Wilmington’s film industry keeps rolling despite added costs

Andrew Lemon, Contributing Writer

WILMINGTON N.C.—Since the first film productions began in Wilmington in the early 1980s, the city has become an alluring backdrop for filmmakers across the country. As film and TV projects increasingly took to the area to shoot, Wilmington gained the mantle of “the Hollywood of the East.” 

After a brief hiccup as the film industry regained its footing following the initial shock of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Wilmington is once again playing host to many new projects. 

“They’re all exciting for us,” said Johnny Griffin, the Director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, when asked about which of this year’s projects he is most excited about. “We have had quite a run recently on horror films. We had the project “Static” that was here, we had “Scream” that was here, we had “Halloween” that was here and we have the series “Hightown,” which is here for their second season.” 

But horror is not the only thing on the menu in Wilmington. Griffin then went on to detail on “This Country,” a 30 minute comedy that will be airing on FOX. The show will be based on one of the same name from the United Kingdom, much in the way that “The Office” was reshot to appeal more to an American audience. 

In addition, a new feature film called “I.S.S.” (International Space Station) will begin filming in Wilmington soon. The film will include notable actors such as Pilou Asbæk, who played the role of Euron Greyjoy in HBO’s hit show “Game of Thrones,” and Ariana DeBose, who was a part of the ensemble for the musical sensation “Hamilton.”

“[I.S.S.] will all take place on the space system, so replicas have been constructed inside two of the soundstages. It will all be in this weightless type environment, with the actors suspended on cables and floating through the air. There’s some pretty neat stuff we have going on over here,” said Griffin.

While the film industry has been able to find ways to continue working during the pandemic, this comes at a great financial cost, with filmmakers now having to factor in things such as routine testing of cast and crew, and additional space to properly distance staff to their budgets. 

“Reports in the industry are saying that it will add anywhere from 10% to 20% onto the cost of a project,” said Griffin. “When you’re talking about projects that are running at $50 or $60 million, you’re talking about millions of dollars added on. When you’ve got a television series that is here for six months, and you’ve got 150 people on your crew, and each test is $100, you’re performing tens of thousands of tests, meaning testing alone becomes a million dollar price tag.”

Nonetheless, these new budget increases have not been enough to stop projects from going forward as planned. Keep an eye out for some of these new projects, which are on track to be released within the year.

“Overall we’re in a good situation. We’ve got crew, soundstages, and we’ve got money available with the incentive programs,” said Griffin. “Now that we are back on a roll with projects, it’s a great time to be in Wilmington.”