The Hunger Games: It’s the book that turned my 10-year-old from a hockey highlights/ Family Guy/iPad-game-playing bedtime creature into a reader on fire. After devouring the first, he raced through Catching Fire, consumed Mockingjay, plunged into the I Am Number Four series and hasn’t looked back.
I knew a hands-on tour of the film locations in North Carolina would be a trip of a lifetime. And it was – from the moment we touched down in Charlotte, to the archery lesson in Brevard, ziplining in Asheville, hearing about snake-incidents with the crew during the Games scene and stories of brazen paparazzi in Shelby, to our conversations on the plane on the way home.
Here’s our four-day, action-packed Hunger Games tour, organized by moments from the film.
The scene: District 12
We pick up a rental car in Charlotte and point in the direction of Hildebran, en route to the Henry River Mill village to see heroine Katniss Everdeen’s house, the Mellark family bakery and the rest of the District 12 homes in the post-apocalyptic world of Panem. Clearly our Hunger Games adventure didn’t have an arena-like border and a Games master in the Capitol forcing us in the right direction, as we end up having to turn around after crossing, inadvertently, into South Carolina. After a little more than an hour, certain we’re in the wrong place once again, we round yet another corner and there it is, an abandoned village, helpfully marked with a sign: “For Sale: The Hunger Games Film Site.” Though other signs warn us against trespassing, we see a couple of cars and decide to venture in. It turns out the owner, Wade Shepherd, is on site with a film crew from a local university. He tells us he just put up the For Sale signs on this 29-hectare cotton mill plantation a couple of days before, and already half have been stolen. We chat for a bit, he suggests we stay on the road to prevent falling in hidden holes in the grass, and we wander off. We needn’t have been warned against walking through the meadow, though: The bees are so big and so plentiful we can’t help but think of author Suzanne Collins’s trackerjacks, the genetically modified killer yellow jackets. Especially on the cusp of spring, even in a state of abandoned decay, it’s a beautiful property.
Do it yourself
Take I-85 west toward Gastonia, north on Highway 321, and then west again on Highway I-40 to Exit 19. Turn right on Center Street and continue onto Henry River Road. Afterward, head into Hildebran and stop at the Korner Café for an ice cream and a chat with the locals, who may share insights on the filming. We learn that the owner’s husband is a member of the local fire department – and was called in to make rain.
The scenes: The Reaping, the Hob, the District 11 protest
Although the Reaping and the Hob are in District 12, they were shot about an hour away in the small town of Shelby. Here, an old cotton storage warehouse was converted into the Hob (filled by the crew with items purchased at nearby antique shops), and provided the backdrop for the Reaping (the scene in which a boy and girl from each district are selected to be “tributes” at the Games, a fight to the death) and the District 11 protest. The moment you step through the gate, you can imagine about a thousand local extras – cast, explains Shelby’s executive director of tourism, Jackie Sibley, because they looked like they were starving – standing in the unseasonable 105-degree heat for three days while filming the Reaping scene. A quiet town that has seen better times, Shelby adjusted to the Hollywood extravaganza, and Hollywood adjusted to Shelby. Local police chased paparazzi off the buildings near the set (including the jailhouse), and the crew acted on orders to shop locally for new wardrobes to better fit in. (The Dale Earnhardt caps they bought didn’t quite work – “we’re not all Earnhardt fans,” Jackie laughs.)
Do it yourself
Shelby is on U.S. 74 West about halfway between Asheville and Charlotte. To arrange an inexpensive tour loaded with anecdotes about the filming, call Jackie Sibley two weeks before your visit at 1-866-305-9973. Drop into the Pleasant City Wood Fired Grille – a favourite hangout for the film crew – on South Lafayette Street for the Girl on Fire or District 12 pizzas, the Peeta Pita, or the simple but delicious roasted tomato soup. Keep an eye out for District 12-Approved stickers that indicate such Hunger Games menu items as Katniss’s plum stew, made with local lamb, at Smoke on the Square.