#TBT: The origins of Hollywood East

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Wilmington has many nicknames. Wilmywood, Filmington, Hollywood East. So what is the film history of the Port City? Screen Gems played a big role in Wilmington’s place on the silver screen.

After Firestarter was filmed in and around Wilmington in 1983,  Dino De Laurentiis’ North Carolina Film Corporation bought land and built a studio on North 23rd Street. On December 20, 1983, papers were filed with the New Hanover County Register of Deed transferring the land to the N.C. Film Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dino De Laurentiis Corporation. The land was a 10 acre tract.  The studio made a number of movies.  So many that, by 1985, the New York Times said, “Although it is too early to call North Carolina or Florida or South Carolina or Texas the new Hollywood, Dino De Laurentiis’s North Carolina Film Corporation is symptomatic of changes that are stripping California of its fourth largest industry.”

DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group, known as DEG filed for bankruptcy in 1988. The company was in bad financial shape.  According to an 1988 article, “DEG lost about $69 million in the fiscal year ended Feb. 29, primarily because of a two-year string of costly box-office flops.” King Kong Lives was one of those flops. It was critically panned and did not do well at the box office. After being courted by a number of companies, DEG agreed to be acquired by Carolco Pictures in April, 1989. In August of 1989 , DEG filed suit against company founder Dino DeLaurentiis in U.S. Bankruptcy Court charging that he and two of his companies committed “…fraud, breach of contract and fiduciary duty and violations of the federal racketeering act.”  According to a 1990 article, “Soon after the company filed for bankruptcy, DEG’s own board of directors sued De Laurentiis, alleging fraud and seeking $50 million in damages.  The company later abandoned the case, according to court records.”

Despite initial optimism about the takeover by Carolco, things went awry again quickly. According to a 1995, article, “Carolco’s fortunes turned in 1991, when the company’s stock lost $3.05 a share over a nine-month period ending in September.” In 1993, it defaulted on $15 million in debt to Hollywood labor guilds. In the fall of 1994 the Wall Street Journal reported the company might go out of business, and its financial hopes were pinned on two films – Cutthroat Island and Showgirls.  The local studios fortunes were tied to the parent company, but most of Carolco’s films were not shot in Wilmington.  In fact, only one – Rambling Rose was filmed there.  Instead, the studio rented space to other companies.  During Carolco’s time, for example, Matlock was filmed at the studio.

By 1995, Carolco had been bought by 2oth Century Fox.   Screen Gems bought the studio in 1996. In 1996, Screen Gems Limited appointed Frank Capra, Jr. as president of Screen Gems Studios.

In May 2009 Screen Gems Studios opened a 10th stage here in Wilmington. The studio is a 37,500-square-foot structure with a 50x50x6 foot 90,000 gallon special effects water tank.

Bill Vassar is the current Executive Vice President of EUE/Screen Gems. Since 1985, more than 400 film, television and commercial projects have shot on the lot there.

** Special thanks to Jan Davidson and the Cape Fear Museum. **

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