If you mistakenly thought that the largest soundstage on the East Coast might be in New York City or South Florida, you are forgiven your ignorance. After all, UPM David Blake Hartley didn't even know there was a film industry in Wilmington when he moved there some 25 years ago to study marine biology at the University of North Carolina.
"When UNC introduced its first film internship program in 1983, I put my oceanic studies aside and dived in to the industry," the state's busiest UPM explains from the set of his long-running TV series, One Tree Hill. "Until Dino De Laurentiis came to town around 1984 and fired up three to four projects at the same time—we're talking features like Blue Velvet and The Year of the Dragon—there was no [film production] infrastructure at all."
And as Hartley tells it, if not for the flamboyant and oversized ambition of said Italian producer, this diverse coastal city would not be constructing its 10th soundstage with a water tank and all. "Dino brought in creative heads like directors, DPs, and production designers from all over the world," Hartley continues, "so the crew base that started the industry in Wilmington, like myself, was exposed to all different kinds of filmmaking styles. That influence has lasted to this day and directors get an amazing variety of looks for such a small town. The facilities and crews are on par with New York or L.A."
Although Hartley's sister, a one-time TV producer in Charlotte, warned him to steer clear of the film industry because of its "nomadic instability," the UPM says he's been a homebody most of the time. In fact, more than half of his 25 working years in North Carolina have been spent on two hit series—Dawson's Creek and currently One Tree Hill.
Hartley says that no one who comes to town to shoot can resist
the area's laid-back coastal vibe, or the self-deprecating humor of Carolina crews. For instance, he recalls the time Arnold Schwarzenegger came to Wilmington to make Raw Deal in the late '80s. "He was playing a small-town sheriff who takes on a new identity to infiltrate the mob. In one scene, cameras are rolling, the elevator doors open, Arnold adjusts his fancy suit, takes out a fine cigar, lights it, and...boom! His bodyguard had 'loaded' the cigar with one of those small explosive charges that you buy at novelty shops. The cigar exploded like a cartoon and, of course, our crew all roared."