This past week, the South Carolina Film Commission hosted a small troupe of journalists for a lovely, whirlwind tour of Charleston and its surrounding areas. The wining and dining (so, so much dining) was an effort to show off the city, and the state, as a great place for moviemaking. It worked. A fairly long list of films have made their home there over the years, perhaps most famously The Patriot; but also The Prince of Tides, Dear John, Forrest Gump and incredibly, Die Hard: With A Vengeance (along with many others). TV shows are also no exception: Army Wives just finished up its seventh season, while Reckless finished its first (and while Reckless may not have been a great series by any measure, it did have “one of the best B-rolls on television,” to agree with our hosts).
Hit the jump for more on how South Carolina is looking to craft its partnership with the film industry, plus over 50 photos I snapped that focus on the detail and beauty of the Charleston area. Also, consider this article in part as an FYI and tour guide of restaurants and local sights, all of which deserve their high praise.
The most striking thing to me about the tour (which included a stop at the earnestly enthusiastic Studio Charleston) and the presentations, was a sincere passion for hospitality. It makes sense, of course — South Carolina, particularly Charleston, is a genteel place (despite the fact that most of the battles of the Revolutionary War happened there, not to mention they, er, started the Civil War). Though on that note, please, let’s retire the banjo music from Deliverance — Charleston in particular is a cosmopolitan locale with, as mentioned before, a bevy of great hotels and restaurants (such as our centrally-located and full — though quiet — historic home base, the Mills House Hotel).
The South Carolina Film Commission made it clear from the start of our tour that they are not attempting to directly compete with states like Louisiana and Georgia, who are offering at least 30% tax breaks for TV and movie productions. That model is something North Carolina experimented with for a decade before coming to the conclusion that, for their state, it was unsustainable. South Carolina, instead, has chosen to provide a cash incentive (that also includes cash rebates regarding locally used crew and suppliers). What all of this means is that South Carolina is essentially setting itself up as a boutique industry, one that — in addition to cash and rebates — is hoping to foster intimate and meaningful ties with the productions that make their way to their coast.
There is a distinct sense of pride among South Carolinians, who are very interested in showing off all that their state has to offer, often specifically (such as when Mel Gibson‘s character in The Patriot mentioned he was “at Middleton Place,” a real, family-owned educational plantation and museum just outside Charleston, that makes the best grits I’ve ever had). And of course, after viewing the photos below, why would they not be? There are also so many things about South Carolina’s, particularly Charleston’s, history and natural resources that could easily inspire their own stories. To that end, the Film Commission has also set up a grant program for filmmakers from their state — a great way to help foster talent and crew (of which there are actively about 200) looking to make their own mark.
Our hosts were generous, the food portions were ridiculous (other meals included stops at Fish, the Wentworth Mansion’s Circa 1886, and the best grouper sandwich of my life at the Red’s Ice House, located on the pristine Shem Creek); and even though it was in the low 60s and overcast few days (colder than all of last winter, a local friend of mine told me), the experience still left me with a sense of the scope of what the state has to offer.
The sweet tea and exceptional hosts didn’t just make me blindly agree that the Palmetto state is a great place to be, though — that fact is something that’s evident to anyone who visits (Charleston has also been the recipient of a dizzying number of travel destination awards from Conde Nast, Travel+Leisure, Forbes and more). But I also left truly believing that the place South Carolina has crafted for itself within the industry is a smart play, especially for a state of its size. That size is also a benefit to film crews — within about two hours, you can be at the beach, the marshes, farmland, mountains, or one of several quaint towns that, like Charleston, can either be distinct or retro.
The pictures included here are some I took while wandering around Charleston, as well as places like Sullivan Island, Middleton Place, Boone Hall Plantation (where Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively got married, if you are into that kind of thing), Husk (with its celebrity chef Sean Brock), and a number of tourist haunts and museums, like the mansions South of Broad, Battery Park, and the Old City Jail and Dungeon.
Because of the uncharacteristic weather (and how it affected my photos), I also requested a second batch of pictures, provided by the Board of Tourism, to show off what Charleston and the surrounding area normally looks like, when it’s balmy and bright (including the newly iconic Arthur Ravenel Bridge).