Hollywood in the Holy City
Neil Bansil pressed the pause button on his remote control and was tickled when, lo and behold, there he was on the right side of his screen on national TV. “I’m actually kind of in focus,” he said with a laugh.
By the numbers
In 2012, the S.C. Film Commission had a total of 63 projects as a result of their efforts to attract productions. Those projects did not qualify for incentives and included music videos, student films, low-budget films that cost under $500,000, print ads, catalogues, TV commercials and certain TV shows.
The 34-year-old North Charleston man does real estate by day and comedy by night. During the lulls of the housing market slump, Bansil worked as an extra on the set of the Lifetime series “Army Wives.” He loves the work and soon he may see more of it around town.
CurrentEmployee wage rebate: 15% S.C. supplier rebate: 15% ProposedEmployee wage rebate: 20%, 25% for state residents S.C. supplier rebate: 30%Sources: S.C. Film Commission, Carolina Film Alliance
“Army Wives,” which is starting its seventh season, is set in the Lowcountry and is mostly shot in North Charleston. The show has been making headlines recently as it added new faces, including Brooke Shields. But “Army Wives” doesn’t stand alone in the spotlight for TV shows filmed in the Lowcountry.
Hollywood seems to have found a new leading lady it loves — the Holy City. Charleston’s popularity for settings is seeing a bump in interest, according to S.C. Film Commission officials.
Just a few weeks ago, the NBC show “Revolution” shot scenes for an episode in Charleston, commission officials said.
A debut episode of a forthcoming TV series also will be shot downtown, according to College of Charleston officials. “Live at the Charleston Music Hall” will feature two headlining artists during a one-night concert put on by the college, Chucktown Music Group and Charliewood Pictures.
A new CBS pilot, “Reckless,” also will begin shooting in a few weeks. The show is described on several entertainment sites as a legal drama centering on a litigator and attorney who are attracted to each other, despite being on opposing sides of a police sex scandal.
Dozens of movies have used the Lowcountry’s Spanish moss, beaches and avenues of oaks as backdrops over the past hundred years, including feature films such as “North and South,” “The Prince of Tides,” “The Patriot” and “The Notebook.”
Nicholas Sparks, who wrote “The Notebook” and “Dear John” books, said this about the Holy City in a statement: “Charleston is a beautiful city, with Southern, approachable charm. It’s the perfect backdrop for a timeless love story.”
Details on the latest Hollywood production to land in the Lowcountry are still shrouded in mystery. As long as “Reckless” is a pilot, the network remains tight-lipped about it. Producers aren’t allowed to comment and the press isn’t allowed on set.
A show employee who did not want to be identified said they were still figuring out filming locations in Charleston and Mount Pleasant. “It’s written about Charleston for Charleston,” the employee said.
Permits had not yet been filed in either town for street closings. The employee said they would make sure neighborhoods were aware if any closures take place.
On a Facebook page, the show was looking for extras for upcoming shoots. Bansil said he’ll probably try to get a spot, which means extra cash for him.
“I only see good things if more productions come to the Charleston area,” he said. “It’s more work for extras, which is good for me.”
More movies, money
Tom Clark, a project manager with the S.C. Film Commission, said the city’s recent crowning by Conde Nast as the No. 1 travel city in the world has called more attention to Charleston.
More movies, money
The agency is tasked with sifting through movie and TV scripts, finding ones it feels are right for the state and making a pitch to producers to shoot here.
It also gets calls from interested productions that it didn’t solicit. “Recently we’ve seen a little bump in the inquiries,” Clark said.
Hollywood’s interest in Charleston began growing in the early 2000s, and the agency is keeping busy trying to attract even more productions, Clark said. “We probably send out, in a year’s time, 150 inquiries to Hollywood to try to get them to come to South Carolina.”
That number includes only feature films and TV series. “We’re not crazy about reality shows,” Clark said. “The reality of reality shows is that they don’t hire many people.”
Feature films can lead to 175 jobs plus extras. Reality shows might hire about 20 people. The commission had nothing to do with the recent TLC reality show based in the Grand Strand, “Myrtle Manor,” that premiered this month about life in a Myrtle Beach trailer park.
The film industry’s love affair with Charleston hasn’t always gone both ways. Shooting movies can be a noisy, disruptive business, and residents on the lower peninsula complained during filming of both “North and South” and “The Patriot.”
In 1985, “North and South” sparked an uproar among south of Broad residents who didn’t like the long hours of shooting, the difficulty getting to and from their homes, and the loss of parking. There also were the onlookers and film crew who sometimes ended up on their doorsteps, the 500 tons of sand spread on streets to give them a 19th century look, and the bright lights and noise from the production. Some reacted by parking their cars in a way that disrupted camera angles, others threatened to blare beach music from their houses or fly flags from their front porches that wouldn’t match the time period of the movie.
That experience led the city to develop a series of guidelines for making movies in the city.
Some are working hard to help bring more productions to the state by following the belief that “you catch more bees with honey.”
Better film incentives would sweeten the deal for Hollywood producers and might sway them to set up shop in South Carolina, according to Richard Futch, Carolina Film Alliance president.
Current legislation doesn’t ask the state for more money than the current incentives budget but asks for higher wage and supplier rebates. That means once the budget runs out of money for the year, no more incentives can be offered. But film incentives advocates hope bigger incentives will bring bigger productions. It would also offer higher wage rebates for residents hired from South Carolina.
Despite the recent uptick in interest, the bottom line is that if the state doesn’t start offering competitive incentives packages, we could lose that momentum, said Futch, who worked as the casting director for “Army Wives” for six seasons.
“We’re surrounded by states with such incredible incentives. We can’t play in the game anymore because their rates are so much better than ours,” he said.
Carolina Film Alliance’s lobbyist, John DeWorken, said filmmakers have said more competitive incentives would convince them to bring their movies to South Carolina. DeWorken said they already love the state because of the geographic diversity and the workforce.
The Senate bill passed in the finance committee and is on the Senate floor. The House bill is being considered in the Ways and Means Committee.
Favorites and flops
Hollywood’s call to the Lowcountry started in the late 1910s. One of the first films shot in Charleston was Fox Films’ silent movie, “Peg of the Pirates.” The film features the classic love story of a father breaking apart his daughter’s relationship with a poor poet, but thrown in with some piracy, ghosts and secret treasure. It was released on May 12, 1918.
Favorites and flops
Since then about 40 films have been shot in the Charleston area, many of which were feature films that rocked the box office. Others barely made it on screen or didn’t at all.
One of the state’s first TV series that was shot in the area in 2005 spiraled down the TV tubes. “Palmetto Pointe,” which had generated an early buzz of being the next teen hit, submerged with abysmal ratings on i: Independent Television and shot about seven episodes, but the final two never aired.
Another potential TV show also never made it to the small screen after it filmed in Charleston. “Reinventing the Wheelers,” a Warner Bros. pilot that spent $4 million in Charleston in 2007, was about a big-city lawyer returning to her small town Southern roots. The show was never picked up.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.