Is Shelby Ready For The Hunger Gamers?
The Reaping scene featuring Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, left) and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) was filmed near warehouses in Shelby, NC. Photo by Murray Close The most anticipated movie premiere in the Charlotte area is finally here. The Hunger Games opens today, and some box office forecasters are predicting it could earn over $100 million dollars its first weekend. One reason for the local excitement is that several scenes were filmed around Uptown Charlotte and in nearby Shelby. Hollywood film crews were Shelby for about six weeks. But the small town might need to ready itself for the next wave of guests. The fans. Shelby's Lafayette Street is quaint and lined with shops and cafes. But just a few blocks away sit drab, industrial warehouses by an old train depot. This is where they shot scenes for The Hunger Games last May and June. And Wade Nichols, with the Uptown Shelby Association, is telling us about snooping photographers on top of a nearby building. "TMZ was perched on top," he says. "Along with some other paparazzi types." These warehouses along the railroad tracks backdropped scenes from The Hunger Games. Photo by Tanner Latham This was a big deal because the book The Hunger Games had become hugely successful. It has sold 10 million copies and has spent 81 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. And the warehouses were the backdrops for the most dramatic early scene in the movie. If you're unfamiliar with The Hunger Games, here's a quick summary: The setting is a Post-Apocalyptic North American country. Each year, the country holds the Hunger Games, a fight-to-the-death competition involving a boy and girl from each of the 12 districts surrounding a metropolis. Shelby represents District 12 and Katniss, the main character, lives there. When her little sister is chosen to compete, Katniss volunteers to take the little girl's place. And the story takes off from there. Meanwhile, another story is developing in Shelby. Jim Sander manages the Pleasant City Wood Fired Grille downtown, and he expects opening weekend to be big. For starters, he's named one of his specialty pizzas The District 12. "It has a sweet potato base," he says. "It has mozzarella cheese, ham, onions, goat cheese, and basil." He thinks he might keep that on the menu through May. But this is a big-time movie. Over 2,000 showings nationwide have already sold out this weekend. And, if history is any guide, Shelby can expect pilgrimages from the devoted fans of The Hunger Games franchise. This Forks, WA, homeowner agreed to place a sign outside claiming that it was the Twilight main character's fictional house. Photo courtesy of Mike Gurling, Forks Chamber of Commerce And if that happens, there are people who Shelby can consult. Like Bruce Guckenburg, who manages Sully's Burgers in the town of Forks, Washington. "You can pretty well tell the people that were Twilight fans," says Bruce. Forks has a population of 3,100, and it's the setting for the wildly popular vampire-meets-werewolf books and movies. "And we have had a lot of them that have had fangs implanted permanently," he says. "They are the real Twilight fans." Bruce created the Bella Burger named for the main character. It's served with Swiss cheese, pineapple, special sauce, and a set of plastic vampire teeth. He's sold 45,000 of them at $3.50 a pop. The first Twilight book came out in 2005, and that year, 5,500 people signed the Forks visitor center guest book. In 2010, that number had grown to 73,000. People now stop explicitly to get their photo taken with Fargo wood chipper. Photo courtesy of the Fargo-Moorhead CVB Shelby can also look to Fargo, North Dakota. Arguably, the most famous scene in the movie Fargo includes a wood chipper. The killer gruesomely uses it to dispose of body parts. When the movie came out 16 years ago, the city was leery about celebrating it. It was darkly comic, and many were miffed by the way their accents were portrayed. But Fargo movie fans still came looking to find any connections they could to the film. So, Brian Matson with the tourism office had an idea. "The wood chipper was the one cast member we could actually get our hands on and keep inside the visitor center," he says. "I couldn't go get Steve Buscemi and lock him up in a cage inside the visitor center." Brian secured the real wood chipper from the movie and also had a replica built. One now sits outside the visitor center, and the other in the lobby. And, continuing the dark comedy, both have mannequin legs sticking out of them, as if they're being chopped up. People come in, put on one of those thick, ear flapper hats, and get their pictures made with the wood chipper. Attendance to the Fargo visitor center has increased 30 percent. And the wood chipper has almost 12,000 fans on Facebook. Back in Shelby, the rumor is that the cast and crew might return to film parts of The Hunger Games sequel. Even if that doesn't happen, though, odds are in Shelby's favor that it will meet its fair share of Hunger Gamers.