While movies have been filmed in Southern United States since as early as the 1900s, the last 30 years have seen a boom of production throughout North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. The picturesque weeping willows, cobblestone sidewalks and scenic beaches make for stunning backdrops and memorable scenes. So, whether you want to sit where Forrest Gump waited for the bus, stand where Abraham Lincoln delivered a famous oration or canoe in the waters that Noah and Ally paddled in “The Notebook,” these hot spots welcome you to tour former sets, watch current productions being filmed and enjoy the breath-taking beauty.
Richmond, Virginia: Destination Worthy of an Epic
For more than 400 years, people have been attracted to Richmond, Virginia’s capital city, which was the capital of the Confederate United States during the Civil War in the 1860s. Today, when you fly into Richmond International Airport, you’ll find a cosmopolitan mix of the arts, craft beer, outdoor recreation and culinary delights. It’s easy to get immersed in history too, touring monuments, landmarks, battlegrounds and, now, sites seen on the big screen. Richmond’s most famous film, Steven Spielberg’s epic “Lincoln,” about the former U.S. president and released in 2012, filmed in many locations around the city over 53 days. You can tour the highlights, which include the beautiful, historic Jefferson Hotel, where many cast and crew members stayed and dined; Balliceaux, the restaurant actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt frequented; and Maymont, a 40-hectare estate with a Gilded Age mansion and beautiful gardens, where filming included the surrender at Appomattox and a carriage ride for President and Mrs. Lincoln (played by Sally Field). The crew also filmed in nearby Petersburg at locations like the Centre Hill Museum, which Abraham Lincoln visited in April 1865. Petersburg’s Union Station was transformed for the film into a Washington, D.C., federal building while the land north of the station was converted into a village of horses, carriages and wagons.
More big-screen scenes: Petersburg also served as the backdrop for several scenes in the popular 2003 Civil War love story “Cold Mountain.” Other movies filmed in parts of Richmond include “The Jackal,” “Evan Almighty,” “The Contender,” “Lolita” and “Hannibal.”
Beautiful Beach Setting in Outer Banks, North Carolina
From Richmond, head southeast to this barrier island. It’s easy to see why beautiful Rodanthe was the backdrop for the 2008 love story “Nights in Rodanthe,” based on the best-selling novel by Nicholas Sparks. By visiting some of the memorable film sites, you’ll get a wonderful introduction to the local lifestyle. An oceanfront house, The Inn at Rodanthe, underwent a major makeover before filming began. The cottage with the bright blue shutters is available for rent, but be warned: Reservations are competitive. Take your binoculars to another filming spot, the 2,361-hectare Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for more than 360 species of birds. Along the narrow, scenic Highway 12, the film showcased the wild Banker ponies that have lived in the Outer Banks for more than 400 years. Take a ferry to Ocracoke Island, where a few scenes were shot, and tour sites like the Ocracoke Lighthouse and Teach’s Hole Blackbeard Exhibit and Pirate Specialty Shop.
More big-screen scenes: A section of the Cape Lookout National Seashore on the southern Outer Banks was the backdrop for a scene in the 1991 film “The Butcher’s Wife.” The 1983 movie “Brainstorm” had several scenes shot on the Outer Banks, including at the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills.
On Set Throughout Wilmington, North Carolina
Continue south to Wilmington, the coastal city known as “Hollywood East,” which has served as home to more than 400 films and TV shows, from blockbusters like “Iron Man 3” to independent films and TV series. The diverse geography and beautiful surroundings – including a charming downtown riverfront, rural countryside and three expansive beaches – make the area an ideal location. For on-set experiences, check for tours at EUE/Screen Gems Studios, Wilmington’s sound stage lot with more than 350 film, television and commercial projects completed since 1985. After touring, dine like the stars at Catch, a Gwyneth Paltrow favorite during “Iron Man 3” filming, or Ports of Call in Southport, where Julianne Hough celebrated her 23rd birthday during filming of “Safe Haven.” Just 48 kilometers south of Wilmington, Southport served as the backdrop for “Safe Haven,” based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. Nearby, stroll through Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, the location for the kiss between Hough’s character Katie and Alex (played by Josh Duhamel).
More big-screen scenes: Experience more on-screen locations yourself and tour sites in Wilmington-filmed movies, including “Sleeping with the Enemy,” “Weekend at Bernie’s,” “A Walk to Remember,” “Empire Records,” “We’re the Millers” and “The Conjuring.”
Capturing the Charm of Charleston, South Carolina
As you continue into South Carolina, picture yourself walking cobblestone streets under a canopy of trees. The pretty, port city of Charleston beckons with Southern hospitality and historic sites that take visitors back a few hundred years. With natural beaches nearby, it’s no wonder the city has seen a boom in filming as movie-makers try to capture all that charm and natural beauty on land and by the sea. “Notebook” stars Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling shot several scenes inside old Charleston-area plantations, such as the Boone Hall Plantation and the Calhoun Mansion. Stroll along The Battery, a landmark defensive seawall and promenade, to walk in the same steps as actors and actresses. Explore America’s oldest landscaped gardens at Middleton Place, which also served as the backdrop for scenes in “The Patriot.” Take a 30-minute drive north to Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, which has been showcased in numerous films.
More big-screen scenes: Interest in filming in Charleston began growing in the mid-1990s with films like “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys,” “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” “The Jackal,” “Nutty Professor II” and Pat Conroy’s “The Prince of Tides.” More recent feature films like “Dear John,” another Nicholas Sparks-based title, and the epic TV Civil War mini-series “North and South” continued to put the city on the screen
End Scene in Savannah, Georgia
One of the best things about your last stop, Savannah, are the 22 public squares in the riverfront city’s Historic District. These shaded parks beckon visitors to sit for a spell while taking in the surroundings. Around the squares, you’ll see historic houses, museums, ornate cathedrals, cafes, theaters and hot spots for nightlife. Explore on foot or catch a trolley to see them all and be amazed at the history that dates to the late 1600s. In 1997, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” revealed Savannah’s beauty to international audiences unfamiliar with this hauntingly majestic city. The film’s scenes were shot all over the town, including at The Mercer Williams House, beautiful Forsyth Park, the Tomochichi Federal Building (a national historic landmark), Churchill’s Pub and the haunting Bonaventure Cemetery. While the bench that Tom Hanks sat on in “Forrest Gump” is now in Savannah’s History Museum, the legendary bus stop scene was filmed in Chippewa Square. The 1991 thriller “Cape Fear” shot several scenes in Savannah, as did the Robert Redford-directed “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” which was set in Savannah and filmed throughout South Carolina. The movie tells the story of disillusioned war veteran and Savannah native Captain Rannulph Junah, who learns to master the game of golf in a state known for its golf courses.
Must-see list: While you head to the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport to catch a flight home, think about all of the films you need to see to help you relive your Southern movie scene journey.
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