Local filmmaker Robert Hopkins said Charleston could be the next Hollywood with a few changes | Photos courtesy Khari Davis/Shadetree Visuals

“Charleston could be like a mini Hollywood if we could just get over a couple of hurdles.” That’s what Robert Hopkins said to me as we’re discussing his latest Charleston TV project. A pilot for Tax Season, which took over a year to film, thanks to the pandemic. It’s a gritty, but also comical show about an entrepreneurial nephew and his mishap-prone uncle, whose success in the legal marijuana industry lands them in the middle of a cartel murder conspiracy. 

 Hopkins has been in the local film and TV scene for over nine years and has had to wear many different hats during his time in the industry. 

 “As an African-American man in a predominately white industry,” he said, “it has not been easy to build this career. But now is the time to be telling more diverse stories.” 

 The idea for Tax Season came from Trident Tech student Khari Davis. K-Dee, as he’s known, is the owner of Shadetree Visuals, a local photo and video production company. Hopkins praised the instructors and alumni of the Trident Tech film department program. 

 “People who come from Trident Tech are the best,” he said. “They get hands-on experience, and they’re taught to wear many different hats.” That’s needed on local film projects where crews are often much smaller than L.A. or Atlanta sets, he said. 

 Tax Season was made on a shoestring budget and the pilot was shot all over the Charleston area. There’s a cartel party that takes place in a beautiful beach house on Isle of Palms. The dedication of the crew was so great that Hopkins said they “were able to make Charleston look like Miami.”

 As we talked about the show, our conversation about Tax Season turned into a bigger discussion about how the television industry in Charleston is being held back by economic limitations. It’s a subject Hopkins is keen to discuss. Georgia is quickly becoming its own not-so-mini-Hollywood, with over 400 shows and films being produced there and in the surrounding areas in 2019. That’s what Charleston could begin to see, with billions of dollars of revenue that come along with it, if the area offered  more tax incentives and rebates for film and television production companies. 

 For Hopkins, the frustration over South Carolina’s lack of robust state-level film incentives is also met with his passion to see Charleston become a new hub of film and TV. He has a vision of starting up his own production company based directly from Charleston, run by homegrown locals who know the culture of the community, and really create a modern mecca for local talent. He said major companies like HBO can continue to produce content out of Charleston, if only the legislature could get out of the way. 

 “This is a way for Charleston to pull in a lot of revenue that pumps right back into the infrastructure of your state,” Hopkins said. “The weather, the cost of living, and the beauty of the landscapes makes it easy to produce material in Charleston, but the bigger productions can’t come to us because of their need for tax incentives.”