May 26--The undeniable smell of Sharpie wafted through the Downtown Wilmington air Sunday as film industry supporters drew up signs to be featured in a new short film promoting the industry's impact statewide.
The film, shot Sunday on the Riverwalk in front of the Alton Lennon Federal Courthouse, is just the latest cinematic effort by a local group to raise awareness for the state's film tax incentive program, which offers a 25 percent refundable tax credit to productions that spend more than $250,000 on qualifying services. The program is set expire at the end of the year, unless action is taken during the General Assembly's current short session.
For director Jon Landau, the idea to make the film, which he co-produced with his wife, Marty, arose from a conversation with State House candidate Betsy Jordan and his own motivation to help protect the incentive.
"(Making the short film) came out of necessity. Last week, we started hearing talk coming out a Raleigh that legislators were heading in the wrong direction," he said. "So, we wanted to show them the impact the incentive and the industry has on real people statewide."
Although Landau's call for volunteers was posted to Facebook just two days before the shoot, word got around. More than 50 volunteers mobilized on the Riverwalk Sunday, ready to carry handmade signs that represented different businesses and vendors that benefit from film and television productions in the state, including vehicle rentals, hotels, event equipment rentals, short term housing, bookstores and talent agencies.
Working with director of photography Craig Thieman, Landau devised a storyline that finds an out-of-state producer handing out money to the people dressed as businesses as they pass by the camera, a visual which he hopes will illustrate that money spent with local vendors and businesses is from producers and productions, not tax revenue.
"We want to reach others beyond the film industry because those in the industry already know this," Landau said.
Landau's film, which he hopes to release this week, comes on the heels of another short, titled "Keep It Rolling," which was shot by a group of University of North Carolina Wilmington film students.
Robert Conley, who graduated earlier this month, acted as director on the film, a documentary that talks facts and figures with N.C. Film Office director Aaron Syrett and Wilmington Regional Film Commission director Johnny Griffin, among others.
Conley landed on the topic after being tasked with finding a film subject for his senior seminar class' final documentary project.
"Once I began working, I learned very quickly how passionate people were," Conley said. The production process stretched from January to just a few weeks ago when Conley turned in the finished film.
Although his initial plan was to create an objective look at the incentive debate, Conley said it became increasingly difficult to get those opposed to the incentive to speak to him for the film. He also reached out to Gov. Pat McCrory and State Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker for comment, but could never coordinate an interview in time.
Even though he began with little knowledge about the incentive, Conley said that, through research and filming, he began to side with the supporters.
"The more I got into it, the less I found why people should be against it," he said.
Now, with graduation over, Conley has posted the film online for the public to see. (You can view it at http://ow.ly/x6MF6.)
Conley originally wanted to debut the flim at film festivals, "but since the incentive hasn't passed through the legislature, I decided to get the film out there," he said. "I made this film for North Carolina, not for myself. Online, it can get to the largest audience."
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