Upon arrival to ILM as a resident, one of the first magical moments I had (aside from shucking oysters at downtown’s Icehouse, seeing the Lemonheads at the Mad Monk and scooping up CDs at CD Alley—RIP to all) was being shown the building where the cult classic “Empire Records” was filmed. It was 1995 and I was ready to take on the world at a mere 18 years young, just like my fave angsty teens of the time, Corey (Liv Tyler), Lucas (Rory Cochrane), Gina (Renée Zellweger), A.J. (Johnny Whitworth), Mark (Ethan Embry), and Debra (Robin Tunney).
Their coming-of-age story continues to garner fans (and will even more so once it becomes a Broadway musical, slated for a 2020 release). For Wilmingtonians, though, the film has more personal meaning: a testament to the bustling days of our local film industry providing an economic boom to our city. The footage of the final dance scene and much of the interior scenes of the record store were shot at 15 S. Front St.—around then known as The Palladium in downtown Wilmington, which now houses Rebellion NC, a restaurant and bar. To mark its effect on our town and celebrate all that’s cool about Rex Manning (I mean “Say No More, Mon Amour” was filmed on Wrightsville Beach, after all), On Set Cinema has arranged a screening of “Empire Records” at Rebellion on June 9.
Filmmaker and On Set Cinema founder Kenny Caperton knows how a movie or TV show can affect a city. The tourism that comes from it alone can keep funds boosting an economy years after the film wraps. Just look at the “One Tree Hill” conventions and Hollywood Locations Tours still housed in ILM. Caperton himself often takes vacations to places where his top-rated screeners were shot. Now he’s going in the opposite direction and bringing the films to towns that originally hosted them.
“I’ve been wanting to do On Set Cinema for about four or five years now,” he admits. “‘Empire Records’ has always been my dream first screening. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time! I’m a teen of the ‘90s and it completely captures that era. It’s just an incredible film: great cast, great characters, great soundtrack.”
The Rebellion screening will be the first of six showings on location across the South in 2018. On July 7 On Set will screen “I Know What You Did Last Summer” at Harrell’s Department Store in Burgaw, NC. “It was where Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her sister Elsa (Bridgette Wilson) worked in the film,” Caperton notes. “It is also where one of the greatest horror-movie chase scenes ever took place. I will be screening the film in the appliance section of the store—in the exact spot where Elsa gets killed by the fisherman.”
A huge horror fan, Caperton wrote, filmed and released his own passion project, “Honeyspider,” independently and even received worldwide distribution (trailer here). His love of the slasher-flick genre began with John Carpenter’s famed “Halloween” flicks. Caperton even purchased a Hillsborough, NC, home and renovated its exterior and some of its interior as an exact replica of the Michael Meyers’ house. The fanatic lives in the home and every Halloween throws a bash, with the 10th anniversary celebration coming up on October 27. Though he won’t be showing “Halloween” in Hillsborough (the original Michael Meyers home is in South Pasadena, CA), he has picked out quite a few horror flicks to show as part of the On Set series—some of which he admits are really bizarre.
“‘The Strangers: Prey At Night’ will be shown at a pool [on August 25 in Falmouth, KY],” he notes, “while ‘The Mutilator’ will be at a privately owned beach house [in Atlantic Beach on September 22]. It’s all a work-in-progress; I do everything by myself. This is a total passion project!”
Caperton also has scheduled “The Strangers” for August 18 in Florence, SC, and will end the series on December 7 with “Final Exam” in Gaffney, SC. He wants attendees to step into a time warp, to a favorite time in their lives when they saw movies that helped them escape or related to them on a personal level.
“Do you remember how it felt when you first saw it?” Caperton asks rhetorically. “Maybe you were a child or possibly a teenager in high school. Did you watch it with your best friend or on a first date? Remember when your heart skipped a beat when the killer jumped out from behind the door? Or when you heard that theme music for the first time? Each time you rewatch that movie, you are somehow transported back to the first time. When you’re a true fan of something, you want to be surrounded by it and live in it if you could.”
Caperton is helping fans get closer to that goal. In Wilmington it means a bevy of locations are rife for the taking. Hundreds of films and TV shows have had camera dollies roll across its cobblestone streets. And, yes, some of the most popular—a la showing “Dawson’s Creek” first three episodes—are on Caperton’s wish list, too.
“It’s just an exciting way for fans to experience the films and shows they love up close, in person and at the filming locations where they were shot!” Caperton tells. “I basically create events I would want to go to—but I doubt Rebellion would allow me to set up a projector to watch ‘Empire Records’ in their restaurant for my own personal enjoyment—so this is the long way going about doing that.”