Hollywood in the Carolinas

During a recent visit to Wilmington, North Carolina, the Best Girlfriend Ever and I dropped by EUE Screen Gems Studios for their tour.  The studio is currently best known as the site where CW Network television series One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek are (or were) filmed, but the facility has been used for a number of movies and TV shows, including Blue Velvet and The Hudsucker Proxy, and intermittently HBO’s hilarious Eastbound and Down, as well as a number of Geico ads, among others (my girlfriend happened to notice the backdrop for one of the gecko ads in the distance of one studio).  Because I’m not a specific fan of either show–I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen an episode of One Tree Hill–the tour was not really an experience of fandom for me, as much as it was a chance to see how such tours are constructed and the attempts to create an “on-set experience.”

The history of the studio itself was fairly interesting. It was built by Dino De Laurentiis, who did not realize the proximity of the nearby Wilmington airport at the time, a situation that has created some complications in filming there (though these are apparently handled relatively easily).  One of the surprises for me was the distinction between the show itself as an intellectual/entertainment property and the studio as a site where the shows (or movies) are filmed.  Because of this distinction, the only merchandise available on the property was associated with the Screen Gems name, not the individual properties or shows produced there.  Much of the tour involved exploring several of the One Tree Hill sets, including the kitchen and bedrooms of several characters, as well as the recording studio owned by one of the show’s characters.  Although I know little about the show, it was hard not to be impressed by the attention to detail, by the attempts to make a relatively flimsy set look like a genuinely lived-in (or worked-in) location.  Details such as photographs, books, and even magazines seem carefully placed to suggest that the space is occupied by a family (or individuals).  Non-functioning refrigerators filled with food products, many of which were part of product placement strategies, also helped to complete the picture.

Even cooler for me was stumbling across a bulletin board with an annotated script plan on it, often with notes suggesting the tone of a key scene here (including one that said simply “they bond here,” of two of the show’s key characters).  The tour concluded with a short video consisting of snippets of TV shows and movies that had been filmed on the studio lot shown in one of Screen Gems’ screening rooms.  Significantly, the room was outfitted with a medium-sized TV set so that production personnel could see how the show would play on a smaller screen.  Throughout the tour, the guides, most of whom were UNCW film and theater students, related on-set production anecdotes, including some of the challenges of avoiding continuity errors.  Obviously, no photographing or filming was permitted on the tour to avoid potential spoilers (or other concerns), but because of Wilmington’s history as a site for movie and TV production, it was quite a bit of fun to see how the studio creates a narrative about the show and other work done on the site.

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