Wilmington's glory days are gone


Lindell John Kay


Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

I lived and worked in the Wilmington area for more than a decade. First as a security guard at a downtown hotel then as a newspaper reporter.

Back then--it’s been five years now since I’ve been gone--Wilmington was a magical place. It wasn’t unusual at all to see John Travolta in the hotel lobby. He rented out the penthouse suite whenever he was in town making a movie.

In fact, movie shoots were the order of the day. My wife and I and our small kids would take a weekday off and stroll around Front Street while studios were filming “One Tree Hill” or any number of television shows and movies.

I was reminded of those heady days by a recent letter to the editor in the Rocky Mount Telegram by Lew Musser. Like he wrote, “’Hollywood East’ is now just a memory.”

Musser, a local actor, bemoaned the loss of opportunity the thriving film industry once provided. I’m no actor, but I did appreciate how special Wilmington had become.

North Carolina was the site of 34 productions in 2013, including the blockbuster “Iron Man 3,” which I had the great pleasure of covering as a news story. Imagine me spending the day on the location set of a Marvel movie--and getting paid for it.

The state enjoyed hundreds of millions of dollars in movie and television production spending thanks to a tax incentive program. All that was dashed away by our former governor and like-minded legislators who turned the lights out on incentives and made the cameras go dark.

Under Gov. Roy Cooper, the state is once again offering incentives, but with a few rare exceptions, business isn’t exactly booming.

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," which tallied seven Oscar nominations and won Sunday for best actress and best supporting actor, was filmed in North Carolina last year.

But most productions have moved on to states like Georgia, which swooped in when North Carolina wasn’t giving producers a break.

The decline, if not death, of the film industry in North Carolina, especially Wilmington, is easily laid at the feet of former Gov. Pat McCrory, N.C. Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and other GOP lawmakers who never really did prove that the incentives weren’t paying dividends. But they cancelled them anyway.

McCrory's legacy: The loss of Hollywood East and the bathroom bill. It's a toss up which move hurt North Carolina more.

I visited Wilmington a few weeks ago. The city is still great, but it lacks that certain je ne sais quoi that made it stand out when the cameras were rolling.