Charlotte Film

Written by Ellen Gurley

Charlotte People on the Future of Film
By: Ellen Gurley

While most Charlotteans think it’s cute when Sarah Silverman and Emma Roberts are in town filming, some find that the road blocks and the trucks are an inconvenience. But for a lot of local people, film is food. Used to be, if one wanted to get into film, they had to move to Hollywood or at least visit Wilmington (often referred to as Wilmywood). This is no longer the case and as of late, Charlotte has been seeing a lot of action. Here’s to hoping that it stays that way. I chatted with a few local people involved in the industry, to gauge the future for Charlotte film.

Mitzi Corrigan is a casting director for film, TV and commercials. She has been in business since 1996 as co-owner of Corrigan & Johnston Casting (C&J). The film industry means everything to her and her team. “It is our life line. Without it we would have to move to a different market. I wouldn't say Charlotte film is dying. It ebbs and flows but somehow it seems to hang on, albeit by its fingertips and its discouraging to see our government leaders not recognizing not only the financial importance that the film business brings to NC but also the cultural importance it brings to our state. We are concerned about sustaining the business here. We would rather be worried about how we are going to handle the increase of the film business here, but we are not that optimistic.”

Wesley Johnson has invested half of his life working in the film industry in Charlotte. “I have witnessed two waves of production. I worked on the first movie that was made in Charlotte after ‘Days of Thunder‘ shot here. This run continued until Canada started using tax incentives to lure production. It worked. Charlotte and North Carolina suffered, until they created the current tax incentive program. This is set to expire at the end of the year. Will production end? No. But most of my work these days is in commercials. This will be here as long as NASCAR is here. But movies and TV series will leave for sure.”

Local historian Brandon Lunsford has his panties in a bunch about the whole subject. "They are missing so many opportunities here because they don't seem to understand how this works. Yes, you've got to cut people some tax benefits and that takes money out of your pocket but you will be building something sustainable, bringing attention to your state, encouraging business and encouraging continued investment, and you will see the benefits many times over later. These jerks can't see past their own crooked noses however, so I suppose asking foresight is like asking them to split the freaking atom."  I suppose so, Brandon, as Pat McCroy cut incentives by many millions.
Scott Rogers has done background work on Banshee, Homeland and the Novice this past year. “Charlotte/ regional filming is important to me. It creates jobs and its lots of fun to be part of. Being on these sets is a unique experience. Above all, I think that filming in North Carolina will continue to grow as long as the tax incentives for filming in NC stays in place. I recently had a conversation with Jeff Tremaine, one of the creators of MTV's Jackass. He brought 80 people from California to Charlotte because it was more affordable to film here.”

John DisherJohn Disher has worked regionally on movies, TV series, music videos, corporate films and several feature-length documentary films in the Carolinas. “The crew people in Charlotte are really top-notch. They work VERY hard and I'd put their talent up against film crews from LA or anywhere else in the country. What makes Charlotte's people really stand out though is attitude. Walk onto a set here and you'll see camera assistants helping wardrobe move racks. You'll see makeup artists looking out for the grips. It's how all productions should run - but you don't see it very often in other parts of the country. In Charlotte - its' the norm.”

Alex Mauldin, a local piano teacher, is a composer who writes the music for films and has also produced a short film entitled "Out Of Ones Misery". He doesn’t see a slow in the film industry. Another local score person, Jason Hausman of Hot Sake Studios, sees it as business as usual, reminding me to “keep an eye out for the trailer for the movie ‘When The Game Stands Tall’ while reminding me that the incentives are what fuels us“. And the pace is still good for local Michael Plumides who has been cranking out episode after episode of Ghost Trek with his crew and is also doing Clive Barker‘s Nightbreed.

Mike Wirth (who does professional infographic design) is connected to the film industry via his role as a new media design professor at Queens University. He and his students are constantly helping create motion graphics and title sequences with local film professionals. “The local perks of state and local revenue is great and it proves that Hollywood is no longer the center of the film universe. After hearing about the state legislature killing some tax breaks and perks for filmmaking, I bet the industry will suffer. However, in the highly integrated digital era we are in now, I see the local community rising above the political fray.”

Wendy Fishman, location scout at Banshee, stage manager at TEDxCharlotte and project manager at Arts & Science Council, says that local film (still) means “work for a lot of people in this area and a chance to show the diversity of locations and places in our beautiful region”.  (Banshee has unfornatuely already packed up and left town - taking work to another community.)

Chip White is a producer and actor that has recently premiered in a short called “A Chess Player”. “I’ve been mostly on the edge of the film community and more on the television side for the majority of my career. I’m excited to dive into and explore the film side of the business for a change. Charlotte/regional film to me means, under-appreciated talent. I spent almost 20 years in LA and I feel some of the talent, both in front of and behind the camera here in the Charlotte area are as good as, if not better than, what LA/NY offer. I can tell you that most of the people I work with here in this region have an amazing attitude and are very easy to work with. Maybe it’s the producer, but everyone has been awesome, talented and extremely professional. I feel local film will grow, slowly, but it will continue to improve, if the city really makes it attractive for film makers. Charlotte and the adjacent counties are a hidden gem that the film industry has over looked. I kind of like that, for selfish reasons, but my goal is to bring bigger and better projects to the area. It’s a beautiful city to shoot with terrific surroundings where talented directors and producers can tell some amazing stories.”

Charlotte actor, Andrew Taylor, says Charlotte film is extremely special to him. “This is my home and my city. This is the city in which my Great Grandfather was born. When people come from L.A. or New York or even Wilmington to film in Charlotte, I want them to get the best parts of this city. I want them to find that perfect house or that perfect backdrop. My job as a location scout is to read the script and to find what the writers and directors want. I have to find a place in Charlotte that could be a New York City alley. I have to find a place that could be a New Orleans plantation. It can be a challenge, but we always seem to find what we need. Film making is art, and although I am not behind the camera shooting the scene, it's my job to be able to visualize exactly what the writers and directors want and what they are looking for - and I have I to find it. All of us in the film community collectively work together on the commercial, TV series, or movie that ends up on your TV or big screen. We all collectively create the art you see. Without each department, that doesn't happen. From the craft service person to the hair and makeup person to the PA's and camera department... we are all responsible in some way for creating the finished product which is art. To be a part of something like that is a great feeling. Contrary to popular belief, it is not glamorous or interesting or particularly fun. It's INCREDIBLY hard work and we work incredibly long, boring hours. It takes a special sort of insanity to work in the film business. It's not cut and dry what it means to me to work in the film industry in Charlotte. It's difficult to describe and even more difficult to make anyone understand who is not in the film industry. We're a family and we care about each other, and once you're part of the family, it's hard to imagine doing anything else.”  Taylor is less than happy with our mayor's recent decisions.

Andrew TaylorActor Thomas Beck has been doing commercials (much like Jason Herring and now his daughter, Greta) as the “dad” or the “goofy guy”. He’s gotten to squeal out with Dale in haircut commercials. He’s had a lot of fun with it. But having been pigeon-holed, it’s tough to get a ’break’ in feature films. He got a role in “Like Rats in a Trap” (a true story filmed at Reed about a major 1904 goldmine accident - complete with singing less than uplifting songs like “Swing Low…”) and one in “Curfew” and is pleased to get a chance to do some roles in suspense/melodrama. “I‘ll never quit. I began as a drama kid, always was into improv, was in ‘Eddie’ and even moved to Wilmywood to pursue this (not with a whole lot of success). Commercials are my bread and butter but it’s wonderful to get more into film (it takes persistence, research, commitment, an agency and a little luck / hope) and I don’t see it dying in our region anytime soon. North Carolina is among the top ten places to film. Film really does equal jobs. I‘d even like to see my daughters get into acting”.

Paige Johnston Thomas is a casting director and the other owner of C&J Casting. “I am hired by production companies/directors/ad agencies, etc. to search the Southeast to find the perfect actor for the perfect role. Charlotte film “is my livelihood, it's my business, it's my fun, and my enjoyment. Growing up as an actor here in Charlotte, the only thing I wanted was to get out of here! I was sure there was no way one could be an actor here and have access to being cast in national commercials or feature films. I was wrong. I moved back from New York 17 years ago, needing a break from acting (well, really, a break from trying to act), but still wanting to be involved in the 'industry,' and that's when we opened C&J Casting.” 

Joanne HockJoanne Hock is a film director and co-owns a film production company here in Charlotte. “We are very active with the film community and utilize the Charlotte and NC film office, crews, equipment rental houses all of the time. I've been involved in film production in Charlotte since the early '80's. I've watched it continue to grow for the past 30 years. What we are doing now in terms of the production is remarkable. Just in the last month I worked on 3 different feature films and/or TV series. I've also worked on TV commercial shoots and corporate film shoots as well as directing a feature length documentary. The film incentives will be a huge determining factor as to whether the film industry will continue to grow or dissipate based on the influx or disappearance of the bigger budget/larger scale productions.”

Whether film is dying in the region, we wish we all knew for sure. For Paige “there is no question that the film and TV industry has been growing steadily and stronger over the years. Hollywood is excited about North Carolina and everything we have to offer – locations, great crew, and of course those film incentives everyone is talking about. Our TV commercial division has always been strong and steady but our film division has been growing and getting stronger and stronger. We just finished casting principal and day-player roles on the project ‘Ashby’ that shot here in Charlotte and starred Mickey Rourke. We love working on film projects and hope that Hollywood continues to see value in shooting here.” Fingers crossed!


Ellen Gurley   Ellen Gurley
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