The Southern sun shines down on the North Carolina film industry. The golden rays illuminated the myriad cast and crew members this morning as they embarked on a 12-hour day, shooting Wilmington’s latest feature film production, “Max Steel.” The locals working the production reveled in the tight bonds they’ve forged over the years. Shouts of recognition resounded throughout the set as various industry professionals recalled past projects they’ve undertaken together. The new production evidences the importance of tomorrow’s second annual North Carolina Film Rally.
“Max Steel” comes as an adaptation of a Mattel, Inc. action-figure line turned animated series. Several animated films and comic-books have also been made. The live-action iteration of the “Max Steel” brand that found its way to Wilmington tells the story of 16-year-old Max McGrath who must conglomerate forces with an alien named “Steel” in order to fend off threatening forces.
Having solidified the port city as an ideal location in October of 2013, “Max Steel’s” arrival in Wilmington was announced in January of this year. Mattel, Inc. producer Julia Pistor describes that when scouting for locations they turned to areas with film incentives first. They planned to explore options in South Africa, Wilmington, Louisiana, and Canada. As luck would have it, Wilmington was the first stop on their itinerary. After arriving, they checked out the former Ideal Cement Plant in Castle Hayne and a few potential homes to be used as title character Max McGrath’s house.
“We just called Los Angeles and said we’re shooting it here,” Pistor admits. “We didn’t evaluate any other place.”
The homegrown crew afforded locally perpetuated their quick decision. Film incentives are important, but if the talent isn’t there it’s not worth it. Flying crew in from other parts of the country proves expensive. Pre-production was completed in Los Angeles, and a few keys traveled here with the production. However, they’ve hired the majority of their crew locally. As the location defines the story, the expansive, beautiful landscape found locally, too, drove the production to film here.
“It’s just so gorgeous: The weather is great, the people [are] great, the locations [are] so diverse, [and] the crew [is] so strong [and] so experienced,” Pistor describes.
Productions rendered in Wilmington don’t just impact the film industry; they also funnel money into the small business market. “We go downtown all the time!” Piston professes. “It’s just quite a remarkable town.”
Ben Winchell who plays Mac McGrath excites in his return to the Wrightsville Beach area. He’s shot one film prior to this one here (“Teen Spirit”), and he routinely visits Mackenzie Lintz, a friend who he knew from growing up in Atlanta, who works on CBS’ summer-hit, “Under the Dome.” This constitutes the first role he’s taken on wherein he’s the lead character.
“I love Wrightsville Beach!” Winchell tells. “When I found out we were shooting in Wilmington, I got super giddy.”
The actor plans to stay a bit after shooting wraps up in order to partake in some surfing and jet skiing—two activities he’s not allowed to do as he can’t risk injury during filming. Strenuous stunts, some of which he will actually undertake himself, hinge on Winchell’s well-being. The risk-lover revels in the excitement offered in Wilmington.
The female lead comes portrayed by Ana Villafañe. Having grown up in the South, the actress finds comfort in the Southern hospitality present in the port city. During her time here, she hopes to acquaint herself with the “local flavor.” She even has plans for a trip to downtown fashion stop Edge of Urge.
These professionals’ gushing words regarding the Cape Fear area demonstrate how essential preserving Wilmington’s blossoming and lucrative film industry is. Tomorrow, Sunday, May 4th, the second annual North Carolina Film Rally will be held at the foot of Market Street, right by Wilmington Riverwalk, at 5 p.m. The event will feature vendors, small businesses, crew members, film fans, celebrities, legislators, and the like. Testimonies will be given, highlighting the attributes of the industry’s presence in Wilmington.
Local radio personality, Wilmywood Daily blogger, and part-time film industry worker Sheila Brothers will speak tomorrow. “I’m extremely supportive of the film incentives because 80 percent of my friends are crew,” she states. “So, I’m taking [the threat on film incentives] very personally.”
Senator Bill Rabon, Frank Iler, Susi H. Hamilton, and mayor Bill Saffo will be in attendance, too.