N.C. lures NBC’s ‘Fathom’

North Carolina’s legislature did not filibuster away its opportunity to become the production home to NBC’s “Fathom.”

Bolstered by the efforts of the state’s legislative film caucus, the legislature is fast-tracking a 15% refundable production tax credit program in its current session. And network execs made the decision to film in the state before the vote was in.

“We had the advantage of seeing the sometimes cumbersome, complicated incentives programs other states have created and have streamlined the North Carolina package into a simple, easy, rapidly administered program we think will be very effective,” said Bill Arnold, director of the North Carolina Film Office.

Essentially, any production that meets a yet-to-be-determined in-state spending threshold (either $250,000 or $1 million) on goods, services and payroll will automatically receive a 15% tax credit from the state. Productions exceeding the 15% of spending in state taxes will have the difference picked up by the state.

North Carolina’s TV production history with “Matlock,” as well as the WB’s “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill” (which is gearing up for its third season), contributed to NBC’s decision to produce “Fathom” in the state rather than in the other locations that were in the running: Los Angeles (production home of the pilot); Charleston, S.C.; Orlando, Fla.; Houston and Vancouver.

“Fathom” creator-producers Josh and Jonas Pate filmed feature pic “The Grave” in North Carolina in 1996 and were familiar with the state’s infrastructure and crew base.

Wilmington’s Screen Gems Studios, minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and a half-hour from a state marine museum, has two of its nine soundstages under consideration for use, in addition to the probable construction of an underwater tank, according to Bill Vassar, exec VP of Screen Gems Studios.

All will be handy for the drama about the discovery of a new form of undersea life; 12 episodes of the series are skedded to begin production in July.

“We expect a significant bump in production from enactment of the film incentives,” said Arnold.

Even without the incentives, 41 feature films have lensed in North Carolina over the past two years. Most were indies such as New Line’s “The Clearing,” with Robert Redford, or the Arthur Hiller-helmed “The Trouble With Frank,” with Jon Bon Jovi. Film production revenues increased by 12% to $234 million last year.

“Less than a week after the NBC announcement and plans for the film incentives legislation, we’ve been fielding calls from the major studios about projects,” Arnold added. “So, the signs are encouraging.”

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