Born on the bayou? More like born yesterday. That’s how some fan sites and entertainment news outlets were probably feeling after repeating a Twitter-spawned explanation for the abrupt cancellation of Swamp Thing, the DC Universe series that premiered last Friday only to be uprooted six days later.
The series of tweets by Austin writer and cartoonist John Gholson blamed the show’s demise on a colossal tax credits snafu in North Carolina that drained the show’s budget by withholding the $40 million infusion of greenbacks that Warner Bros had been counting on.
The report was just detailed enough to sound credible so plenty of sites pounced on information, but all of it turned out to be a solid as swamp water and twice as muddy.
Guy Gasser, director of the North Carolina Film Office, said the report’s description of a tax-transaction trapdoor opening up under the fledgling series doesn’t match the facts. The numbers were way off, too, by citing a tax credit sum ($40 million) that not only exceeds the maximum payment per season for any production (which is $12 million), but it also exceeds the NC Film Office’s entire annual budget ($31 million).
Very specific contracts lock every detail of the deal in place in advance of filming, so a blind-side surprise (which Gholson describes) is an especially unlikely scenario, Gasser said.
Gholson, meanwhile, eventually returned to the Twitter debate but sounded like someone who knew his insider swamp knowledge was all mucked-up. “I don’t even understand some of it,” he tweeted. “Maybe my numbers are off, but it’s still a matter of money.”
The second episode of Swamp Thing was added to the DC Universe streaming site today, and eight more weekly episodes are on the way. The season finale (which is now the series finale) will be released August 2.
In all the episodes, the setting for the action is an eerie Louisiana, where a small-town is beset by supernatural threats, a mysterious bio-hazard, and the dangerous machinations of greedy locals. In every scene, however, the stand-in for the mossy Bayou State is none other than North Carolina, one of many that incentivize film productions with tax credit programs. And it was that Carolina program Gholson blamed for Swamp Thing’s quick hook, a report that traveled far and wide in the echo chamber of contemporary entertainment coverage.
Swamp Thing cancellation did seem surprising to many observers given the well-reviewed pilot and the imported imprimatur of executive producer James Wan, who is coming off his Aquaman triumph and enjoys a Midas touch reputation for horror projects.
The unexpected result seemed to demand an unusual cause, and Gholson’s tweet provided it. Still, to Gasser’s eye, the report was skimpy even at first glance but that didn’t stop it from taking root.
“Some outlets used an unverified source, but if they even went straight to Twitter, where the report apparently first started, they would have found that the gentleman had nothing to back up his own claim,” Gasser said. “He has certainly retracted some of what he was saying and now it appears that Twitter may ban him with all of this happening. I guess all I can say is I’m glad he’s passionate about a show filmed in our state.”
Gasser said the Swamp Thing production has been in the good graces of the North Carolina film program since Day One and vice versa.
“It’s been positive,” Gasser said. “We’ve worked with Warner Bros overall on many projects and certainly this looks, with their initial information filing, like they have fulfilled all of their requirements for our program and we will fulfill ours once all that has been verified following their audit with this. Look, we would love for the series to continue and to continue employing North Carolinians to help make the show.”
Some facts for the record, all from Gasser: The North Carolina Film Office gets a grand total of $31 million a year to pay out to qualifying productions who apply and qualify. Swamp Thing was awarded “just north of $4.9 million” for its pilot. The filming of the remainder of Season 1 took the approved payout up to the $12 million maximum (which was set by the state legislation that created the economic outreach program).
Gasser said the state’s officials had no advance notice that the show was being snuffed.
“We found out just like everybody else,” Gasser said. “Yes, it was a disappointment. It comes with the business. We don’t necessarily get insights in advance…sometime if a show is renewed sometimes we found out in advance of the studio announcement, but with cancellations we usually found out with everybody else.”
Gasser said any TV pilot or season that films in the Tar Heel State is considered a victory, so it would be inaccurate to say officials view Swamp Thing as a dashed opportunity much less a fall-short failure.
“We treat each season of each series as its own stand-alone project,” Gasser said. “And from that standpoint it appears that Warner Bros have lived up to their end of the deal. We have the funds set aside and one the verification has taken place the check will be cut for them.”
Gasser also confirmed that North Carolina has talented film and TV professionals but, according to the most recent census, no actual muck-monsters. “The show’s fictional setting is in Louisiana, so you might inquire with my colleagues down there about the presence of swamp monsters,” he said.
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