by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
A few years ago I noticed something. Arguments made in support of North Carolina’s film tax incentives kept citing famous North Carolina movies that were made many, many years before film incentives. It happened so often, I started to think there was a method to madness.
I soon saw it as “a gamble on readers’ ignorance.” As I titled it, “They probably expect you don’t know we didn’t have film incentives until 2005.”
In the ensuing years, the film tax incentives with their unconstitutional refundability was replaced by a film grant program, which was promptly tripled. This year, however, there is renewed interest in bringing back the state’s open-wallet approach to film productions.
And if this recent article in WRAL is any indication, so is the calculated deception on film incentives.
WRAL’s approach was to write a piece on the 35th anniversary of the movie “Firestarter.” It not only was filmed in North Carolina, but also led to the building of a movie production studio in Wilmington, as film productions saw that North Carolina has a lot to offer. Not only do we have a range of natural features (mountains to coast, rural to urban) and a pleasant climate with all four seasons, but also we are a right-to-work state with comparably low rental and wage rates.
The film industry in North Carolina was homegrown, a function of market choices, not government incentives. There were no film tax incentives in 1984 when “Firestarter” was made. There were no film tax incentives in 1987 when “Dirty Dancing” was made. There were no film tax incentives in 1988 when “Bull Durham” was made. There were no film tax incentives in 1992 when “Last of the Mohicans” was made.
North Carolina didn’t get into film tax incentives until 2005.
Would you get that from WRAL? No. The article is entitled “35 years ago, NC exploded onto the movie scene.” A reader might wonder what caused the explosion.
The article opens with “Firestarter” and its ripple effects, but then it gives us these two paragraphs back to back:
[“Firestarter”] Director Dino De Laurentiis built a studio in Wilmington, which is now a hub of television and film production.
The state’s film tax credits ended in 2014, and the legislature replaced them with a grant program – $31 million allotted each year.
The rest of the article is about (you guessed it) restoring the film tax incentives.
First, however, was the burning need to plant the suggestion that the film tax incentives were responsible for movies made two decades before the incentives even existed.