamilton said there was also an agreement to drill into what’s working and what isn’t in the grant program.


"They all agreed to look in at the thresholds for spending and the caps in place in the grant program now," she said. "Some of the stuff we learned when the business started to return this year was that production costs going in one direction and the grant program wasn’t as effective as it could be."


Vassar, who also phoned into Tuesday meeting, said he was impressed by the members on the council and wants their work to only further the state’s visibility for the entertainment industry at large.


"I commend Susi for putting together a quality group of people experienced with the film industry," he said. "I believe the collective knowledge will be able to provide the governor with his desired understanding of the film industry today and where it needs to be in the future."


Hamilton, who has long been a vocal advocate for the film industry, said she represents the state and the governor on this issue, and wants to help propel the work done by the council.


"Wilmington is home, but this is a state initiative and I want us to be honest about where we are today," she said. "We all want the same thing. There are 78 counties out of 100 in North Carolina that have benefited from the presence of the film industry. We need to build on that."


Griffin works with productions at the very outset of their interest in the state and Wilmington particularly, fielding calls from producers about the grant program and what kind of infrastructure and locations they could use locally.


In those conversations, he said having the council as a talking point could further show the state’s dedication to fortifying its film and media industry.


"The optics for clients is that North Carolina is taking another step to cement its relationship with the industry," he said. "It’s not just have an incentive program, but a willingness to look at the industry and consult with the industry and look forward to where we could be five or 10 years and how we need to position ourselves to get there."


The council’s formation comes at an crucial time for the state film industry, which is looking to maintain accelerated momentum accrued in 2019 -- its biggest year of production since 2014.


Those intertwining years few projects were plagued by a number of deterrents for clients, including the elimination of the previous film incentive in 2014 and the institution of the controversial House Bill 2, known as the Bathroom Bill, in 2016 -- both of which caused production companies to rebuke the state.


However, with most of HB2 repealed and the grant program stable with $31 million annually for the time being, 2019 is expected to end with more than $165 million in local spending from productions like "Halloween Kills," "Swamp Thing," "Reprisal," "Uncle Frank" and "The Georgetown Project."


The council will meeting in March, June, September and December.


Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at 910-343-2327 or Hunter.Ingram@StarNewsOnline.com.