News Column

Film industry leaders fire back against McCrory's claims of 'abuse' of incentive program

July 9, 2014

By Hunter Ingram, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.



July 09--Gov. Pat McCrory's recent comments citing "abuse" of the film incentive has enraged some industry leaders who say the state operates one of the cleanest programs in the nation.

In a recent interview with WECT, McCrory said: "We need to have some compromise on it because, frankly, there was some abuse of it."

Asked by the StarNews this week for examples of abuse, McCrory spokesman Ryan Tronovitch said: "The governor talks about the 'Daily Show' receiving a few hundred thousand dollars for coming to the Democratic National Convention in 2012 (they would have been coming anyways.)"

Speaking to the StarNews editorial board last week, McCrory said the state paid Comedy Central $400,000 to cover the convention as part of its satirical "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" news program.

But an analysis of audit records shows the production received $190,211 from the incentive after spending $760,846.

Though McCrory didn't mention it, "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" that same year spent $467,954 and got back $116,989.

Asked for further examples of abuse, Tronovitch said he would check with the N.C. Film Office, which is a part of the Department of Commerce, though he had not followed up as of 10 a.m. Wednesday. The office's director, Aaron Syrett, confirmed Tuesday that he is stepping down at month's end. There have been sporadic news articles about unusual uses of the film incentive throughout the years.

But on the heels of McCrory's visit to Wilmington last week, EUE/Screen Gems Studios Executive Vice President Bill Vassar said in a statement: "There has been no abuse of the film incentive."

"Every show that has received incentive money has gotten that money lawfully," Vassar said.

Vassar and other industry leaders agree, however, that rules about what types of shows are eligible for an incentive should be tightened, the statement continued.

Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, said the governor's use of the word "abuse" didn't sit well with him either.

"It made me cringe," Griffin said, noting that perhaps the governor would have been better served by suggesting that the film incentives program needed some adjustments to ensure that it was encouraging the type of business intended.

"To me, the word 'abuses' is rather strong because when I hear 'abuses' I think it's somebody that has done something that is illegal, that has manipulated the system in some way, something like that," Griffin said. "'The "Daily Show,' based on guidelines and rules as they are written, fully qualified to be able to come here."

At the same time, Griffin said, some people may "look and say that wasn't our intent."

"If that's the case, over time, any time you have a program you have to evaluate it and look at it and make some changes because you end up with unintended consequences."

But, he said, Comedy Central would probably be "highly offended" as being referred to as an "abuser of the system." An inquiry to Comedy Central's press office was not returned.

"When you claim abuse, that starts to taint all of us because we're all a part of this business," Griffin said.

Katy Feinberg, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Production Alliance, which represents the state's film community, also said there "have been no abuses -- plain and simple."

"North Carolina has one of the most accountable and successful film programs in America, and part of what makes it work so well are the effective audits by the Department of Revenue," Feinberg said.

Leading House and Senate lawmakers continue budget negotiations this week. It's unclear whether the final budget will include a deal on film incentives, which expire Jan. 1. The latest Senate offer to the House included a $20 million "grant" program for the film industry.

Metro desk: 343-2384

On Twitter: @StarNewsMolly

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(c)2014 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)

Visit the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.) at www.starnewsonline.com

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Source: Star-News (Wilmington, NC)


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