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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: ‘One Tree Hill’ and its resonating effects on our local economy

Gwenyfar talks took “One Tree Hill” convention direction Beth Crookham about the lasting impact of the CW TV series, filmed in Wilmington.

One of the lasting impacts of the film industry on our area, which remains very difficult to quantify, is the long-term tourism created around the sites and actors of what was filmed here. Former “One Tree Hill” production team member Beth Crookham is putting together Inside OTH, a convention celebrating the long-running show that brought so much money to our area during filming and continues to bring fans here on pilgrimage year after year. Just to remind readers, all those thousands of out-of-town visitors need places to stay, food to eat, transportation, and souvenirs—all money spent locally. Crookham was kind enough to take some time to share with encore a little about Inside OTH and the realities of how film money impacts our community.

TREE HILL: Gwenyfar Rohler talks to Beth Crookham about the inagural Inside OTH Conference. Courtesy InsideOTH.com

TREE HILL: Gwenyfar Rohler talks to Beth Crookham about the inagural Inside OTH Conference. Courtesy InsideOTH.com

encore (e): Please, describe your convention and why it is important now.

Beth Crookham (BC): Inside OTH is a celebration of “One Tree Hill” being put together by some of the show’s cast and crew members. Fan conventions are not new, but one that is brought to the fans by people intimately involved with the show they love is a twist on the approach.

Last year, a few crew members, cast and I were talking about how we’d do things if we were in charge of an OTH event. Somebody looked at me and said, “You should do it.”  So, here we are!

We’re all excited to not only create something truly special for the fans but also to shine a light on the fact that the film industry continues to give back to our area far beyond the last day of filming.

One exciting element of our convention is the display of props and possibly recreations of set pieces from the show. We’ll have the water fountain from the Tree Hill High School hallway, some official “One Tree Hill” director’s chairs that fans can photograph themselves in, and scripts with filming notes. We’re even planning a crew Q&A that should be lots of fun.

There will also be crew hanging out all weekend so fans will have a chance to rub elbows with them and get the inside scoop or, as we like to say, they will be able to get Inside OTH!

e: Tell us a little about the van tours you have planned.

BC: We are working with Wilmington Trolley to take fans around “Tree Hill,” as they like to call our wonderful town. A cast member will guide each one-hour tour, and fans will see at least 20 sites from the show. They’ll also get an autograph and take a “selfie” with their tour guide. Fans will get to hear behind-the-scenes stories to go with the behind-the-scenes tour. We’re excited to have local actors Cullen Moss (“Junk”); Vaughan Wilson (“Fergie”) and Colin Fickes (“Jimmy”) serve as our tour guides.

e: What do you want participants to take away from the convention?

BC: I want our fans to come away feeling even closer to the show they love so much. I watched first-hand as fans visited our sets during filming, and we see this as the next best thing four years later.

e: What did you do at “One Tree Hill”? How did you grow as a film professional there?

BC: My very first role with “One Tree Hill” was as an actress in the first season. I had one line in the seventh episode. In season two, I worked for Fincannon and Associates Casting and booked all the background and featured extras.

The next season I became part of the producing team and worked my way up to overseeing a number of different areas in pre-production, production and post-production. I had responsibilities in different departments. Because I worked in all of these areas, I can remember times when I was working on as many as eight different episodes at the same time. It gets pretty crazy, but there is nothing quite like it, and I was fortunate to work with some outstanding filmmakers who were always willing to teach me and help me expand my knowledge. I also feel fortunate to have worked closely with the cast members—and to get to know them as people.

e: As a former member of the production staff for “One Tree Hill,” how has the film industry presence in Wilmington impacted you personally? How has its diminishment impacted you?

BC: The film industry is the reason I now call Wilmington home. I was fortunate to make my living making films for the first 10 years I was in Wilmington. In 2015 it was really painful to watch so many dear friends have to pack their bags and find work elsewhere because of the diminished opportunities here. It was also sad to see small business owners that had been so important to our work go out of business.

This year we are seeing a couple projects filming, and it does my heart good to see old friends and new crew in the area working. I love seeing all the trucks and trailers set up around town and the locations arrows pointing the way to a shooting location. They are all signs of filming that have come to be synonymous with Wilmington.

e: What do you wish the public knew/understood about film incentives and how the film industry operates?

BC: I have always said I wish people better understood that the film incentive we had before the current grant program was money the state paid to production companies after they finished filming—and they had spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in our communities. There is an economic multiplier to the spending of that money that has never been clearly articulated politically, but when you work inside the industry, you see it and feel it very clearly.

The current grant fund is helpful but it will never get us back to the level of filming we reached in 2014 and 2015. Film is an industry that creates good wages to skilled professionals in numerous fields, including carpenters, accountants, cooks, and electricians, just to name a few. It is an industry that has a positive impact on countless other industries, including tourism, hospitality and retail—all of which benefit everyone who lives here, inside or outside the film industry. It increases the quality of life in our community.

e: How would another long-filming TV series like “One Tree Hill” impact our area financially?

BC: Economics was not my strong suit in school, but “One Tree Hill” was nine years/seasons, 125 to 150 individuals employed each season, 187 episodes and an average 1.5 million dollars spent locally each episode … you do the math. According to our film commissioner, Johnny Griffin, today television is doing 10 to 13 episodes per season but spending 2.5 to 4 million dollars on average per episode. If a series can stay on the air for several years, the fans are likely to begin making the pilgrimage to see the sights.

Ask anyone who works downtown and they will tell you they still get people looking for places from “Dawson’s Creek”—and that went off the air 13 years ago.

e: Why does “One Tree Hill” remain so special for fans? What is it about this show that continues to draw people from all over the world to this area?

BC: Mark Schwahn created a world that resonates with people. There was honesty in his storytelling that connected with young people from all different walks of life. Over our nine seasons we dealt with some very real issues that youth today are dealing with. Not everything had a happy ending, but there was learning and growth that happened along the way. There was always reason to hope. 

The favorite part of my job was being the host to “Make-A-Wish” kids when they and their families would visit our set. I can remember being incredibly humbled each time a parent would tell me when their child was in the hospital, and going through some of the worst that life can throw at a person, it was “One Tree Hill” that gave them hope and made them smile. I’m thrilled to tell you that some of those “kids” will be attending Inside OTH!

e: Why was Cape Fear Stage selected as the site?

BC: The Wilson Center [CFCC’s Humanities and Fine Arts Center] provides our fans first-class luxury, which is what they deserve. We knew we would have hundreds and hundreds of fans attend, so the venue had to accommodate all of them and a lot of different types of activities at the same time. We also knew The Wilson Center staff and volunteer team bring such grace and skill to everything they do. The moment we talked about creating Inside OTH, I knew it had to be at the Wilson Center. It’s hard to describe the vision I see in my head of all the fans watching the autograph sessions taking place in the lobby, but it’s one of the things I’m most excited about.

e: How have the local crew members responded?

BC: They’re excited! Once I tell them what I’m up to, the first thing they say is,  “How can I help?” We truly were a family, and we were so thankful for our dedicated fans. This is so much more than a business opportunity, it is a “family reunion” on a grand scale. We’ve had several crew members offer their time, photos, swag, props, set pieces, and most importantly their talents. It’s great to be able to work with so many old friends again.

e: What is the farthest geographic point you have received ticket sales/questions of interest from?

BC: Saudi Arabia is the farthest, but so far our attendees represent several foreign countries, and over half of the 50 states in the USA.  Inside OTH is giving people from outside our state, and even outside the country, a chance to vacation in Wilmington and learn about everything we have to offer, including but not limited to this event!

e: What’s next for you after this project?

BC: I am president of No Boundaries International Art Colony and fall is the busiest time for that organization, so I’ll be in full swing with that by the time I have wrapped up Inside OTH 2016. Of course, I’ll be looking to summer 2017 to bring more fun to “Tree Hill.”

DETAILS:
Inside OTH
Sat.-Sun., July 23-24
Wilson Center
703 N 3rd St.
Full schedule/tickets:
www.insideoth.com

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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