Editorial: City saw stars, missed dollars

  • Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2013 2:49 p.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, April 21, 2013 3:11 p.m.

Experientia docet, the ancient Romans said — experience teaches. The next time a TV or movie crew asks to close off Salisbury streets for filming, city government and local businesses will have a better idea how to cope with the inconvenience — with their hand out for more than $30.

That’s not bitterness talking. It’s experience.

People in Salisbury were generally thrilled when crews filming “Sleepy Hollow” chose our own sleepy town to serve as a backdrop. Salisbury was not the only city involved in the filming, but the front lawn of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Bell Tower Park across from First Presbyterian seemed to play significant parts. And, for a modern-day street race in the tale, Innes Street figured prominently enough for crews to cover the Salisbury Post’s sign with another saying “Sleepy Hollow Register.”

So far, so good. But closing several blocks of streets downtown and using an out-of-town caterer put a big dent in downtown restaurants’ revenues. Some who went into the week expecting extra business because of the filming instead wound up losing thousands, they said.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The business owners could have negotiated with the studio for compensation going into the week if they had anticipated this turn of events. The city could have done the same. Gastonia charged 20th Century Fox $1,700 for one day of filming in front of its City Hall and rental of a parking lot. But as the Rev. Whayne Hougland of St. Luke’s said, many in the city were star struck. And Salisbury sought only to recover $29.94 for water.

Still, the “Sleepy Hollow” visit was a valuable experience — maybe even an invaluable one. Local hotels and motels gained revenue while the crews were here, and that generated motel-tax revenue. The local churches involved received compensation for use of their property, and a few residents got the thrill of playing roles as extras. 20th Century Fox spent about $8 million in the state all told. And Salisbury should get good exposure if the pilot film succeeds.

If Salisbury had the filming of “Sleepy Hollow” to do over, the city should do it over without hesitation, regardless of the compensation issue. But the city and businesses would have fewer stars in their eyes and have better practical knowledge of how things like this play out. That in itself is worth quite a lot. If “Sleepy Hollow” takes off and the crews return, residents will welcome them just as warmly as before but with fewer stars in our eyes. We learned that lesson from a wise and aged teacher — experience.

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