by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
The most-talked about movie opening this week, "The Hunger Games," was filmed in North Carolina. If you don’t see how that’s going to save the state’s economy, read on.
For the uninitiated, the movie is based on an immensely popular novel series by Suzanne Collins — set in a future, totalitarian North America divided into a dozen districts where a cruel central government forces two children from each district to fight to the death as TV viewers watch. North Carolina was well suited to serve the necessary backdrops for the film, offering an abandoned mill village, an old cotton warehouse, and scenic wooded areas in the mountains.
State tourism officials and backers of Gov. Bev Perdue’s controversial Film Incentive Credit say the movie will inspire tourism in North Carolina by Hunger Games fans. A WRAL News story on the subject opened with the boast, "North Carolina is poised to reap major dividends from tourism with the opening of ‘The Hunger Games.’" Here is what state officials are counting on:
"The movie is already a winner for us," Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco said in a statement, noting the filmmakers spent more than $60 million in North Carolina.
"Now, fans are eager to come see the locations and go to the restaurants, neighborhoods and other places the stars visited," he said. "The money they spend here will be a second payoff for taxpayers."
The state Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development sees the same potential for "The Hunger Games" as the wave of tourism the vampire romance "Twilight" generated in Washington state in 2008.
North Carolina Film Office director Aaron Syrett told WRAL the state’s film incentive was "a major factor in the filmmakers’ decision" to film in N.C. "The incentive completed the package, which included the locations and the state’s well-developed infrastructure."
Forbes explained how it "completed the package":
Lionsgate … was hoping to make Hunger Games for a mere $60 million. Costs ballooned to $90 million but were kept low by subsidies and state incentives from the Tarheel State.
One particularly appealing incentive is the state’s film tax credit. On July 22, 2010, Gov. Bev Perdue signed into law a new Film Incentive Credit that provides a 25% tax credit on productions spending over $250,000 in qualified expenses within the state up to a maximum of $20 million. The credit is refundable, meaning that to the extent that the credit exceeds any taxes due, the overage will be refunded to the production company.
Generous definitions helped. "To qualify, production companies need to spend money in North Carolina," which notably is "not too hard since eligible spending includes payment for services performed in the state."
As Forbes explained, merely paying the actors, who reside out of state, the wages for their work in the state on the film meets those qualifications.
The News & Observer also followed through with expectations of an immediate tourism windfall. Reading the N&O’s take, one would learn that the abandoned mill village in Hildebran "is privately owned and marked with ‘No Trespassing’ signs" but "can be viewed from the road," and the North Fork Reservoir used in lake scenes "supplies drinking water [so] public access is limited" though "hikers can see the spot from the trail." Dupont State Forest, featured in many arena scenes, is accessible, however.
Given that the film credit remains controversial — a rather overt way of state officials playing favorites with industry at taxpayers’ expense and creating an economic drag during a prolonged recession to boot — state officials appear desperate to validate it. They’re obviously hopeful, but the kind of tourism windfall they’re expecting appears grossly optimistic. Many sites chosen for this futuristic dystopia were selected for their "gritty" texture, to seem "the bones of something," the "skeletons" of the past (all quotations from the N&O). How credible, really, is the notion that a significant wave of tourists will come from out of state to eat at the same restaurants the stars (of "The Hunger Games") visited and do little more than gape at an inaccessible reservoir and a distant abandoned mill village?
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