Charlotte, NC's Film Industry Punches Up Economic Development

The film and television production industry carries a huge economic impact for the Charlotte region. An established industry infrastructure and great location contribute to the industry's success.

On Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - 19:42

Directors of the world, take notice. The Charlotte region is ready for its close-up. But that’s nothing new.

The area around Charlotte has been front and center in the film and television production industry for years. The industry packs an annual economic impact of nearly $500 million and 2,500 jobs. Dozens of blockbusters have taken to the silver screen in Charlotte over the years, including The Patriot, Talladega Nights, Cold Mountain and Shallow Hal.

Dreambridge Films, a film finance and production company based in Charlotte, produces movies seen by people all over the world. The Kids Are Alright and The Romantics, two Dreambridge films that were screened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, have both sold to major production studios for nationwide release.

“We have people in the area who have worked in film since the Days of Thunder days with Tom Cruise,” says Todd K. Labarowski, owner and CEO of Dreambridge. “So the industry has been here for a long time, and it’s not going anywhere, either.”

The longstanding film industry in the region is bolstered by an outstanding infrastructure of supporting companies and a talented workforce that can only be built over decades. Cinelease, one of the largest motion picture production equipment rental companies in the country, has been in operation since 1977 and in Charlotte since 2006.

“The amount of equipment and technical support here in North Carolina is incredible, and it’s something that most states don’t have,” says Steve Spalding, general manager of Cinelease in Charlotte. “It’s rare in any state to have a company like Cinelease in the state, which then makes it, in turn, so that major motion picture companies ... can actually come and actually film.”

Feature films tend to grab the headlines, but television production, commercials and music and industrial videos are also a boon to the local economy. Much of the programming is racing-related, but the Charlotte region enjoys a diverse base of production.

As in the film industry, much of television’s success in Charlotte can be attributed to a full roster of resources and support. MediaComm in Charlotte is a studio production facility that essentially serves as an incubator for fledgling or start-up networks. Over the years, the company has provided behind-the-scenes support to networks including NASCAR Images and Speedvision, as well as promotion for North Carolina’s Panthers and Bobcats.

“We do all the behind-the-scenes, nuts-and-bolts work so the client is able to focus on making their content amazing,” says Mark Kramer, president of MediaComm. “We provide the editors, the graphics designers, all of that creative and technical infrastructure we provide, just enabling the client to not worry about who’s going to do what.”

The region is also home to NASCAR Media Group, which oversees all of the racing league’s broadcast, digital and image operations. The group, which is spending $45 million for state-of-the-art digs in in the NASCAR Plaza tower, employs some 175 people and produces 75 to 90 hours of content each week across its platforms.

Regardless of the end product, be it television, feature film or somewhere in between, the same qualities attract production companies to Charlotte time and again.

“There’s a lot of competition out there, but Charlotte is obviously well-positioned between the mountains and the ocean, we’ve got the cityscape, and good traffic in and out of the community with the airport, as well,” Kramer says.

“You’ve just kind of got to go down the checklist: ‘Do they have great locations? Yes. Do they have a capable and enthusiastic infrastructure? Yes.’ The more checkmarks you can get, the better off you are to attract those kinds of clients.”