An Aug. 16 Post and Courier editorial suggested that lawmakers consider eliminating South Carolina’s film and television incentives, calling them “a giveaway, primarily benefiting production companies and out-of-state workers” and “a money loser.”
In fact, those incentives provide jobs and employment for South Carolina residents, from actors and crew to vendors and local businesses including hotels, restaurants and construction supplies. South Carolina’s incentives need to be increased, not eliminated, because we are losing jobs to other states.
The hit movie “Halloween” was filmed in the Charleston area and benefited from state incentives. The next two “Halloween” movies are being filmed in North Carolina because South Carolina ran out of job-creating incentive funding.
From 2012 to 2019, over $1.2 billion of production business has gone elsewhere because of a lack of rebate funding, according to the Carolina Film Alliance based on state figures. The premise of the editorial, that “regardless of state incentives, South Carolina should continue to get about the same number of productions per year,” is demonstrably false.
South Carolina must decide if it’s in the film business or not. To quote Duane Parrish, director of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, which houses the Film Commission, “We can’t just dip our toes in the water; we have to jump in.”
A production in South Carolina spends between 33% and 50% of its budget in South Carolina. That’s roughly half a billion dollars in in-state spending that’s been lost due to insufficient rebates. Those lost projects were for locations all over the state.
The flawed 2008 study cited in the editorial was commissioned by the S.C. Department of Commerce and had a very narrow focus. The Commerce director provided only enough statistics for Dr. Frank Hefner to come to that exact conclusion — “film incentives returned just 19 cents for each dollar spent.”
A more comprehensive study was the 2008 University of South Carolina Moore School of Business report on the same subject. The Woodward report concluded that every $1 spent on wage rebates generated a return of $1.30 for the state. Every $1 spent on supplier rebates generated a return of $3.68 to the state.
The reasons that producers come to any state include incentives and rebates, crew base, locations (which we are blessed to have in abundance) and welcoming communities.
David Simmons, a real estate company president, would like to build a studio complex near Charleston. But he needs the state to lure more business to keep the studio complex in business and finds that the studios pick and choose states “depending on the state incentives.”
It’s regrettable that states compete with one another, but that doesn’t mean we should give up and cede jobs to North Carolina and Georgia. Incentives are regularly used to help create jobs — think of Boeing and Volvo.
It’s not correct to say, as the editorial did, that South Carolina’s “pool of money available is capped around $15 million annually, slightly more than North Carolina offers.” In fact, North Carolina’s cap is $31 million with any unused funds rolling over from fiscal year to fiscal year.
The new HBO series “Righteous Gemstones” was filmed in Charleston, where residents may remember previous shows including “Vice Principals” and “Army Wives.” These productions create good jobs for residents who shouldn’t have to commute to Wilmington and Savannah because South Carolina rebates have run out.
South Carolina needs to make a commitment to all the people who work in and supply this industry in South Carolina.
Linda Lee is president of the Carolina Film Alliance, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to building the motion picture, television and creative digital media industries in South Carolina by the expansion of effective South Carolina film incentives. It also provides its membership with networking and professional development opportunities.