Film buffs and tourists flock to Wilmington to experience the sights and sounds where movie and tv shows were filmed
Stephanie Zovich smiled as she snapped a picture of a seemingly plain wooden table flanked by two wooden benches along the Cape Fear Riverwalk downtown.
“It’s on my Snapchat,” said Zovich, who is 15 and from Long Island, N.Y. “All my friends watch it. They’re all freaking out.”
The table, however, is different from the other two tables that look exactly like it. Nathan and Haley – characters in the CW TV series “One Tree Hill,” which was filmed in Wilmington from 2003 to 2012 – had one of their first significant romantic interactions here.
This bench symbolizes their fictional love story, and it draws many “OTH” fans who come from as far away as Australia to take a picture or sit at the table. Zovich and her mother, Christina Zovich, are among them. They adjusted their plans to visit Triangle colleges by adding a two-hour detour to Wilmington so Stephanie could see where her favorite show was filmed.
“It’s crazy,” said Zovich, who was only 2 years old when the series started. “I love seeing the bench.”
The table is just one of the many stops and trivia tidbits featured on the Hollywood Location Walk (Hollywoodnc.com). The 90-minute tour reveals that the city and surrounding area are filled with secrets from the filming of TV shows (“Dawson’s Creek” and “Under the Dome”) and movies alike (“A Walk to Remember” and “We Are the Millers” among many).
And not only where scenes – such as where a bunch of actors dangled by crane over the river – were filmed, but where actors like Robert Downey Jr. spent his time when 2013’s “Iron Man 3” set up camp in Wilmington for 10 months in 2012. At the time, producers nicknamed the film “Caged Heat” on location signs around town, to add to the secrecy surrounding the project.
Those were good years in the film industry, thanks to North Carolina’s incentive program. Many productions settled at Wilmington’s EUE/Screen Gems Studios as their base. “Iron Man 3” remains the highest grossing film to be made in North Carolina.
The incentive program has been recast as the North Carolina Film and Entertainment Grant Fund with $30 million set aside for each of the 2016 and ’17 fiscal years. That money has gone toward a remake of “Dirty Dancing,” filmed in western North Carolina; “Shots Fired,” a TV series filmed in Charlotte that will air this fall on FOX; and an independent film starring Woody Harrelson.
Mike Hartle, who has been giving the Hollywood tour for nine years, doesn’t hide his disappointment that the projects have slowed down. This past year, only two programs have been filmed in the area: the upcoming “Six” on the History Channel and “Good Behavior” on TNT.
“We’re excited about those two projects,” he said. “At least we have something.”
Still, that hasn’t stopped Wilmington, referred to as Wilmywood or Hollywood East, from being a must-stop destination for fans of the TV soaps, and the film industry. That includes new generations of fans, such as Zovich, who was only 2 years old when “One Tree Hill” started.
“Everything we have done has a continuing geek appeal,” Hartle said. “They’ve got their following. They couldn’t care less how long it’s been.”
That was clear last month as hundreds of “One Tree Hill” fans flocked to Wilmington for a fan convention with the show’s stars. There were panels, autograph sessions and tours given by some of the supporting actors. Young women were seen photographing buildings on the show – and that bench by the river. A local T-shirt shop put many of its “One Tree Hill” logo T-shirts on a sidewalk rack.
Hartle asks visitors what projects they want to know about, so they can make sure to stop outside a restaurant or building facade where a scene was shot.
“They visibly swoon because they can walk on sets of their favorite show,” he said. “Those locations are still here.”
Being a tour guide is a full-time job, Hartle says, though tours are offered just once a day, or twice on Saturdays. Hartle hauls around at least 40 to 50 pounds of three-ring binders filled with research – press clippings and photos of local productions, the area’s history in the film industry, and even one devoted just to the filming incentives.
Hartle knows actors’ extensive filmographies, , including projects done before and after they came to North Carolina. and he likes to share chance meetings with actors as they passed through town. Wilmington, in addition to its climate and experienced work crews, also seems to have residents who look the other way when A-list actors drop by.
Roz Eschert, who moved to Fuquay-Varina in July from Connecticut, brought her son and stepson to Wilmington for the day. Each was interested in different projects, but all were surprised to learn what shows and films have been made just two hours from their new home.
“I think it’s great,” Eschert said. “You can come here and maybe see a star. You don’t have to worry about paparazzi. They can act normal and you can act normal, and everyone can just maybe potentially hang out.”
Check out props and more Wilmington history at the Cape Fear Museum’s exhibit, “Starring Cape Fear,” which is on view through Feb. 26. It’s at 814 Market St., Wilmington. For hours and costs, go to capefearmuseum.com.
The Wilmington Film Museum, at the Hannah S. Block Community Arts Center, 120 S. 2nd St., (a former USO building), is a grassroots history project with posters and photos from locally filmed projects. For hours, go to wilmingtonfilmmuseum.org or facebook.com/wilmingtonfilmmuseum.
Lake Lure and Rutherford County
You’d think after a warning like, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” that such a dreadful thing would never happen again. Think again.
Movie studios hope magic strikes twice in a remake of “Dirty Dancing,” which has been filming in and around the Asheville area in Hendersonville and Cashiers. The new version will air on ABC and stars Debra Messing, Abigail Breslin and Colt Prattes. High Hampton Inn & Country Club in Cashiers serves as Kellerman’s Resort, where Baby and her family spend their summer, according to media reports.
But “Dirty Dancing” purists might want to celebrate the original instead. Head to Lake Lure to re-create the famous lift – where Patrick Swayze’s Johnny practices a daring dance move with Jennifer Grey’s Baby. The 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa was in the original flick and promotes both the Jennifer Grey Suite and Johnny’s Cabin as rooms to reserve. (Johnny’s Cabin starts at $259 and has a Jacuzzi, which clearly wasn’t in the ’60s-set film.) Lake Lure Tours (lakeluretours.com) offers boat rides to take you to more water-based “Dirty Dancing” landmarks.
It’s no wonder the Rutherford County Tourism Development Authority’s website can be found at TimeOfYourLifeNC.com and includes other film sites for “Dirty Dancing” as well as “The Last of the Mohicans.” Meanwhile, the Dirty Dancing Festival (dirtydancingfestival.com) on Aug. 19-20 celebrates everything about the film, with a “Dirty Dancing” screening, dance lessons, a lake lift competition and watermelon games.
Asheville and western North Carolina
If “Iron Man 3” was the biggest film to hit Wilmington, “The Hunger Games” with Jennifer Lawrence raised western North Carolina’s filming profile around the same time. The first movie of the trilogy was filmed in and around western North Carolina in 2011 before it was released in March 2012. The mere presence of Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson in Asheville created quite a stir whenever they were seen around town.
The Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau provides an interactive map and itinerary for a self-guided tour of “Hunger Games” locations. Go to exploreasheville.com and click on “Tours.” Sites include DuPont State Forest, Triple Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Henry River Mill Village. Note that some parts are private property or might not be easily accessible.
There’s a paid tour, too, sparing you the opportunity to get lost. The Hunger Games Unofficial Fan Tours (hungergamesunofficialfantours.com) will take you to DuPont State Recreational Forest or Henry Mill Village and also include archery and a “Hunger Games”-themed lunch.
Welcome to Mayberry! “The Andy Griffith Show” may not have been filmed in the Surry County town, and it may not have been the exact inspiration for the iconic show that aired from 1960 to 1968. (The late Griffith, who was born in Mount Airy, has said Pilot Mountain was what he had in mind for the setting.)
Nevertheless, the town is Andy Griffith headquarters and celebrates everything about the show, from the Andy Griffith Museum, Floyd’s City Barber Shop and the upcoming Mayberry Days. You can even stay at the home where the actor lived in his teen years, which is a walk away from downtown Mount Airy. (Reservations are made through the Mount Airy Hampton Inn). For the full effect, you might want to take a Mayberry Squad Car Tour to hit all the landmarks (tourmayberry.com)
Head to the TV Land Landmark Statue of Andy and Opie Taylor and you’ll find the museum, which is a must-see for the show’s fans. It has carefully preserved memorabilia and props from the show, collected by Griffith’s friend Emmett Forrest, as well as Griffith’s career outside the sitcom. On the third Friday of the month, meet Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou, Barney Fife’s love interest. She’ll autograph photos (for $10). Professor Neal Brower offers free monthly lectures on the show. Go to andygriffithmuseum.com for dates and times.
Mark your calendars for Sept. 21 to 25. Mayberry Days, which attracts thousands of visitors every year, will showcase Griffith fever at its peak. Go to visitmayberry.com for a full list of associated places and events.
Can Charlotte be a substitute for Washington, D.C.? Why not? Showtime’s acclaimed “Homeland” filmed three seasons in Charlotte, from 2011 to 2013, serving as the setting for the CIA-based series. Freedom Park is featured in early episodes. “The Hunger Games” left the mountains for a bit and filmed scenes at the Charlotte Convention Center and the nearby Knight Theater at Levine Center for the Arts. Several websites detail the exact locations of “Homeland” settings. Start with charlottesgotalot.com, which mentions other productions that have set up shop in the Queen City.
Meanwhile, the new FOX series “Shots Fired” has been in Charlotte, nearby Mooresville and Gastonia and often seeks extras. The timely show, starring Sanaa Latham, Helen Hunt and Stephen Moyer, deals with the fallout of a police shooting in a small (fictional) North Carolina town.