“Project Artemis” wrapped in the late summer of 2011, becoming one of North Carolina’s largest on-location movie shoots of all time. Or, as it’s now known as, The Hunger Games, the first movie based on the wildly popular book trilogy by Suzanne Collins, which arrives in theatres on March 23, 2012.
I was one of four journalists (and the only Canadian) invited by the North Carolina Tourism Board to tour The Hunger Games movie location sites, which was 100% filmed in west North Carolina. With a fan frenzy building over the movie, based on the huge success of the books, the project was kept pretty hush-hush. Well, as quiet as you can keep a movie that was employing 300 cast and crew, and drew on 500 locals as extras before they were finished shooting. All of the people working on the production were required to sign a confidentiality agreement, which doesn’t allow them to talk about any aspects of the movie until after midnight on March 22nd. But there were a few that fell through the administrative cracks…
The locations were as diverse as the state’s landscape itself, from the abandoned cotton mill village of Henry River which stood in for District 12 (including Katniss’ home and Peeta’s bakery), to the ultra-modern architecture of big city Charlotte, which posed as the Capitol.
But how did North Carolina get chosen for this job? I spoke with NC Film’s Aaron Syrett, who was a part of the original pitch to Lions Gate Entertainment in 2009. The production company was considering Georgia, Canada (British Columbia) and Australia, as well. The most difficult location they were scouting for were the scenes for District 12, and when they found Henry River (abandoned since 1971), in combination with the lush forest of DuPont State Recreational Forest (for the arena scenes), and an abandoned warehouse in Shelby (for The Reaping and The Hob), they knew North Carolina would work. Throw in a 25% tax incentive offered by the state, and the deal was done. To date, this is the biggest movie project North Carolina has hosted, beating out Last of the Mohicans and Dirty Dancing.
Down the street from the main part of town, an abandoned warehouse stood in for two key scenes in the movie: The Reaping (or lottery draw) at the Hall of Justice, and The Hob, a black-market. Extras from the Reaping scene were bussed out to the base camp for meals, so that town folk wouldn’t see their costumes. Temperatures were hovering about 104 degrees on the day that scene was shot, and according to an extra I talked to, some of the extras fainted.
400 extras were elaborately made up and dressed for the Capitol scenes as well, which was partly filmed in the Knight Theatre in Charlotte, which stood in for Caesar Flickerman’s (Stanley Tucci’s) talk show set. One extra I spoke with said they were not allowed to have cameras, but she still took advantage of a quick break to zip into the washroom and capture her outlandish costume to share with friends and family. The Charlotte Convention Centre was the shooting location for lighting Katniss on fire for her chariot ride, and in just a few months, this will also be the site for the Democratic Convention and President Obama’s address in September.
Katniss faced quite a bit of fire in the books, and for the movie those scenes were mostly shot in the beautiful DuPont State Recreational Forest. I met with Bruce MacDonald, a ranger with the NC Forest Service, who was on site during the forest filming. MacDonald’s main concern was to protect the forest, and to ensure the safety of the people involved with the production. “You see some beautiful things here that were not engineered for your safety. We generally discourage re-enactments from The Last of the Mohicans”, he chuckled, adding that this is a concern with The Hunger Games as well.
As we made our way to Triple Falls, and the rocks where Katniss discovers Peeta’s blood spots, and then Peeta himself, MacDonald pointed out the waterfall which Katniss runs across at one point in the movie. “What people don’t know is that she had a wire holding her from above, and boards to run on below. It is impossible to run across the top of a waterfall. You will die.” he emphatically states. He also notes that particular scene was filmed during his one and only day off during production. Not a coincidence, he thinks.
Tammy Hopkins, Executive Director of Transylvania County Arts Council and Film Liaison for the area, had arranged for a high school student, and Hunger Games enthusiast, to model as Katniss for us during our visit to the forest. This was purportedly to give us a sense of her running through the woods, how she posed, etc., but it was probably also to stop us from doing our own re-enactments as well.
Given that there were more than 150 people in the forest, the crew worked hard to maintain the natural beauty and preserve the forest as best they could. MacDonald was impressed with their professionalism in this regard. While they had to use cranes to move camera equipment in and out of clearings, MacDonald chuckled when he saw the operators reading the book on their breaks.
“The fire scenes we had to monitor very carefully”, explained MacDonald, “because they’re fire scenes.” While there were many special effects added after the filming, the scene which shows trees exploding around Katniss as she runs were in fact propane-powered trees made out of pipe (approximately 100 of them), with electronics to control them. Some scenes were filmed with Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss), but a stunt double was also used during these sequences. “And apparently they couldn’t find just the right rocks they needed in the entire state, so they made two huge ones out of paper mache, and trucked them down the highway,” says MacDonald.
The state of North Carolina is hoping that The Hunger Games will show the world the diverse beauty of its many counties, and while the shooting location for the second movie in the series hasn’t yet been chosen, they’re making sure the odds will be ever in their favour.
(Photo of Kathy at Triple Falls courtesy of VisitNC.com – Bill Russ)
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