Haywood County is no stranger to the silver screen. It was a star in the blockbuster movie “Cold Mountain,” and will be there again when “Serena” comes out later this year. But neither of these place-based novels set in Haywood were actually filmed here — the production companies went overseas instead.
But Haywood’s tourism leaders aren't giving up on the idea of turning the county into a film hotspot — not just for movies, but TV shows, reality shows, commericals, even catalog shoots.
They have revived the idea of a Haywood Film Commission, something that was around in the 1980s but had fizzled over the years.
“And we’re going to change that,” Seymour said.
When a production company begins looking around for potential locations to film, whether it be a major motion picture, independent project, music video or commercial, there are three categories they address — location, support services and crew.
Location could be a bustling city or backwoods farm, where support services can encompass catering, engineers and makeup artists, while crew can be those with editing and marketing backgrounds. The possibilities are as endless as the positions that need to be filled when the cameras roll.
“We’re trying to really put together a database of what we can offer here in Haywood,” Seymour said. “It can get a little frustrating because when we currently get these requests, the deadlines are within 24 hours, and for me to just think off of the top of my head of who to contact for these services can be almost impossible. We need this new database to be more efficient.”
The revival of the film commission comes at a crucial crossroads for the North Carolina film industry as a whole. As of now, the state offers a robust 25 percent tax credit and other incentives for companies looking to film here. But, that credit is due to expire at the end of 2014.
“It would put the state at a great disadvantage,” said Scott Hamilton, CEO and president of AdvantageWest Economic Development Group.
Advantage West has targeted the film industry in recent years as an economic catalyst worth courting.
“We work a lot to try and get these productions in and that’s what we’ll do as long as North Carolina is competitive and private investors see the opportunities and value of investing in the film traditions,” Hamilton said.
But AdvantageWest has seen significant budget cuts from the state. It’s lost 75 percent of its funding — a drop from $1.1 million to $337,000 — forcing it to seek private donors and sponsors to fund its economic development efforts.
The economic impact of the film industry on North Carolina is massive.
In 2013, there were 5,700 production days, $254 million in spending and 25,000 job opportunities, with filming taking place in more than 30 counties.
For Western North Carolina, reality shows like “Moonshiners” and “Hillbilly Blood” are made in our own backyard.
In terms of the big screen, classics like “The Fugitive,” “Dirty Dancing” and “The Last of the Mohicans” all had parts shot in Southern Appalachia.
In recent years, the major movie series “The Hunger Games” was filmed in and around Brevard. Now, tour companies in the area offer Hunger Games fan weekends with tours of filming locations and even role-playing games.
“It is my understanding that during the filming of ‘The Hunger Games’ they spent $5,000 a week on ice and $10,000 a week on flowers, stayed in local motels, rented homes, so all of those industries in the private sector benefited from that success,” Hamilton said. “We will continue to promote this region as a strategic location, a viable location to film and complete their productions with a talented crew base and a very iconic and diverse topography.”
So, with the state tightening its belt, AdvantageWest will keep its WNC Film Commission up and running.
It had 34 completed projects, from big-time productions to local documentaries. Add that number to the 234 film inquires in 2013, and one can see the potential that lies in the region.
“We’ve already had one completed project for 2014 and one major scouting of the region — we’re off to great start,” said Amanda Baranski, director of the WNC Film Commission. “There’s also a very strong community of local filmmakers and large pool of talent, so we have lots of opportunities.”
But the uncertainty of where funding for the larger WNC Film Commission will come from does open the door for collaboration — cue the Haywood County Film Commission.
“We all can work together,” Seymour said. “My goal is to make our film commission so established and so out there that if these production companies aren’t sure what they may need, then they can come directly to us.”
Haywood to Hollywood
And while Seymour is collecting information for the Haywood County database, she can’t help think about how ideal her surroundings are for production companies.
“There are lots of things around here that can play anything,” she said. “You have Waynesville and this quaint downtown setting, then you have Canton with its unique industrial feel to it. We have so many things that these companies are looking for.”
With the ball finally rolling for Haywood County, Seymour already has another long-held dream waiting to emerge from the back of her mind — a film festival. Between The Strand at 38 Main and Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville, the Colonial Theatre in Canton, Lake Junaluska Conference Center and the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds, she’s sees the promise the county has to host an event, perhaps something on the smaller, more local scale.
“It’s not every person for themselves. These are things we all need to work together on. We can do anything,” she said. “There are so many possibilities with this, and you’ve got to start where I’m starting right now, which is getting the information about the county and moving forward.”
Want to know more?
For the database, there are three categories: location, special services and crew. The businesses and positions desired to be included in the database include categories like accounting, acting, art, assistant director, camera, catering, choreographer, construction, costumer, craft service, dialect coach, director, editing, electric, food stylist, greens, grip, hair, locations, makeup, marine services, medic, model maker, music, paint, personal assistant, post production supervisor, producer, production assistant, production manager, production office, production supervisor, projectionist, property, publicity, script, set decoration, sound, special effects, still photography, stunts, transportation, tutor, VFX, video and wrangler.
By the numbers
In 2013, there were 5,700 production days, $254 million in spending and 25,000 job opportunities, with filming taking place in more than 30 counties in North Carolina.
For Western North Carolina, film-related activity that went through the WNC Film Commission included:
• 34 completed projects in the region
• 80 location scout inquiries using WNC digital database
• 86 Haywood County locations submitted to digitial location database
• 154 film-related inquires
• 20 film scout visits
*Data provided by AdvantageWest Economic Development Group.