CHARLOTTE, NC (Katherine Peralta/The Charlotte Observer) - It's been a while since Charlotte had regular celebrity sightings during filming of big-name projects like "Homeland," "The Hunger Games" and "Talladega Nights."
Television and movie production in the Charlotte region slowed considerably after a popular film incentives program expired in 2014, and then payouts became much smaller for filming in the state. But recent action by Gov. Roy Cooper and North Carolina lawmakers could breathe new life into the state's film industry.
Earlier this month, Cooper signed a law that eliminates the film grant program's 2020 end date, what's known as a sunset provision. The new legislation also will see the state triple the amount of incentives that were available before the previous program ended.
"It's been dead. Absolutely dead. Everybody is out of state, working somewhere else," said Jennifer Irvine, who was the production coordinator for the Showtime series "Homeland," which was filmed in and around Charlotte from 2011-2013.
Irvine says her friends and former colleagues in the film industry opt to travel to states with more generous film incentives programs, such as Georgia and Texas.
The N.C. legislature voted to end film credits after 2014, replacing the tax incentive program that paid out $80.7 million in 2014 with a one-year, $10 million grant program. Film industry spending in North Carolina fell from $377 million in 2012 to $140 million in 2016, according to figures from the North Carolina Film Office, part of VisitNC.
Shows began to leave as a result. The Cinemax show "Banshee" had been filmed around Charlotte before leaving in 2013 for Pittsburgh, for instance. The NBC drama "Revolution" informed its crew in 2013 that it would no longer be filming in Wilmington, instead moving to Austin, Texas.
Now, North Carolina has $34 million in film incentives to spend this year, which includes some money left over from last year. Next year's allocation is $31 million. Production companies can also get a rebate of up to 25 percent on in-state production expenses under the new law.
When he was out in Los Angeles meeting with production studios last month, Gus Gaster, director of the N.C. Film Office, said film studios were "excited to hear about the change" in the incentives program.
"Those doing TV series said, 'OK let's start considering North Carolina again, now that there's certainty and long-term commitment,' " Gaster said.
"This continues to be one of the few industries that proves that if you have incentives, you will have production, and if you don't, you won't be considered," he added.
To be sure, the incentives program has its critics, who say the state should not be favoring one industry over another, and that the program's costs outweigh its benefits.
But a 2014 study by N.C. State University found that the film and TV production industry had a net contribution of $24.3 million to the state, when compared with the film credit paid, in 2012.
The film industry was responsible for 19,830 jobs (crew, stars and extras) in 2012, and the figure fell to 10,941 in 2016, according to the North Carolina Film Office.
"The film industry creates jobs in North Carolina and we need to do more to bring certainty for the companies that come to our state," Cooper said in a statement this month.
The only two productions filmed in the Charlotte region this year have been the Cinemax show "Outcast," as well as the film American Animals, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.