SC wants to grow film industry in Upstate

Benjamin Simon, Post and Courier

GREENVILLE — Growing up in rural Pelzer, Kevin Human was the kid who turned a school essay about Beowulf into a video. He’d grab his Sony camcorder, hop in the car and shoot scenes in the woods.

There was just one problem: He didn’t know what he was doing.

“No one in my community could tell me what that meant or how to make that into a viable career or life,” he said. “So I struggled finding my path.”

Now Human, who moved to Los Angeles for a decade and produced a Netflix TV show, is returning to South Carolina to create a training ground for high school students.

The South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, a prestigious Greenville-based public boarding school primarily for 11th and 12th graders, will launch its inaugural film department, with Human as its first instructor. It joins one of six art disciplines at the school — and its first new one since opening in 1999.

The department will provide a home to budding movie and TV producers from across South Carolina as the state attempts to bolster its film industry.

“It feels like we’re on the ground floor for change, for the better, in terms of growing films,” Human said, “specifically here in Greenville.”

Though Charleston has attracted production companies for hit shows such as HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones” and Netflix’s “Outer Banks,” the state’s film incentives program generally has lagged behind those of neighboring states.

North Carolina provides around $30 million annually in incentives to films, while Georgia has dumped $1 billion in tax credits to attract major Marvel films.

South Carolina, on the other hand, offers roughly $16 million each year in rebates to production companies that invest at least $1 million, said Matt Storm, film commissioner of the South Carolina Film Commission. In 2023, the state Legislature proposed raising its funding to $30 million, though the increase never was approved.

Storm called the Upstate their main priority. Currently, he estimated that 95 percent of films shoot in the Lowcountry, where there’s more infrastructure and crew members available.

“Now that Greenville and Spartanburg are so hungry for filmmaking up there, we’re trying to turn everybody’s head to, ‘You ought to check out Greenville, they’re super open to filmmaking, they’re super into trying to make it work up there,’” Storm said.

The Fine Arts Center, an arts school for Greenville County high school students, has offered a digital filmmaking program for years.

But the Governor’s School’s department will differ by attracting high school students from across the state, bringing them to the campus in downtown Greenville for an arts-centered boarding school experience.

“We can attract really good artists who may not have a place to go to feed that desire,” said creative writing instructor Scott Gould. “If you’re in Orangeburg County, where do you go in high school to find out about (film)?”

Gould started teaching a screenwriting class at the Governor’s School more than 10 years ago and, since then, wanted to create a full-fledged program.

He saw how film could meld the school’s subjects. Creative writers could craft scripts, actors could perform in the movies, artists could design the sets and film majors could pull it all together.

“It encompasses so many of the disciplines, because it’s such a collaborative art,” he said. “You’re not siloed in your little space.”

He also saw the demand. When they created a one-week summer program for middle schoolers in 2023, so many people signed up that they extended it to two weeks.

The school then brought in Human, who has decades of industry experience.

The Pelzer native graduated with a master’s degree from Clemson University and UCLA, then lived in Los Angeles for about 10 years, producing new Netflix TV show “Untamed,” Oxygen Network’s “The Carolyn Warmus Project” and “Chief of Station,” a movie featuring Aaron Eckhart.

After starting a family, he decided to move closer to home.

“I want to go back to my home state, my home community, and be the teacher that I wish I had had growing up,” he said.

The inaugural class of 11 students will start in the fall. They will learn the fundamentals of filmmaking from pre- to post-production — picking locations, developing a cast, filming the movie and editing in special effects. The whole class will spend two years developing a major movie project.

The department likely will expand to include up to 25 total students, and possibly forge a partnership with Clemson University, which recently added new film production classes.

In the end, Human wants his students to have the tools to chase their dreams in Hollywood.

But he also wants them to have the choice to stay in South Carolina and work as a filmmaker, too — something he never felt he could do.