WILMINGTON, NC, AUGUST 4, 2023 – A new era of filmmaking in North Carolina began Thursday with the first ceremonial dig of shovels at a groundbreaking at Dark Horse Studios in Wilmington. Dark Horse Studios has made a remarkable impact on the North Carolina film industry since 2020, and three years later, it’s embarking on a new endeavor – constructing the first purpose-built studio North Carolina has seen in more than 40 years.
“This expansion has always been integral to our vision for Dark Horse Studios,” said Kirk Englebright, Founder and CEO of Dark Horse. “We’ve been fortunate enough to have our existing stages fully booked for the past two years with the exception of the writers’ strike, and it’s a privilege to be at the forefront of the local industry’s growth.”
Wilmington has been an unsuspecting hub of production for nearly half a century, fostering a robust crew base and thriving filmmaking community. With the introduction of Dark Horse in 2020, the area saw enormous growth in local production – enough to make 2021 the most prosperous year the North Carolina film industry has ever seen, with an estimated $416 million direct in-state spend.
“Dark Horse Studios is helping to lead the film industry into the future and this expansion will help our state attract even more exciting productions and good-paying jobs,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “While today is a day for celebration, the ongoing writers and actors strike is highlighting critical issues that need to be resolved in a way that respects and values the hardworking people in the entertainment industry. North Carolina stands ready to provide a beautiful stage for film projects of all sizes once a fair agreement has been reached, and Dark Horse Studios will help us continue to stand out as the film destination of the South.”
Dark Horse has played host to big-budget productions, most notably, the Golden Globe Award-nominated Showtime original limited series George & Tammy, starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. The expansion, doubling the studio’s size, will enable it to accommodate twice as many productions annually and surpass the quality standards set by prominent production companies.
The expansion will feature two meticulously designed sound stages, boasting a footprint of over 40,000 square feet and an impressive height of 45 feet to the grid. These state-of-the-art stages will be column-free and equipped with soundproofing and climate control, ensuring an immersive and conducive filmmaking environment.
Anticipating increased utilization of its campus, Dark Horse Studios will expand filmmakers’ access to an array of attractive amenities, including lighting and grip rental services from industry gold standard Cinelease, and heavy equipment from specialty provider Herc Entertainment Services. This comprehensive support system will assure filmmakers have an efficient and comfortable production journey throughout Dark Horse Studios including its annex, just 10 minutes from the main campus.
“This location fills a void we have in local offerings,” said Englebright. “There are small scale productions that don’t need a full-size soundstage and may feel like they’re being overshadowed by larger-scale productions. But at our annex, these shoots can have privacy and access to the space and tools they need to reach their vision.”
The annex is also thoughtfully equipped with office space suitable for pre- and post-production and with flex space that caters to small shoots.
Beyond its premium sound stages, amenities, and top-notch service, North Carolina’s 25% rebate on qualifying spend has proven a significant draw for filmmakers. Since 2018, the rebate has attracted acclaimed productions like Scream 5, Halloween Kills, Hightown, and The Summer I Turned Pretty. In 2021 alone, productions filmed in North Carolina generated more than 28,500 new job opportunities including 5,700 crew and 1,400 talent.
Dark Horse Studio’s expansion is made possible through the work of Citadel Contractors and support of Southern Bank. Scheduled for a grand opening in fall 2024, stage bookings are already underway, paving the way for a dynamic and thriving future in the North Carolina film industry.
Photo Credit: Summer Lambert