SPECIAL REPORT: Film industry in Myrtle Beach looks to get more ‘animated’

Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 7:21 AM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - From reality shows, to ‘B’ movies, to blockbusters, Myrtle Beach has seen its fair share of production.

But the future may see a shift toward animation.

“They filmed the last scene on the boardwalk over there, and everyone just walked down here to the party,” said Myrtle Beach Trolley Tours creator Kathryn Hedgepath while telling her guests about the Magic Mike XXL production on Ocean Boulevard in 2014.

Hedgepath gives dozens of tourists an inside look of Myrtle Beach’s history every week.

Movies shot along our stretch of the coast are certainly part of it.

“They really didn’t start as far as movie making in Myrtle Beach until after I graduated from high school,” said Hedgepath. “As soon as I moved away and I would come back to visit, I would realize that all these movies were being made here, and it just fascinated me that someone would care enough to come to Myrtle Beach to make movies.”

Hedgepath tells her guests Myrtle Beach was almost a cinematic hub for ‘B’ movies.

Her tour mentions a man named Earl Owensby who wanted to make six low-budget movies a year, complete with campy charm.

“He tried to create a world class movie studio,” said Hedgepath. “He wanted to make Myrtle Beach bigger than what Wilmington eventually became.”

She says Owensby was never able to get the money together to bring Studio City to life, but in 1984, he did succeed in making the first movie shot in Myrtle Beach: Chain Gang.

Hedgepath’s tour shows off a handful of sites, like a house from 1989′s Shag or a hotel from 2009′s My Sweet Misery.

But the movie reel for Myrtle Beach is relatively short, and at least some of that has to do with money. In 2005, South Carolina started offering cash to production companies to come film in the state.

“We factor that for every dollar the state gives away, there’s probably three or four new dollars new money that’s spent in the state based on those recruited projects,” said South Carolina Film Commission senior projects supervisor Dan Rogers.

Rogers says South Carolina is one of 38 states that offers film incentives, but the $15 million to $17 million his department gets every year pales in comparison to some other nearby states, like the $300 million Georgia gets to work with.

He says in 2019, the department gave out all its incentives, and then 29 more projects called. The film commission estimates the state missed out on $350 million in revenue.

But it’s not all about the silver screen. Rogers says the most bang for the state’s buck could come from TV. He uses Netflix’s Outer Banks, shot mostly in Charleston, as an example.

The first week after season two came out, people streamed it for more than two billion minutes. That’s nearly 4,000 years.

“What would it cost any state to try to advertise for 2,100,000,000 minutes to get that kind of exposure?” said Rogers. “Yet, here we are, reaping the benefits of this industry the way it’s meant to be.”

Rogers has to try to show that benefit to cities and towns in the state, like Myrtle Beach. He says having the incentives to offer is important, but cities are often concerned about space and time constraints, which is top concern for the city of Myrtle Beach.

“When you’re talking about making a movie, you’re talking about blocking off roads or occupying facilities, and we’ve got millions of people who want to come to Myrtle Beach to enjoy our roads and beaches. It just doesn’t quite fit into the life we have at Myrtle Beach,” said city spokesperson Mark Kruea.

Kruea says the city isn’t necessarily opposed to movie-making, but it’s not something it searches for.

While there may not be a sudden boom in filming on the horizon, it doesn’t mean Myrtle Beach will completely miss out. There’s a type of movie-making that doesn’t require roads being blocked off or large crews invading the beach: Animation.

“As a goal, want to be the animation powerhouse in South Carolina, want to be the first animation studio, technically, in Myrtle Beach,” said Plover Animation CEO Jennifer Hotai-Dale.

Plover Animation already has 20 animators on stand-by to launch an animation studio for movies, short films, tv shows and advertising.

Hotai-Dale hopes to grow that staff to 200 in the next five years.

“Bring in more talent, more diversity, and very importantly bring in more tech and creative jobs in this area,” said Hotai-Dale.

She says Plover Animation is still raising money, but she’s already talked with a local developer about a possible venue.

A venue that could wind up on one of Hedgepath’s tours.

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