Communities like Southport are among those who stand to reap the benefits of a more than $409 million investment by film producers in North Carolina so far this year.

To date, several major productions have been awarded N.C. film and entertainment grants in 2021. Among them is “One Summer,” a made-for-TV movie set to premiere September 26 on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel.

The work of production companies The Cartel and Crown Media, production for the movie, which centers around a widower who brings his family to his wife’s hometown for a summer vacation, took place at a private home along Southport’s 300 block of East Beach Drive as well as the Dosher Flea Market on Moore Street, and locations in New Hanover County.

“Our Kind of People” was shot on partly location in Southport over the summer and is scheduled to premiere on FOX this month. The TV series is the story of a single mother who moves her family to a vineyard with hopes of infiltrating the African American elite in the Oak Bluffs community with her line of natural hair care products. It was filmed mainly in Wilmington but in July the cast was seen filming church and high tea service scenes in and around Trinity United Methodist Church in downtown Southport.

Filming for the Netflix series “The Summer I turned Pretty,” based on a trilogy of romance novels by Jenny Han, filmed August 11 in downtown Southport with film crews staging on Moore, Howe and Davis streets before moving to the Yacht Basin and the city dock.

“Movies are very good for our economy,” said Southport-Oak Island Chamber of Commerce Director Karen Sphar. “If you look at the impact the movie “Safe Haven” has continued to have for people wanting to travel to the location, afterwards, of where the film was made.”

Season 1 of the Netflix mystery thriller, “Echoes” will begin filming in the area this week. A production of The Cartel and Crown Media and based out of EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington, the series will center around identical twins who share a dangerous secret that culminates in a double life as adults.

Return of industry

Film companies receive state incentives to attract them to the state, including financial assistance from The North Carolina Film and Entertainment Grant. No money is received up front; the companies must meet direct in-state spending requirements to qualify for grants. The program is administered by the NC Department of Commerce and promoted by the North Carolina Film Office, part of VisitNC and the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

EUE/Screen Gems has hosted more than 400 feature films, commercials and TV series, including Dawson’s Creek, and in 2012 scenes from Iron Man 3, the largest film to ever shoot in North Carolina, were filmed in New Hanover and Brunswick counties.

The current boom in movie production is providing a healthy boost local and state-wide after several years of no filming at all. After the state legislature elected to end its tax incentive in 2014 the film industry was dealt a blow with the passing of House Bill 2 in 2016 which led the film industry to leave the state in protest of the bill, just like many sport and music events.

Estimates of loss in film revenue from the controversial HB2, or bathroom bill, were $3.76 million. When Governor Roy Cooper repealed the bill things were starting to look up, but with the added burden of Covid-19 film and television suffered further setbacks. The state early management of the virus allowed production to continue.

While initially it had its critics, the grant program appears to have been instrumental in helping turn the ship, with film spending at an all-time high since the creation of the program. The state’s workforce, infrastructure, diverse locations and the current tax incentive are credited with the state’s high amount of filming taking place.

With film activity occurring in all eight of the state’s economic development prosperity zones, this year’s projects include eight scripted series which present opportunities to return to the state to film additional seasons. The money invested by film producers is the largest amount seen in the state since the creation of the North Carolina Film and Entertainment Grant in 2014.

Citing 2021 as a banner year, state Governor Cooper has credited the state’s resilience and growing reputation for inclusion and diversity with the industry’s continued upward expansion that impacts towns like Southport.

Economic opportunities

When filmmakers come to Southport there are multiple economic opportunities that benefit the community, said Jones, as well as the excitement and the vibe it generates.

“When you look at it from the standpoint of the economics that the governor was talking about - for us that stems from everything from the rental of the properties used to film, paying people to use their storefronts and stores, to using the land to have a base camp,” Jones said. In the past film crews used Taylor Park as base camp but are now using the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Hall on Lord Street for base camp as needed.

“Opportunities for the community to make money often extend beyond what many people would assume or even think about,” Jones said. 

When Hallmark used Dosher Flea Market they made a donation to the Dosher volunteers.

“They made a very nice contribution to the volunteers. It’s not always something you see,” said Jones. “You’ve got that tangible dollar but it’s that unknown dollar that comes as you talk about future tourism it sparks for people who are excited and say, ‘Oh, I was in Southport, and they were filming.’

“It’s that excitement we see.” 

Karen Sphar said her overall experience with production companies visiting Southport has been a good one. The experience of filming in the town, she says, is as exciting for residents as it is for visitors.

“It’s always exciting to see what movie stars are in town,” she stated. “They might be at the coffee shop right next to them getting their latte, or something. It’s kind of cool to say ‘Hey, I had coffee with so-and-so today.’

“There’s always that excitement when there’s a film in town, everybody wants to know who the stars are,” said Sphar.