”Under the Dome,” a novel about a small town suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by a huge transparent dome, is set in Maine, like nearly all of Stephen King’s novels.
But filming a television adaptation in King’s home state of Maine was out of the question. Aside from the inhospitable winter season, Maine does not provide the kind of competitive film tax credit that is increasingly vital to producing television dramas.
Producers considered Texas and Louisiana, but decided to base the CBS series in Wilmington, N.C., which offered the right mix of locations and tax breaks. “Under the Dome” began filming its first episode in Wilmington last week, the latest in a string of high-profile television shows and movies to take root in North Carolina, which offers a 25 percent refundable tax credit toward film production expenses.
“You’re limited by the amount of money that you have, so that’s really critical,” said Neal Baer, an executive producer and showrunner for “Under the Dome.” “Every penny is important.”
The state’s diverse locations and geography also helped, Baer added. “We wanted it to be Anywhere, USA. North Carolina really works for that. We need forest, we need a small town and we need water — we have all that.”
Produced by CBS Television Studios in association with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television, “Under the Dome” was adapted by Brian Vaughan, a former comic book writer whose credits include the television series “Lost.” King also is an executive producer on the science fiction series, which debuts June 24.
“Under The Dome” is among dozens of productions that have filmed in North Carolina since the state expanded its film tax credit two years ago, among them the award-winning television drama “Homeland,” the hit NBC series “Revolution” and the new Cinemax series “Banshee.”
A popular film location in the 1980s and 1990s for such movies as “The Color Purple,” “Forrest Gump” and “The Last of the Mohicans,” North Carolina lost much of its film business to rivals such as Georgia and Louisiana when those states stepped up their film incentives.
Now it’s once again attracting big feature films, including last year’s Lionsgate hit “Hunger Games,” which filmed in the dense forest areas near Asheville and Black Mountain, the upcoming “Iron Man 3″ from Marvel Studios and the Jennifer Aniston comedy “We’re the Millers.”
Some 50 productions spent $376 million in North Carolina in 2012, up from 43 productions and total spending of $242 million in 2011. Spending was just $80 million in 2010, the same year the state passed a new incentive program that raised the per-project tax credit cap from $7.5 million to $20 million, according to the North Carolina Film Office.
California offers a credit of up to 25 percent of qualified expenses but, unlike North Carolina, caps tax credits at $100 million annually. North Carolina also allows producers to count the first $1 million of each actor’s salary toward the credit.
“Under the Dome” is filming on a sprawling soundstage facility in Wilmington operated by EUE/Screen Gems. Other locations will include the nearby city Southport, near the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and the town of Burgaw, whose quaint city hall will figure in the program.
“We’re really excited,” said Aaron Syrett, director of the North Carolina Film Office. “It speaks to North Carolina’s attractiveness as a film location and to the quality of its crews and infrastructure.”
For Baer, best known for his work on “ER” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” producing a show in North Carolina is a new experience.
“When I did ‘ER’ I loved walking to the set at Warner Bros.,” he said. “I can’t do that now. All the writing and editing is in L.A. so we have to go back and forth. … I’ve only shot in New York and L.A., so this is like being off in some new place.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services