WILMINGTON –– Like a game of ‘I spy,’ when Wilmington-shot “Halloween Kills” hits theaters this October, scan the screen for a prescription pad used by a psychiatrist. It’s a micro detail for a major franchise, but fabricating that fake form is a job someone needed to do.
Turns out, Dock Street Printing in Wilmington did it.
Housed in an unassuming brick building downtown, the independent print shop has a long history of printing props for movies and shows that dates back to the ‘80s. Soon after film got its footing in the Cape Fear following “Firestarter” in 1984, Dock Street Printing churned out campaign buttons and imitation government letterheads for the 1985 drama “Marie,” starring Sissy Spacek.
Over the decades, the shop produced old-looking can labels and signage to direct crew on lots. It prints headshots and expense envelopes, which hold petty cash and receipts for crews spending money around town –– money that could pay, perhaps, a bill at a local restaurant. That restaurant might then need to replace its menus. So, it heads back to Dock Street Printing.
“It’s a domino effect –– if they’re here and they’re using any kind of services in town that I could be printing for,” owner Cindy Meyers said. “I do believe a lot of people in the community don’t even realize how much their businesses can indirectly be affected by having them here filming.”
Vendors around the city who service productions describe it as a “clean industry” that keeps dollars circulating in the community long after the film wraps. The physical footprint of the production may have packed up, but it still draws in fans, who clamor to see where movies and shows have shot in the area, especially when it comes to “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill. “One Tree Hill” conventions have even been hosted in town, inevitably bringing in more money to local businesses, as fans need places to lodge, eat, drink, and shop.
After a successful 2019, the film industry hit a roadblock when Covid-19 shut down productions for roughly six months. There’s now fresh demand for streaming content, and more projects are expected to set up shop in Wilmington in coming weeks. Eatery17 recently announced it was closing through July while it exclusively caters for film projects.
Since taking over Rent-A-John in 1998, husband-and-wife team Cameron and Sharon Edwards have catered to the film industry, delivering portable toilets and upscale, executive restroom trailers to the studios and base camps. In the past two years, the business from productions has increased dramatically, Cameron said. Plus, there is growing demand for hand-washing and sanitizing stations due to Covid-19.
“It supports a lot of local businesses,” Cameron said. “It helps all the families in Wilmington, and then the local people here get back out and shop. It just stays in this local economy.”
Film productions currently make up an estimated 15% to 20% of Rent-A-John’s revenue, though the percentage has been an “ebb and flow” over the years due to fluctuating tax incentives and the passage of anti-LGBTQ legislation known as House Bill 2. Both deterred filmmakers from scouting out the area at all.
Most film vendors now support the state-funded tax benefits that incentivize productions to come to North Carolina, especially after seeing firsthand the detrimental impacts of 2014. When the legislature stripped the tax credit, sending filmmakers and industry workers south to Georgia, places like Rent-A-John and Dock Street Printing lost out on business.
“I know some people feel differently. They’re like, ‘Why should they get a tax break if I don’t get a tax break for my business?’” Meyers said. “But, again, when they’re here and they’re spending money, I think it does filter down to all types of businesses, even when they’re not even aware of it.”
Second Skin Vintage opened in the spring of 2014, just as the industry was packing its bags. Because of that, owner Karyn Oetting said her clothing shop never depended on productions’ patronage, but she saw antique stores and other niche businesses that relied on film shutter for good. In recent years, she’s benefited from extra income as more wardrobe departments and the occasional celebrity browse the racks.
Ethan Hawke and wife Ryan shopped Second Skin Vintage twice while “The Black Phone” was in town during the winter 2021 shoot. On one visit, the couple searched for a look for the Golden Globes. When the night came, Ethan rocked a 1970s western suit, and Ryan flaunted a 1930s black gown from the shop.
Oetting said it’s not just the actors, actresses and wardrobe departments who peruse the shop –– it’s their families, too. “These are people from other parts of the country that have different spending power than Wilmington, that have different tastes than Wilmington, and they are looking for stuff to do while they are here,” Oetting said.
Restaurant manna also has its fair share of recognizable customers. Word spread through the industry that the fine-dining establishment is a quiet place to dine inconspicuously while in town. In 2012 manna often hosted the crew of “We’re the Millers.”
“I don’t necessarily always know who they are. To me, they’re guests,” said owner Billy Mellon.
Mellon said scout teams and production assistants are checking out the place more and more as a potential dining recommendation for cast arriving in town.
As both restaurant and film industries continue to rebound from Covid-19, Mellon believes the uptick of business from film is “the tip of the iceberg.” Since productions still need to meet strict guidelines for Covid-19, their workers are hesitant to dine out. Mellon said parties are still calling in advance to inquire about the kitchen’s Covid practices and mask-wearing.
For other businesses, film projects helped them trudge through the financial loss from the pandemic. Art in Bloom sells and rents art to productions, and assists artists with the contracts needed to release permission of their works.
“It’s so exciting –– when you see the movie, television show or the streaming series –– that you see the art,” owner Amy Grant said.
Last year Art in Bloom worked with the art and set designers behind “Scream,” as well as additional crew members who would pick up and drop off paintings over the duration of four-to-five months. The movie produced a steady revenue stream for the gallery during typically strenuous winter months –– all while a pandemic was ongoing.
“I looked back and I think if we had not had that wonderful experience and support, it would have been a lot more difficult to retain the staff during Covid,” Grant said.
With a multi-million-dollar budget, the “Scream” wardrobe department dropped a large amount of money in Second Skin Vintage as well, according to Oetting: “some incredibly iconic late ‘80s and early ‘90s pieces that I would recognize instantly if it made it on screen.”
Oetting sometimes spots merchandise from Second Skin Vintage while watching the Hulu series “Reprisal,” which rolled in Wilmington in 2019. Vintage clothing fit the aesthetic of the show and the cast would shop around as well, Oetting said.
The STARZ drama “Hightown” was a regular client for Townhouse Art & Framing, a local business mounting photos and art in a South Kerr Avenue strip mall. Owner Emily Russell said the business worked on between 100 and 200 frames for the sets of “Hightown,” which wrapped its latest season earlier this year.
“It’s kind of fun. There are definitely different feels that they expect for different sets,” Russell said. “If a frame is going in a bar, they might want something that looks a little battered or maybe even looks inexpensive, whereas if it’s going in a nice beach house somewhere they want something that looks a little more polished.”
Though it wrapped in 2012, “One Tree Hill” recently inspired a young entrepreneur to launch her Etsy business. Grace Holcomb is the founder of Baby J Candle, a company based on her character in the early seasons of the show. Holcomb is 18 now, but as an infant she portrayed Jenny, the baby of Jake Jagielski.
Holcomb’s mother landed her daughter the gig through connections working on “Dawson’s Creek,” which filmed in Wilmington from 1998 to 2003 (she was Katie Holmes’ stand-in).
While quarantining 18 years later, Holcomb was bored and dug out some unused candle supplies for something to do. She experimented, perfected the art and created baby-inspired scents: nap time, Jenny’s blanket, baby snuggles.
The business is now a hit with “One Tree Hill” fanatics. After Hilarie Burton, who played Peyton Sawyer on the show, posted about it on her Instagram, Holcomb’s business page grew from 200 to 2,000 followers. She’s now looking forward to seeing where the business takes her, and will need to keep purchasing custom ‘Baby J’ labels at a local business –– none other than Dock Street Printing.
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