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NC Ready to Star in "The Hunger Games"

Mar 20, 2012

Tourism, as well as film industry, expecting big things as a result of movie shooting entirely in the state

RALEIGH — North Carolina is poised to reap major dividends from tourism with the March 23 opening of The Hunger Games, the highest-profile movie ever made in the state.

Shot on locations and sets from Concord to Barnardsville with some of Hollywood’s brightest young stars, the Lionsgate release is based on the opening novel in a wildly popular futuristic trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games has attracted attention on the scale of 2008’s Twilight, the vampire romance that created a wave of tourism in its remote Washington state setting.

The North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development sees the same potential for The Hunger Games.

“The movie is already a winner for us,” said Keith Crisco, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Commerce. “The filmmakers spent more than $60 million in North Carolina, and now fans are eager to come see the locations and go to the restaurants, neighborhoods and other places the stars visited. The money they spend here will be a second payoff for taxpayers.”

The Hunger Games has the promise of both commercial and artistic success. With 23.5 million books in print in the United States, Collins’ trilogy has attracted an avid following that aligns with the prime 12- to 29-year-old movie audience. The cast, led by Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth with Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland and Stanley Tucci in supporting roles, boasts four Oscar nominations with four more for director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville).

The Division has worked with local partners to leverage the economic opportunities of “Hunger Games” tourism. Newly developed travel tools, accessed at VisitNC.com, will guide visitors to film sites, star hangouts, and places that connect with the characters and other elements of the novel.

North Carolina was a natural fit for the production. The locations resonate with the novel’s fictional settings, including a “region once known as Appalachia,” a sleek city called the Capitol, and a dramatic forest arena where the central contest for survival takes place. A “Hunger Games” tour starts in places that matched the filmmakers’ vision — an abandoned mill village in Hildebran, DuPont State Recreational Forest near Brevard, a warehouse hub in Shelby and modern Uptown Charlotte — and extends beyond those points.

“Reading the book, we realized that North Carolina offers visitors a rich, authentic experience,” said Lynn Minges, Assistant Secretary for Tourism, Marketing and Global Branding. “You can hike in our national and state forests and relate to the sense of harmony that Katniss, the heroine, found in the woods. We have about 15 zipline canopy tours that will take you through the trees like Rue, the girl Katniss befriends.

“And take the Training Center before the Games,” Minges continued. “We train people in wilderness survival at Nantahala Outdoor Center and the U.S. National Whitewater Center. And Katniss’ mentor buys whiskey on the black market — it’s moonshine, so we’ll let people know about our legal distilleries. And when the Nature Research Center opens in Raleigh next month, people can go there and ask the researchers how far-fetched the novel’s mutant wolves really are.”

Minges said she has long appreciated the state’s robust film industry as a magnet for travelers. Frequently cited studies estimate that Bull Durham and Last of the Mohicans each spurred a 25 percent increase in tourism for their regions the year after their release. Film and television play a substantial role in attracting visitors to Wilmington, where fans can see locations used in the series One Tree Hill,  the cult feature favorite Blue Velvet and hundreds of other productions. Iron Man 3, due for release in spring 2013, is set to start filming there in June.

Minges and Aaron Syrett, director of the North Carolina Film Office, said that the tourism boost from The Hunger Games would underscore the value of the state’s 25 percent film incentive.

“The incentive was a major factor in the filmmakers’ decision to come here,” Syrett said. “The incentive completed the package, which included the locations and the state’s well-developed infrastructure — our professional crew base and our facilities.”

The official audit is underway to determine what the filmmakers spent in North Carolina on wages and compensation, goods and services, living expenses and other costs that qualify under the incentive program. The figure will exceed $60 million, Syrett said, “but we don’t know by how much.”

"The Hunger Games helped the state film industry generate a record $220 million in spending for 2011, the incentive’s first year,” Syrett said. “We’ll be even happier if it helps tourism reach new heights for 2012 and beyond.”

Minges agreed, citing the value of tourism to the North Carolina economy: In 2010, travelers spent more than $17 billion in North Carolina. That spending supported 40,000 businesses and 183,900 jobs and generated $1.5 billion in state and local taxes. It also reduced the average family tax bill by about $400.

“Jobs and tax revenues are foremost,” Minges said. “And given the caliber of the director and cast, The Hunger Games should be one more achievement North Carolina can take pride in.”

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