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?
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?
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