The state budget compromise has produced a mixed bag for the state’s film production industry.
The compromise and the conference report does not specifically list a $31 million commitment toward the film and production grant program in fiscal 2019-20 that was in the budgets of the House and Gov. Roy Cooper.
However, Guy Gaster, director of N.C. Film Office, and Rebecca Clark, director of Piedmont Triad Film Commission, said the grant program continues to be provided $31 million each year, and that used funds "would continue to roll over."
"The proposal presented on June 25, as part of the joint legislative budget, is different from any previous proposal as presented in the governor’s proposed budget, the House’s proposed budget, or the Senate’s proposed budget, but does reflect some aspects of each of those group’s proposals," Gaster said.
There was $67.38 million in the film grant fund balance as of late May.
"It is my understanding that any unused funds from a prior fiscal year will not roll over to the next year which is different then last year," Clark said.
"It is unfortunate because of what I’ve stated again and again, our neighbors in Georgia offer an incentive that has no cap per year.
"The resulting benefits include $9.5 billion into Georgia’s economy, over 5,000 individuals across the state getting the equivalent of full-time and well-paying jobs, and a huge influx of money from film tourism," Clark said.
The compromise also retains the siphoning of $32.5 million from the grant fund balance that was inserted into the Senate budget plan. However, the funding shift now goes to just one state department rather than six agencies and departments.
Senate leader Phil Berger said in May that the Senate would use what he called the “film grant surplus” toward other state funding needs.
“We transferred money from the enormous cash balance, and we replaced recurring dollars with non-recurring,” Berger spokesman Bill D’Elia said.
The compromise budget transfers $23.5 million to the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resource in fiscal 2019-20 and an additional $9 million in 2020-21.
The Senate budget broke down the one-time funding transfer this way: $14 million to the state parks and recreation trust fund; $5 million to N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; $4 million to clean water management trust fund; $4 million to N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources; $3.5 million to N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, $1 million to N.C. Commerce Department’s economic development fund; and $500,000 to N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, and lead House budget writer, said the film grants "are in good shape and the account healthy."
Gaster said "it is not unreasonable to think that those unused/unallocated funds could be re-distributed in future years, just as the legislature has proposed in this budget proposal."
The budget compromise lowers the amount of money a firm production company would need to spend to receive state film and entertainment grant monies.
The compromise reduces the expenditures from $3 million to $1.5 million for a feature film, as well as from $1 million to $500,000 for a made-for-television movie.
For a television series, the requirement drops from $1 million to $500,000 per episode. A commercial production would remain at $250,000.
No more than $7.5 million in grants can be provided to a feature-length film, as well as no more than $15 million (up from $12.5 million) for a single season of a television series, and no more than $250,000 for a commercial for theatrical or television viewing or on-line distribution.
“I’m pleased that the minimum threshold was lowered,” Clark said. “Hopefully, this will enable N.C. to recruit more, smaller budget films across the entire state, including the Piedmont Triad.”
Gaston said that in the past two years, the state has seen an uptick in interest from productions that includes eight projects that have had slightly more than $34 million in grant funds reserved.
The budget proposal would add an up to $1 million grant for both fiscal years for film production by an accredited university or college in the state, mostly likely geared toward UNCSA.
“The way we read the Senate’s budget proposal, universities are not the recipients of the film school allocation,” UNCSA said. “Projects that involve students from a number of North Carolina universities would be eligible to apply for the grants.”
Clark said that “I love to support film school graduates and help encourage them to stay in the area by helping them find resources to create their first feature film in the area and have done so in the past.”
“However, I’d rather see that $1 million allocation in the budget be inclusive and available to both film school graduates and native N.C. filmmakers, those that live here and are committed to staying here.”