Film runs deep in Wilmington. Citizens have relied on it for jobs for years—and not just crews. Everyone involved, from extras, to local restaurants and shops, hotels and grocery stores, and tourism boards benefit from its influx of people in the area. Film has been an integral part of Wilmington’s community since Dino DeLaurentiis went in search of locations for the 1984 film “Firestarter.” Once in Wilmington, he and Frank Capra Jr. established DEG Film Studio the year of the film’s release. Now, the embers lie in wait for another fire starter, since Pat McCrory significantly has decreased tax incentives in our state (let’s hope the kindling will burn anew in 2017).
However, the indelible imprint this industry has left on us isn’t over. Cape Fear Museum is celebrating the opening of a new exhibit centered around the industry in “Starring Cape Fear!” It will open to the public on April 21 and run through Feb. 26, 2017. The exhibit traces the Lower Cape Fear region’s last 30 years of over 400 film productions through displayed artifacts. Several artifacts come from various locally made productions include “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Super Mario Bros,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Muppet’s from Space,” “Iron Man 3,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Under the Dome,” “One Tree Hill,” and “Eastbound and Down.”
The tour starts with a video made by New Hanover County in 2014, showing how film is integrated into the community and a larger part of our culture. On the tour are interactive games, like how to add sound to film or learning about DeLaurentiis’ efforts to create the largest sound stage this side of the Mississippi. It also explores how film incentives changed the industry in the Cape Fear, and quizzes those who dare take
Research from Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of History exhibit, “Starring North Carolina!”, helped make possible “Starring Cape Fear!” Raleigh covered 100 years of filming across the state, while the Cape Fear begins in 1982 and goes through the current day in and around Wilmington.
“We didn’t plan [the exhibit to open at] this point in our history,” Cape Fear Museum curator Barbara Rowe says. “We just took advantage of the (N.C. Museum of History) exhibit, and it just happened to be now when we’re going through this turmoil.”
When Rowe started organizing the objects by production date, she noticed she had plenty from the ‘80s and ‘90s, but items were weak in the aughts. “Production companies used to be a little more generous, but now, as soon as it’s a wrap, they sell everything off, so getting a donation isn’t as easy.”
It took a local community’s love for film, especially those directly involved, to keep the history coming. Thus, CFM appealed to the film industry community, all of whom have happily loaned several objects to the exhibit, to help promote and celebrate what the Cape Fear has produced.
Even stars gave a helping hand. After a tweet from public relations specialist Amy Mangus about “Eastbound and Down,” Danny McBride’s assistant quickly got in touch and offered to loan the jet ski and mariachi costume with the mullet. Preserving and keeping exhibits such as this alive and interesting will keep generations to come pushing the film culture forward. But to get exhibits up and running, they must first be approved—and it isn’t always easy. Having to go through a committee, doing the research, and gathering objects, as well as culling money, the Colonial section at the Cape Fear Museum took over five years to get on display. There’s a plethora of obstacles to jump over, so to get “Starring Cape Fear!” up and running in a year is quite a feat. Raleigh’s exhibit helped put it on the fast track.
When the N.C. Museum of History asked to borrow various props and objects, Cape Fear Museum gladly lent over 100. In fact, they were the biggest lender. In return, Cape Fear Museum asked for Raleigh’s research and licenses.
Currently only two productions are helping keep film alive locally: TNT’s drama series “Good Behavior” and the second is History’s military drama series “Six.” However, after the passing of NC’s HB2 bill a few short weeks ago, Turner Broadcasting’s “Good Behavior” already has said it’s considering filming the second season elsewhere to boycott the legislature. It makes everyone wonder if NC legislators really care how much money film brings to the state—not just during production, but its aftereffects as a tourist destination. Put quite simply: Film equals jobs.
“If the film industry totally crumbled, what would they do with all those [EUE Screen Gems] buildings on North 23rd Street?” Rowe asks. “Keeping the business going makes us different from the next coastal town.”
The opening night of the exhibit, an adults-only event, will be April 21, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. It is free for members or $30 for non-members. There will be light appetizers, drinks and live music by the Cape Fear Jazz Society.