Virginia Beach native Pharrell Williams sees new media industry for the state

Economic development initiative to promote content manufacturing

Virginia Film Office Director Andy Edmunds and Pharrell Williams. (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach)
Virginia Film Office Director Andy Edmunds and Pharrell Williams. (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Pharrell Williams and his wife Helen hosted more than 70 state and regional leaders to discuss Virginia’s opportunities to capitalize on the expanding global demand for content and media technology.

Williams — a globally-acclaimed Virginia Beach-born musician, producer and entrepreneur — seeks to bring specific transformative business opportunities to the state, according to a news release from the city.

“We are on the map, but now it’s time to put our rich landscape, our people and their passion to work to make the Commonwealth a global destination,” Williams said. “This is my mission for Virginia, and I am not alone in seeing the vastness of this opportunity.”

Williams also met with Gov. Ralph Northam and delivered a letter from several major studios and media companies expressing interest in Virginia opportunities. Companies included Netflix, Illumination Entertainment, Universal Pictures, Endeavor and 20th Century Fox.

Williams co-produced the Oscar-nominated film, Hidden Figures,” the true story of three female mathematicians from Virginia whose computations enabled NASA and John Glenn to orbit the earth and return safely.

Williams issued this statement:

“When I visited the set, I could sense the energy. There was so much vibrant, productive enthusiasm being harnessed by the team to tell an important story. I saw a beautiful cross section of people — young, old and diverse. I met kids fresh out of film school getting their start. There were single moms providing for their young families. Their focus and teamwork and often unspoken language felt like a glimpse into a beautiful, collaborative future workplace. It’s clear to me that this generation is passionate about a new type of manufacturing for the modern era. This generation manufactures content, and it’s just as noble as anything before it. Their final product informs, inspires, motivates and promotes empathy. But the work itself is powerful enough to forever shift the economic trajectory of an entire state. As I stood on set among all of this positivity and productive energy, I asked myself: Why were we telling a Hampton Roads’ story in Atlanta?”

“These are the types of jobs in advanced manufacturing and technology that we want to grow in Virginia,” said Virginia Beach Economic Development Director Warren D. Harris. “These jobs create transferable skills into defense, medical, A.I. and autonomous technology.”

Currently 34 states have tax credit or grant programs to recruit film production.

Virginia film industry

In 2016, Virginia’s production industry had a total economic impact of $696.8 million, provided 4,287 high-paying, full-time equivalent jobs to Virginians and contributed $27.1 million in state tax revenue, according to a news release. Virginia created a modest film tax credit program in 2011. Every $1 Virginia has invested in content incentives has returned $11 to Virginia’s economy — plus significant tourism added-value deliverables.

Some recent Virginia-filmed projects include:

Larger features/series:

Wonder Woman 1984 (currently filming); Homeland (Season 7); Turn: Washington’s Spies; Mercy Street; Loving; Big Stone Gap; Captain Phillips; Lincoln; John Adams; A Haunting (TV show; and Legends and Lies (TV show).

Sampling of indies:

All the Animals Come Out At Night (Filmed in Hampton Roads, wrapped, distribution plan not yet announced); Affairs of State (filmed in Hampton Roads, in theaters now); Art Show Bingo (Hampton Roads); Tri; Permanent; Juanita; Burning Sands; By the Grace of Bob; and Imperium.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.