Behind the Scenes in Wilmington, NC

For the past 30 years while the film industry was taking root in Wilmington, NC a brand was also growing. Wilmington became “Wilmywood.” With a well established tie to the film industry where does this brand identity go now that major productions like “Under The Dome” are heading farther south to Atlanta? Is Wilmington still “Hollywood East?” The NC Department of Revenue reported 10,500 film industry jobs in 2011. The UNCW Film Studies webpage promotes the department as a vital link to a “thriving film production center.” Students are often excited to see UNCW featured in these movies and shows, with hits like ‘The Conjuring’ and ‘One Tree Hill’ shooting scenes on campus. UNCW student Jackie L. says, “I took the opportunity to be an extra in Nicholas Sparks film at Dockside Bar & Restaurant because this was an easy way for me to break into the industry and help gain some exposure.” Incoming students, and industry professionals aren’t the only ones drawn to this exposure. Wilmington tourists are promised not only sandy beaches but film location walking tours from The North Carolina Travel and Tourism Board. It’s undeniable that Wilmington’s film industry has been at the forefront of establishing the city’s brand equity, attracting loyalty and awareness through the implications of its name branding “Hollywood East.” Will “Hollywood East”  still be an accurate picture of the Wilmington brand?

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When North Carolina cut film industry tax incentives in half in 2014, production companies moved productions but the studio they used is still here. EUE/Screen Gems Studio is the local film industry power player having provided an operational base for over 400 film and television productions since 1985, and the 50 acre soundstage is still in business. With the film industry starting to move out of Wilmington while a major studio complex remains this puts Wilmington and its brand in an interesting situation. Is it ethical to keep advertising Wilmington as “Hollywood East?” Or should Wilmington and the UNCW community take this opportunity to revisit their dominant selling point and establish a new standard for connecting the film industry with their brands?

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The democratic ethical approach put emphasis on the habit of justice which calls for factual accuracy, and the habit of search which supports openness to new ideas. According to this, the city cannot market itself as Hollywood East, and let potential students and new residents believe that they will spot Robert Downey Jr. on the street or will sit down across from Jennifer Aniston Front Street Brewery. The reality is that the movie industry is largely moving out. We can still talk about the film that has happened in Wilmington and market that for all its worth, but we should be factual about the changes occurring.Wilmington and UNCW should open up to new branding possibilities and creating a new way to market themselves without needing to rely on “Hollywood East.”

We know that the film incentives have brought controversy among Wilmington citizens. What are your opinions on Wilmington’s next step should be?
-Aki Suzuki, Lexie Trimnal, Carey Shetterley, June Wilkinson, Carey Poniewaz

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9 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes in Wilmington, NC

  1. I agree, and think it is time for Wilmington to move on in terms of it’s title as Hollywood East. Movies and shows that have been filmed in the past can still be celebrated, but marketing Wilmington the same way that it has been marketed is unethical.

  2. This post saddens me. This topic of the film industry leaving Wilmington has been of conversation in several of my friend groups and the conversation is always negative. It has us all worrying to what will happen to Wilmington’s economy as well as the UNCW campus. Since the film industry is leaving, what will happen to UNCW’s film department? I think that the “Hollywood East” was one of the best marketing campaigns Wilmington has had and now it is leaving. It was always fun living here and watching episodes and movies and being able to say, “hey thats Leutze Hall!” etc.
    I believe that Wilmington will now need to focus on the historical aspect of downtown as well as ‘what was.’ There is also the area close to the beach that can be thought of in a positive light, not just the area around Wrightsville Beach. I am not sure what UNCW should do with their film department, but I do think that some of the studios could still be used and students can be educated on.
    Thanks!
    Kelsey Celender

  3. Wow! This is a tough one indeed. I once took part in the film industry scene, and was very sad to see it go. It brought so much revenue to not just the city, but the state as a whole. Where Wilmywood goes from here no one knows, but I don’t believe we should give up the fight. There are so many resources here that with the right talent and drive we could put this city back on the film making map. Otherwise we are just a college and retirement town with a pharmaceutical company, and a butt load of restaurants and bars. Change is definitely in order!

  4. I wish Wilmington could go back to a place where big movies were filmed. I’m not going to lie, I’ve always wanted to be an extra in a movie and since I’ve come to school here, there haven’t been too many opportunities. I’ve watched shows like One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek and have thought, “Man it would’ve been cool to go to school here when they were filming these.”

  5. I found this to be very interesting. I transferred to UNCW this year from Virginia. To be honest, I never once heard Wilmington be called “Wilmywood” or “Hollywood East”. I knew about One Tree Hill but had never heard of any of the other movies or films being shot here. It wasn’t even mentioned on any of the transfer tours or the orientation I did. So what I’m getting at, is that, from what I can see, UNCW has stopped relying on that for branding already. I think maybe they just did that good of a job branding themselves before that it’s ingrained in the students that have been here for a while.

  6. When I was deciding between universities, one of the items in my pro list for UNCW was the film industry here. As an art major, I thought Wilmington would give me more opportunities to develop and apply my craft. I relished the possibility of interning for film productions and learning from local artists. So, like many people in the area, I was very disappointed with the new film incentives. As I’ve watched shows and movies these past few years, the Georgia Peach has rolled at the end of the credits more frequently, emphasizing what we’ve lost in Wilmington. We’re no longer Hollywood East. The film industry is a business looking for the best numbers, so we’ll have to market our production spaces, locations and labor force in a way that makes the numbers look better.

  7. It’s pretty interesting that so many different things have been filmed here. It’s kind of surreal honestly. From small shows, to large scale shows, to large scale productions and movies. It’s really quite interesting and the fact that UNCW and Wilmington are using that to its advantage and pushing the Film scene is pretty awesome.

  8. It’s depressing to see the film industry slowly trickle out of Wilmington, a place as you said, once known as “Hollywood East”. I thought this was one of the coolest and most underrated aspects of living in Wilmington and don’t think the incentives should have been revoked. Alas there is not much one man can do about such a situation so I suppose I’ll just have to stand idle until our governing bodies hopefully notice what they have done, but I have to ask, do you see any way that these incentives might come back? Or maybe the film industry will simply decide its worth returning anyways?

  9. I am proud to live in a coastal city that is known for it’s films and shows. With that being said, Wilmington no longer holds that title since tax incentives have been cut. At this point, we need to find another reason to promote Wilmington rather than continuing to celebrate the films and shows that were produced here from the past. This is just another step that the city has to take and I believe that we can all work together to change what Wilmington has previously been known for.

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