Winston Salem Journal
November 21, 2006
By Kim Underwood
Yes, that guy who played Agent Smith in The Matrix and the elf Elrond in The Lord of the Rings was in town.
So was one of the stars of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
For the past few weeks, some Winston-Salem residents have spotted Hugo Weaving (Matrix, Lord of the Rings), Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean) and other actors from popular movies, including Brian Cox (X-Men, The Bourne Identity) and Carol Kane (Annie Hall).
An independent production brought them to town. The movie's producers chose to keep a low profile until yesterday, the last day of shooting for The Key Man, a character-driven thriller about insurance fraud set in 1975.
Brian Udovich, one of the movie's producers, said that they wanted to keep things quiet so that Weaving and Davenport and the other actors could enjoy their time here without a lot of hoopla.
"They get to come in and enjoy the restaurant and not be bothered," he said. "You don't want to have a lot of Lord of the Rings fans standing outside the Marriott all day."
For the past five weeks, Winston-Salem and, in a couple of instances, Greensboro have played the role of a beautiful East Coast town in autumn. Sites used in Winston-Salem include the Forsyth Country Club, the Buena Vista neighborhood and Winston Tower downtown. For a few days, the movie shot at the former Stokes County Correctional Facility.
People might also see George Clooney in the area in the coming days. He will be directing a movie called Leathernecks, about a professional football team in the 1920s, in North Carolina. Some of that filming is likely to be in the Triad.
Although specific figures are not available, people who promote filmmaking both on a state and local level say that production in North Carolina is picking up. They attribute it in large part to a bill passed last year that creates a tax credit of 15 percent for productions that spend $250,000 or more, with a cap of $7.5 million in credits.
The tax credits certainly contributed to their decision to come here, Udovich said. "As producers, it's a great incentive to bring a film here." He declined to say what the movie's budget is.
Also important, he said, was the presence of graduates of the School of Filmmaking at the N.C. School of the Arts and the other trained professionals available here. As an independent production, they could not have afforded to bring everyone they needed from Los Angeles.
"You need to have a majority of your crew come from the area," he said.
He estimated that the production hired 50 to 60 local people for the crew, 10 to 15 local actors for speaking parts, and 150 to 200 as extras. Residents let the production use their homes as sets and borrow such cars as a 1975 Jaguar.
Udovich learned about Winston-Salem from Sam Grogg, a former dean of the School of Filmmaking at NCSA who was the dean of the American Film Institute Conservatory when Udovich was working on his master's degree there.
Rebecca Clark, the director of the Piedmont Triad Film Commission, said that, although some productions have moved to Canada and such states as Louisiana and New Mexico in recent years because of incentives there, the Triad has continued to well with independent productions because of such lures as the pool of trained filmmakers. The big difference that she is seeing from the North Carolina tax incentives is greater interest from studios.
"The leads coming into my office have increased about 50 percent," she said. "And the majority of those requests have been studios."