Photo by Alison Lee Satake
When Frank Capra, Jr. first came to Wilmington to scout locations for “Firestarter,” local casting director Craig Fincannon met him at the airport.
“Frank flew in and he came out and he looked like Hollywood,” Fincannon said. From there, the Wilmington film industry was born.
Since then Fincannon and Associates, Inc. led by Craig, his wife Lisa Mae and his brother Mark, have been casting films and TV shows including 1997 Emmy award winner “Bastard Out of Carolina” and “The Blind Side” starring Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw.
The Fincannons’ team found Quinton Aaron, the unknown actor who played the young football star Michael Oher in “The Blind Side” (2009).
“It’s like panning for gold. If you have the desire to really want it and you know that perfect performance is out there, you will look at everything until you find it,” said casting director Lisa Mae Fincannon.
She was born and raised in Wilmington. “My dad’s a Wells and my mother’s a Willetts. My family has been here since Wilmington was invented,” she said. And Craig is a ninth generation North Carolinian.
They are southern location casting directors. “That’s our strength, which is why the whole film incentive in North Carolina is such an issue to us,” she said.
Although they are committed to staying in North Carolina, they also have offices in New Orleans and Atlanta to follow where the film industry business is going.
“It’s so disheartening for us to go to other places. At the same time, I understand the responsibility of giving money to those bastards who make movies and have so much money,” she said.
North Carolina became more attractive to film production companies this summer when the film tax cap increased from $7.5 million to $20 million on in-state expenditures for TV and film projects. But the state still lags behind Georgia and Louisiana’s uncapped incentives on highly compensated individuals, primarily actors and directors.
“The state isn’t in the position of paying support to a large portion of salary for any one individual,” said Craig Fincannon, who has served on the governor’s film council since he was appointed by Jim Hunt about 17 years ago. Only a few states have eliminated the talent cap. “But, 48 of the other states are saying ‘no.’ And North Carolina chose to be one of those.”
He supports increasing North Carolina’s talent cap from $1 million to $5 million to stay competitive, a moderate consideration that was not discussed by legislators this year. Either keeping the talent cap at $1 million or doing away with it all together were the only two options on the table during this year’s short session, he said.
The majority of the 400 motion pictures that are made in the U.S. each year do not have anyone who is paid more than $1 million, he said. And producers of those few big budget blockbuster films generally are not driven by incentives when selecting where the film will be shot. “If in fact Will Smith says, ‘The only way I’ll make this movie is if I can go home to my children and wife in Los Angeles,’ they’re going to shoot it in a studio in Los Angeles. Because otherwise he’ll say, ‘I’m not going to do the movie,’” he said.
Casting from top to bottom: How it works
First, a director or producer will send the Fincannons a script to read and decide if they want to work on the project. Most large movies already have cast the well-known movie stars. The Fincannons are in charge of casting everyone else. If the Fincannons agree to the film project, they send the script to a company based in Los Angeles with writers on staff, who break out all of the remaining characters. Then, the Fincannons send the script out to agents all over the southeast – from D.C. to Miami, Dallas to Memphis and everywhere in between.
Agents then send in headshots, resumes and reels of their actors and Fincannon and Associates go through the submissions and decide who they want to audition either in person or over the Internet. After finding the right actor for a role, they tell the director or producer, who has the final say. Sometimes they have to fight for the actor they think is the best for the part. Ultimately, the Fincannons are working for the studio or the producer, but they also feel responsible for advocating on behalf of the actors.