'Hunger Games' filming begins in Burke County

'Hunger Games' filming begins in Burke County

"Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen. COURTESY OF ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

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by Théoden Janes / Charlotte Observer

Théoden Janes / Charlotte Observer

Posted on May 20, 2011 at 9:54 AM

HILDEBRAN, N.C. -- Until recently, Hildebran was a lot like most small towns.

The farmer's market makes headlines in the community newsletter. So do activities at the senior center.

Then Hollywood rolled into town, poked around, asked questions, made plans. And this week, filming began on one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2012. In Hildebran. Population 1,500.

The movie is "The Hunger Games," which is based on a 2008 young-adult science fiction novel by Suzanne Collins, the first in a wildly popular trilogy. Nearly 9 million copies of the books are in print, and all three are in the Top 25 on Amazon's bestseller list.

Attempts to reach Lionsgate Entertainment -- the company behind the "Saw" franchise and Tyler Perry's "Madea" movies -- were unsuccessful, but Hildebran town clerk Ella Caudle said production is taking place in an area known as the Henry River Mill Village in eastern Burke County, about 60 miles northwest of Charlotte.

Part of Henry River Road, a main artery in town, is scheduled to be closed until Thursday. Otherwise, Caudle said everyone has been tight-lipped about what's going on. So, as tends to happen in small towns, much of the information is being passed around in the form of gossip.

"Originally, I met with DOT 'cause they were gonna close the road, and they said that the code name for (the project) was 'Artemis,'" Caudle said. "Later on, we heard other stuff. And there's a lot of stuff going around. ... Our part-time girl came in one day and she said that at church one of the firemen was telling everybody. He said the chief met with them and they wanted some help from the fire department, and he told them that they were filming a movie based on 'The Hunger Games.' So that's how we heard that, in a roundabout way."

Chuck Moseley of the Valdese Economic Development Investment Corp. said the mill village was built around 1900 and remained active until 1970. Since then, it's been abandoned.

"It's about 22 homes. ... Many of them probably needed to be bulldozed down, but they had not been," said Moseley, who was contacted by AdvantageWest, an economic development partnership in Fletcher, to help find a location. "That's exactly what they were wanting, something that was an abandoned residence area."

Moseley said it's the first time a major movie has been shot in Burke County since the early 1990s, when scenes for "The Last of the Mohicans" were filmed on Lake James.

"The Hunger Games" centers around a not-too-distant future in which the government pits boys and girls against each other in televised fights to the death. Originally targeted at young adults, the phenomenon has extended its reach.

"'Hunger Games' has crossed the genre line from young adult, where it's marketed, into the adult fiction genre," said Frank Burleson, manager of Park Road Books in Charlotte. "We sell them to everyone from 12 to 65. ... The three books have done extremely well. It's one of those crazy, crazy things."

Gary Ross, who directed Tobey Maguire in 2003's "Seabiscuit," is at the helm of the film; the lead role of Katniss Everdeen is played by Jennifer Lawrence, who was nominated for an Academy Award last year for "Winter's Bone." The Wall Street Journal says the movie has a budget of $75 million.

The production is causing the greater Charlotte area to buzz with activity. More than 1,000 extras are being employed through a casting agency operating out of the closed Philip Morris USA plant in Concord. Fourth Ward Productions - which has an office in Charlotte - is doing location management. And when the cast and crew is done in Hildebran, word is Shelby is next.

"It was scheduled to start toward the end of this month, and I don't know if they have a final date or not," says Shelby city clerk Bernadette Parduski, who added that she thought shooting would take place over about two weeks. "It's been kind of a moving target."

Maybe Parduski should check the Internet if she is looking for updates.

"That's how we've been finding out information," said Hildebran's Caudle. "Around town, we just hear bits and pieces about it. So for most of the information, we actually have just been Googling it on the Internet."

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