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North Carolina Community Weighs the Benefits of Film and TV Tourism

May 10, 2014 9:00 am

Skift Take

It’s not wise to bet the farm on a Josh Duhamel movie, but it is wise to add movies and TVs to the mix of marketing angles for a destinations.

— Jason Clampet

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Tracking the film industry’s impact on tourism in the region is an inexact science, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that it’s significant, say industry officials.

Cindy Brochure, director of tourism in Southport, said the Brunswick County coastal community is still reaping the benefits of the 2013-released Nicholas Sparks’ film “Safe Haven” which filmed there.

“To me it’s more powerful because I hear it,” she said.

Brochure said Southport still sees tourists who flock to the region just to see where the movie was filmed in 2012.

Just a few weeks ago, in fact, two couples from Germany walked into the Fort Johnston-Southport Museum & Visitors’ Center to learn more about the filming location.

“How can you get any clearer than that?” Brochure asked.

While there’s no local or statewide measure to track the impact or correlation, Brochure said the museum’s log book asks visitors to say if they’ve seen “Safe Haven.”

A random sampling of the pages indicates about half of the museum’s recent visitors have seen the film.

For instance, one page had 19 names, 12 of which indicated they had seen the movie.

Local businesses have felt the benefits of it, too, Brochure said.

Shops and restaurants on South Howe Street are currently staying busy with visitors looking for filming locations for the popular television show “Under the Dome,” she said.

Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Film Commission, said tracking film tourism dollars is a difficult task.

“It’s real, we know that is exists, we know that it’s there, but how do you capture it?” Griffin said.

Griffin said his office screens phone calls frequently from people wanting to know where they can find filming locations. There’s a surge in those calls every year around this time, he added.

Griffin said film tourism is just one aspect of why visitors stop by the Port City. The beaches, the riverfront and other attractions are all part of the area’s appeal.

“You put all those things together and you’ve got a nice little package,” Griffin said.

He said the newly reopened studio tours at EUE/Screen Gems Studios could be an good indication of how strong the film tourism facet of the industry is.

Bill Vassar, executive vice president of EUE/Screen Gems Studios, said the studio has averaged 400 people a weekend since restarting the tours at the end of April.

Currently six tours a weekend are offered, but if traffic stays steady, the studio is ready to add another tour as needed.

“If we need to add another tour on Saturday, we could always add 4 p.m.,” Vassar said, adding private tours for large groups upon request can be accommodated.

Vassar said during the filming of “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill,” Wilmington was a popular destination for spring and summer vacations with the fan set.

“They’d home base where the actor’s trailers are,” he said of visiting fans.

Even if officially tracking the spending of film fans is difficult, Vassar said they are spending money in the community — such as on accommodations and meals — when they visit.

But an internal study by the N.C. Department of Commerce questions the true impact of film tourism in the state.

The report, titled “Impact of North Carolina’s Film Incentive” and authored by the agency’s Labor & Economic Analysis Division, suggested film tourism results in moderate peaks in tourism during filming but doesn’t translate into any long-lasting benefits.

The study used “The Hunger Games,” which was filmed in 2011 primarily in Burke, Cleveland, Madison and Transylvania counties, as a case study. The report found that tourism spending spiked moderately in those and surrounding counties during filming, but fell back to pre-“Hunger Games” levels the next year.

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