**I received a promotional copy of Wilm On Film courtesy of StarNews Media.**
Whenever I’ve heard Wilmington, North Carolina referred to as Hollywood East, I’ve always chuckled to myself in a “yeah, right” kind of way.
After reading Wilm On Film: A Guide To More Than 25 Years of Film & TV Production Around Wilmington, North Carolina, I realized the joke’s on me.
Sure, I knew that two of our teen dramas, Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill, were filmed there, as were a few dozen other productions.
Turns out, “a few dozen” is a gross underestimate.
The book, written by Star-News staffers Amy Hotz and Ben Steelman and edited by their colleague Jeff Hidek, recounts the history of the Wilmington film and television industry while also providing a fairly comprehensive guide to the hundreds of productions filmed in the area.
The book rightly calls itself an “easy-to-use-guide” and those were the first words that came to mind when I first flipped through the book. It is mostly sectioned by time period, with a break-down of several productions filmed during each. Each film or TV pilot/series is further broken down into plot synopsis, filming dates, notable cast and crew, key locations and fun facts under the catch-all phrase “did you know?”
As it turns out, Hollywood East is just one of the area’s nicknames. “Locals,” according to the book, “refer to it more endearingly as ‘Wilmywood.'” And it’s no wonder: a listing of some of the stars who have filmed there reads like a “who’s who” of Hollywood. Among the names trotted out in the introduction: “Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Martin Lawrence, Queen Latifah, Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning, Dennis Hopper and the list goes on.”
Not surprisingly, the introduction also points out that “In 2009, The CW television drama ‘One Tree Hill,’ starring Sophia Bush [Brooke] and James Lafferty [Nathan], began filming its seventh season.” That is, undoubtedly, the area’s biggest current claim to fame. Skip down a bit, and the authors note “‘One Tree Hill’ stars often show up at charity events and festivals. Chad Michael Murray [Lucas], who starred on the series’ first six seasons, helped start a new Pop Warner football team for ages kids 11-15. Lafferty helped start a local American Basketball Association team called the Sea Dawgs.” The latter factoid I knew; the former I didn’t.
And that right there sums up the book quite well: there’s much that devout OTH and DC fans as well as film geeks will know but I found there are also plenty of gems as well. An example appears on the very next page. Linda Lavin (Sophie, aka The Nana, The O.C.) is apparently very fond of Wilmington, having filmed a television movie there in 1995 and “settling” there afterward. She is quoted as saying, “I could live in a lot of places, I guess, but this is where I’m home.”
The book is peppered with anecdotes, since “you’re hard pressed to find anyone in Wilmington who hasn’t worked on a set or been touched by the film business in some way.” But if you’re not interested in the production being discussed or a film geek or keen to learn quite a bit about Wilmington, you’ll find yourself skimming through the text.
With my eyes peeled for any and all One Tree Hill or Dawson’s Creek mentions, my skimming stopped on page 34 where I found one of those aforementioned gems. In the midst of an accounting of Blue Velvet’s production, the authors reveal that “while it doesn’t have the fan base of ‘Dawson’s Creek’ or ‘One Tree Hill,’ a steady stream of ‘Blue Velvet’ aficionados still calls [sic] the Cape Fear Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.” Reading this just a few days after star Dennis Hopper’s passing, I wondered if these calls would increase in the next few weeks.
Each of the time period-based sections starts by giving an in-depth look at a production, such as Blue Velvet (which marked 1986-1988, an “on the rise” time for the Wilmington film scene). The first that I closely read was the following section, “the boom years” or 1989-1992. Why? The child in me was giddy at the details provided about…wait for it…Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And bless that film, for “it also paved the way…[for] ‘Muppets In Space.'”
I read the next section’s opening quite closely as well. “A darker tone,” which accounts for 1993-1997, starts out by talking about The Crow, a cult film I was big on during high school. I can’t recall if I knew it filmed in Wilmington, but I never tire of reading about it, especially about the on-set death of the film’s lead actor, Brandon Lee. The section starts off noting, “Of all the movies made in Wilmington, ‘The Crow’ remains the most macabre” for this very reason. And the quote from Lee on the next page, “I find myself thinking, ‘What if I died and had a chance to come back?’ So many things seem so trivial and mundane. If you came back, they would seem so significant and bittersweet,” is incredibly chilling.
The next entry to pique my interest was also a cult film, but on the opposite spectrum of The Crow in tone: Empire Records, another film that I watched quite a bit during my high school years. I didn’t know this one was filmed in Wilmington, either. A few pages later, To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday caught my eye, as it starred Peter Gallagher (Sandy, The O.C.), making that at least two O.C. cast members to film in Wilmington.
The following section is aptly titled “teen invasion,” covering 1998-2002 and starting with six pages on Dawson’s Creek (though about half of it is comprised of graphics). They sum up the show quite well, pointing out “its hyper-sexual, super-wordy dialogue centered around four high school students in the small town of Capeside, Mass. — wannabe filmmaker Dawson (James Van Der Beek), sweet girl-next-door Joey (Katie Holmes), lovable scoundrel Pacey (Joshua Jackson) and new vixen in town Jen (Michelle Williams)” and astutely noting that “adult thoughts and emotions coming from teenagers…attracted many others to the series. In other shows, teens just weren’t that deep or complex” and “each week brought an hour long dose of teen angst, introspection and complicated consequences.”
To also be filed under the “I had no idea” category, they mention that “more than 30 teenagers gathered outside Wilmington’s EUE/Screen Gems Studios to protest the coming out of Kerr Smith’s character, Jack” in the show’s second season. It made this quote a few paragraphs later, from a 2003 Star-News interview with Jackson, all the more fitting: “I was used to working and I understood the requirements. I didn’t understand the cultural phenomenon it would become.”
The phenomenon idea was echoed by a Cape Fear Convention and Visitors Bureau staffer who notes that they received “hundreds of calls” during the show’s second season from people wanting to know where this-and-that were located. The authors note, “Film tourism had existed in Wilmington before ‘Dawson’s Creek.’ But the show was in a league of its own.”
Among the other interesting tidbits: Van Der Beek taught baseball at a local high school, Williams performed in a staging of The Vagina Monologues and Jackson once helped save two swimmers. Additional neat reveals came via photos, one of most of the cast at “a tribute to the show in downtown Wilmington after they wrapped filming of the final season in 2003” and another of a mural showcasing the core four outside the studios. It is noted in a later section that John Wesley Shipp (Mitch, Dawson’s Creek) starred in Port City, which filmed in Wilmington, and it is also noted that Barbara Alyn Woods (Deb, One Tree Hill) is in the flick as well.
During the Dawson’s Creek era, one of my favorite movies, A Walk To Remember, filmed in Wilmington. Not new information to me or surprising given author Nicholas Sparks’ predilection to set his stories in and film the big screen adaptations in southeastern coastal towns but now all the more interesting to me given that Bethany Joy Galeotti (Haley, One Tree Hill) is working on a musical adaptation of one of Sparks’ other novels, The Notebook.
The final section takes us from 2003 to the present under the title of “modern melodrama” and kicking things off with seven pages on One Tree Hill (again, about half are graphics). One of the main takeaways in this section is actually the legacy of Dawson’s Creek. “Coming so close behind such a successful show that was similar in so many ways,” the authors write about how some people felt during the transition period, “‘One Tree Hill’ might have a problem coming into its own. And when that notion was put to rest after the show went into its second, third and fourth seasons, it’s likely no one had any idea what was in store.” They then quote OTH creator Mark Schwahn after the season 6 renewal as saying “‘Dawson’s Creek’ is a huge, big wonderful show that when you come to Wilmington to make a pilot, you have this specter of this show looming over you, and it seems unattainable to go as long as they would.” One Tree Hill fans know the show has since accomplished more than Dawson’s Creek did in terms of number of seasons and episodes.
Like in the Dawson’s Creek section, they sum up One Tree Hill’s premise quite succinctly: “‘One Tree Hill centered on two-half brothers (Chad Michael Murray as Lucas Scott and James Lafferty as Nathan Scott) who pretty much hated each other. They competed against each other on the Tree Hill High School basketball court, in the dating world and in the family circle.” They note the retooling the show went through with its time-jump, explaining “In seasons five and six, viewers learned how the characters would make their ways in the world, the professions they would choose, the relationships they would commit to and all the mistakes along the way.” My only gripe is the errors in the following sentences: “Nathan became a semi-pro basketball player and slamball player who was finally called up by the Charlotte Bobcats. He would marry Haley (Bethany Joy Galeotti) and have a son, Jamie (Jackson Brundage).” Nathan married Haley and had Jamie before becoming a semi-pro player, slamball player and getting called up by the Bobcats. In fact, marrying Haley and having Jamie occurred before the time-jump, before seasons five and six.
Among some interesting choices: They explain the exit of Murray and Hilarie Burton (Peyton, One Tree Hill) after season six as them “[deciding] not to renew” when it isn’t 100 percent evident that that was the case. Additionally, there’s a photo of Murray with Bush and another of him with fiance Kenzie Dalton, and the caption notes how Murray and Bush were once married but he’s now engaged to Dalton, who appeared as an extra on the show. At first I thought it was unnecessary/irrelevant but then I recalled that many of the entries for other productions mentioned if so-and-so had a significant other in town with them or met someone there, where they were frequently seen, etc. As far as pictures go, throughout the book they managed to include all of the core 5–except Galeotti (Haley, One Tree Hill). But also included are Robert Buckley (Clay, One Tree Hill) and Amanda Schull (Sara/Katie, One Tree Hill).
As they did in the introduction, they note some of the local-but-outside-OTH activities the cast has done, including Burton’s Southern Gothic Productions, Lafferty’s charity basketball games and documentary For Keeps and Galeotti’s workshop of her musical version of The Notebook.
Burton receives three other mentions in the rest of the section: one in the notable cast and crew listing for The List, one in the notable cast and crew listing for The Secret Life of Bees, where it’s noted that Tristan Wilds (Dixon, 90210) also starred, one in the notable cast and crew listing for Provinces of Night (which has since been retitled Bloodworth) where it’s noted that Barry Corbin (Whitey, One Tree Hill) and Hilary Duff (Olivia, Gossip Girl) also starred. Another production listed, Remember The Daze, starred Leighton Meester (Blair, Gossip Girl). In the book’s final section on independent filmmaking, or “free spirits,” it’s mentioned that Billy Dickson, who has directed more than 50 episodes of One Tree Hill, created a webseries called IQ-145.
Of all the quotes included, I have to say my favorite might be one from Paul Johansson (Dan, One Tree Hill). He said, “[Wilmington] has so many split personalities. Is this a beach town or is it a historic town or is it an industry town? What is it? And that’s what keeps it interesting.”
And it was certainly interesting for me to learn about all that has happened in Hollywood East (yes, I’ve been converted), things that I clearly had no idea about before. As if my urge to visit Wilmington wasn’t strong enough before, this certainly put me over the edge.
Wilm on Film is available for purchase on Lulu.com.