Story by Asheville Citizen Times Emily Patrick,
Mysterious TV show will film in WNC, gets $4M grant

The same company that produced “The Hunger Games” is expected to return to Western North Carolina for a new project. The untitled TV series by Lionsgate will receive a $4 million state grant, the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina announced Friday.

Other Lionsgate TV productions include “Mad Men,” “Orange Is the New Black,” and “The Royals.”

The money is part of the North Carolina Film and Entertainment Grant, which will channel a combined $10 million in reimbursements to production companies who spend money in the state this year. The General Assembly designated those funds for distribution in fiscal year 2015, which ends in July.

All of the grant money was distributed Friday to a total of three projects. In addition to the WNC project, “Under the Dome,” a CBS series filming in Wilmington, will receive $5 million, and “Late in the Season,” a basketball movie set in Davidson, will receive $1 million.

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The companies are projected to spend $60 million in the state. The WNC Lionsgate series must spend at least $16 million in North Carolina, according to its agreement with the state (spending must exceed 400 percent of the grant amount).

The grant system replaces more lucrative tax cut incentives. From 2010-14, film productions could claim a 25 percent refund on all qualified expenses in the state — up to $20 million. Under the new system, no production can receive more than $5 million from the state.

For this round of funding, five productions applied and three were funded. To put that number in perspective, more than 30 companies received tax credits in 2013, according to the North Carolina Department of Revenue.

Guy Gaster, who directs the North Carolina Film Office, part of the Economic Development Partnership, says that decline in interest reflects regional competition between states who offer incentives to attract film crews. “These productions are businesses,” he says. “You can possibly take your $25 million feature down to Georgia, and while North Carolina will only give you $5 million back, Georgia’s giving back $7.5 million. For going down there, you can get back $2.5 million more than you would in North Carolina.”

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The 2013 productions spent almost $250 million in North Carolina, more than four times what they’re projected to spend this year. (Figures for 2014 haven’t been released yet.)

The current grant-based system — capped at $10 million per year — is projected to continue through fiscal year 2017, according to the governor’s recommended budget, but it could be adjusted during a long session of the General Assembly this summer. Those changes would be certified in July or August.

The 2015 grant recipient projects are distributed throughout the mountain, Piedmont and coastal regions. Gaster says that was a happy accident. “I think it is a bonus that we are able to have productions in the three main areas of the state be able to take advantage of (the grant),” he says. “But that wasn’t a goal; it was a byproduct.”

He says film companies often look for locations based on trends. “Around the Hunger Games, it was looking for this apocalyptic type of look, and it seemed that all of Hollywood was looking for that for every project,” he says. “Then a couple of years ago, we had a run at farmhouses — these ideal, two-story, usually white farm houses, like what you’ll see coming up in ‘The Longest Ride.'”

Additional details about the Lionsgate TV project are scarce. In order to receive the funds, Lionsgate had to submit a detailed application that indicated the size of the cast and crew and the main dates of filming. The Citizen-Times has requested those documents from the state.