People - August 2007
When he headed the Utah Film Commission, Aaron Syrett bent over backward to lure moviemakers. He once received a call from a director who wanted to see sunlight at a certain location but didn’t have time to do it himself. So Syrett sent an assistant to photograph the site every 15 minutes for eight hours. “That may sound absurd,” he admits, “but light is an important thing in the film industry.”
That kind of enterprise should serve him well in his new role as director of the North Carolina Film Office. A former child actor, Syrett has held various positions in the film industry, from appearing in local TV commercials to reading scripts for a Hollywood production company. His familiarity with the business is instrumental in recruiting, he says. “Talking the talk is very important.”
Syrett, 34, replaces Bill Arnold, who retired after 26 years as the state’s first film office director in the Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development. Syrett, whose annual salary is $90,000, will have to continue Arnold’s momentum. In 2005, film spending in the state rose 27%. Two potential blockbusters recently were filmed in the state. Leatherheads, starring George Clooney, was shot in Charlotte, Statesville and Greensboro, and Nights in Rodanthe, with Richard Gere, was shot near the coast.
Syrett, who was director of the Utah Film Commission the last two years, has a good track record. In 2005, spending on film and TV production in that state was up more than 30% from the previous year, to $144.5 million, due to projects such as the defunct WB television series Everwood. Though spending in North Carolina grew to $300 million in 2005, it was still well below the all-time high of $504 million in 1993. The film office has not released last year’s numbers.
A Salt Lake City native, Syrett began acting on TV as a way to earn cash when his mother refused to buy him a skateboard. He graduated from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City in 1997, earning a bachelor’s in mass communication with an emphasis on film, TV and radio. After spending a year in Los Angeles reading scripts, he returned home and began working for the film commission.
In North Carolina, he oversees a $500,000 budget and three employees. Syrett says he plans to take annual trips to Hollywood to promote the state. “It’s a word-of-mouth industry. It’s built on relationships.” That’s where his acting should come in handy.