How a Small Country Town Became a Legendary Icon

Film is a massive industry that grosses billions of dollar everywhere. Film is a living breathing entity that has a huge impact wherever it can find a home. For a long time film has been a staple of the Wilmington community. Despite being a tiny town in comparison to megacities like Charlotte and Raleigh, you can always find Wilmington pointed out in some way on a map of North Carolina. Film is just one of the things that we, as a city, do.


Famous shows like One Tree Hill and blockbuster movies like Iron Man 3 and The Conjuring have called at least one locale in Wilmington home. It’s hard to resist shooting here when we have such beautiful scenery, historic buildings and easily accessible sweeping landscapes.  It also helped that until recently North Carolina provided excellent grants and incentives for filmmakers to use our natural beauty. Wilmington got it’s nickname “Hollywood of the East” because our scenery and incentives have attracted filmmakers to our area more than anywhere else. So, what’s going to happen with the recent decision to remove many film incentives from our budget? Well, before you answer that question you have to really look at how film affects the areas where it takes root. What better place to look than the most famous name in film?


A brief history of Hollywood: Hollywood started as a simple ranch outside of L.A. which slowly grew into a small town. Hollywood was annexed by LA in the early 1900s due to the fact that Hollywood was having an issue with its water supply and LA had a good aqueduct system in place. Hollywood really began to come into its own when filmmakers began to flee there because Thomas Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company was imposing strict rules on independent filmmakers and often suing them to stop their production. These filmmakers accidentally stumbled on Hollywood after filming in nearby LA and after very successful shoots in the area they began to set up shop, the first studio being built in 1919. The Hollywood sign itself actually originally said Hollywoodland to advertise a new housing development. It fell into disrepair and the Chamber of Commerce commission a restoration, removing the last four letters and restoring the others. When TV sprang up in the 1950s, Hollywood was an obvious choice for studios and many of the existing studios there, like MGM and Warner Bros, decided to dip their hands into that industry as well. From then on, Hollywood has continued to be an icon of the American film industry, despite most studios moving on to other areas around LA. The only movie studio remaining in the actual Hollywood area today is Paramount Studios. (Source of all this history:


So, how did Hollywood become a synonym for American film? Well, the obvious answer is that filmmakers saw incredible opportunity in Hollywood and all decided to jump in the same boat. What we’re interested in is the way the image of Hollywood was created. Without film, Hollywood would just be another suburb in the barren country around LA. Somehow, through coordinated management of meaning, Hollywood because a famous place for famous people to create famous content. Let’s break it down based on the three prongs of the CMM theory. The first is coherence. In order for a message to be successful and meaning to be created, it must be coherent. In this case, Hollywood established itself as a haven for filmmakers early. While its discovery may have been a mistake originally, a clear message was sent by the town of Hollywood later: we are a place where you can come and film in peace. Next is coordination. Through the installation of the Walk of Fame in 1956, the creation of the Oscar in 1929, the building of five major theaters from five massive companies in the late 1920s and the restoration of the massive Hollywood sign in the 1940s, the town of Hollywood narrowed down its focus and decided what it wanted to be known for. The town sent out a message that being in Hollywood was rewarding for studios and actors alike. Hollywood really decided to take an engagement approach in its marketing by targeting its audience with incentives that it knew they would like. All that was left after that was to keep them there, and this is where the last prong, mystery, comes in. Before its surge in the 1920s, Hollywood was a massively untapped area, a veritable gold mine of beautiful scenery and largely untouched history. This led filmmakers to wonder else was in store. This may also be one of the reasons that Hollywood has lost steam and studios over the past few decades. The mystery is gone for studios as they know exactly what to expect from the area and viewers can expect to see much of the same scenery as the area is used over and over again. Maybe this is why film has expanded to so many other areas like Wilmington. Regardless, Hollywood did not become an icon through chance. After its discovery, the town made a coordinated effort to communicate the fact that it was a great place for film and incentivize filmmakers and actors alike for setting up shop there.

Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.Oscar-statue

So what does this mean for Wilmington? Well, it means that the loss of our film incentives will cause a major problem. How can we bring studios here without communicating to them that we are a great place for film? How does the industry affect our image? What will Wilmington be if not the “Hollywood of the East”? I suppose you’ll have to come back tomorrow if you’d like to find out.


– Griffin Weidele, Austin Moody, Allen Wooten, Luci Keefer, Scott Uraro