The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 opens Thursday night in theaters around the country and is expected to be one of this fall’s biggest blockbusters. The fourth and final film in the wildly popular series (the first three films have grossed almost $1.2 billion combined in the U.S. alone), it is expected to produce at least $100 million in ticket sales during its opening weekend.
For those not familiar with the series it tells the story of a love triangle (Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth) that plays out against the backdrop of a cruel survival game in a dystopian future. Besides the three stars, the film’s cast includes Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson and – in his final performance – Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Oh, and by the way, it was filmed in Georgia.
It didn’t start out that way, though, and therein lies a cautionary tale for Florida lawmakers as the Legislature prepares to debate reviving Florida’s film rebate program next year.
The original Hunger Games was filmed in North Carolina, a state that we can now consider the old school Georgia. With an aggressive film credits program, North Carolina had some of the landmark films of the last 30 years filmed there: Forrest Gump, The Color Purple, The Last of the Mohicans and Bull Durham. The state also was home to a number of television series ranging from the highly acclaimed Homeland to cult favorites like Dawson’s Creek, Sleepy Hollow and Revolution.
Then, more than a year ago, a state report claimed the tax credits created only 50 to 75 North Carolina jobs in 2011, and the legislature there drastically reduced the credit. The Hunger Games had already been lured away by Georgia’s more generous credits, but the ripple effect has been significant. Sleepy Hollow survives there (though ratings make its future questionable), but Homeland moved to South Africa and later Germany and Revolution went to Texas for its final season.
Some experts say the future of the North Carolina film industry looks bleak.
“If you look at other states that have switched from a program like we had to a grant, you’ve seen production high-tail it out of state faster than you can say Georgia,” Katy Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Production Alliance, told the Los Angeles Times last year. “We’re devastated by the upheaval and destruction of a thriving industry here.”
Georgia, meanwhile, has seen an entire industry spring up around the Hunger Games. Besides the hundreds of millions in production spending in the state (and, presumably, the creation of more than 50 to 75 jobs), the economic benefits are likely to continue long after the film has gone from theater to DVD/streaming to premium cable.
For instance, plans are underway for a theme park northwest of Atlanta that will feature a significant Hunger Games component. Promoters are tentatively eyeing a 2019 opening. Another Hunger Games park is even closer to opening in Dubai.
That’s something else for Florida (and California, for that matter) to ponder – film theme parks springing up in Georgia.
One of the more interesting stories, though, is that of an enterprising woman named Leigh Trapp, who has created the Hunger Games Unofficial Fan Tours that, for about $100 per ticket, takes people to see the films’ shooting locations back in North Carolina from the first movie.
Opportunities abound around this industry and particular franchise.