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Armed with a 50-milimeter lens and an eye for what could be, Keegan Limbrick roams the corridors of Independence Mall in search of potential locations, snapping shots of some, panoramas of others.
Empty storefronts and spaces, public waiting and walking areas, an entryway that features a line of faux columns—each could serve as a backdrop for a scene in the next TV show or film to set up shop here in Wilmington, if a given project’s production designer, location manager and director all agree.
But first, they have to see them—and that’s where Limbrick’s photos come in.
A student in the film studies program at UNCW, Limbrick started in January as the first on-staff location scout for the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, where he previously served as an intern.
Slated to graduate this year, Limbrick spends time between classes shooting pictures to be added to the commission’s database of filming locations that have been used or could be used for the first time in productions. Some shots add to the growing database, which consists of upwards of 3,300 images; others serve to update outdated photos, such as those of downtown restaurants that have recently changed in ownership and appearance.
Independence Mall served as a setting just last week for a TV pilot called “Red Zone,” which used parts of the mall to resemble a museum. Limbrick was there this week shooting more of the mall that could serve the show’s purpose, should the pilot be picked up as a full series.
If it is, the mall is ready to revive its role as a museum, said Judy Wright, senior specialty leasing manager for Independence Mall, who met with Limbrick upon his arrival.
“It was fantastic,” Wright said of the “Red Zone” shoot, which she said involved a store space the production rented out.
“Other than the trucks and equipment, you wouldn’t have known they were here,” Wright said. “We love working with them.”
In addition to feeding the commission’s database, Limbrick also seeks to take pictures of locations the commission might not know about. Last fall, the commission solicited submissions from the public of properties deemed interesting or unique. Limbrick said the response since then has been good, though he said the commission is welcoming more.
“I think they’re trying to have a more complete database to show productions what we do have in town,” Limbrick said, adding that, in turn, the database opens up doors to more potential business.
“A big task I’ve been working on is contacting people and just updating our pictures. It’s been a good response,” he said, “but I know they’re hoping people will become more aware and participate.”
The photos Limbrick takes not only feed the commission’s database; they also can end up at locations trade shows the commission participates in on the West Coast.
One such event is going on now: the AFCI Locations Show put on by the Association of Film Commissioners International, a trade organization the commission belongs to. Commission Director Johnny Griffin is there, joining other film officials representing North Carolina to show what the state—and Wilmington—has to offer.
Griffin said the event—held this year in Los Angeles—is an annual trek he and other commission directors make to show those in Hollywood what their regions and states can offer in terms of filming locations. While the three-day event does not usually result in any firm commitments or signed-and-sealed deals, Griffin said it pays off in building and maintaining coast-to-coast relationships.
“It’s an opportunity for those in the business in California. It certainly had its start before the days of the Internet, when if you wanted to meet film commissioners and look at location photographs and talk to them about information, it was a good place to go and be able to do all that in one room for two or three days for the decision-makers in Los Angeles.
“I would say now it’s not so much about that,” Griffin said, “because that information is all available instantaneously through the Web. It’s now more about maintaining relationships.
“You don’t necessarily come away from that with five scripts under your arm and say, ‘Wow, I picked up these pieces of business from that show,’” Griffin said. “It’s just part of the overall relationship business that we find ourselves in, and it’s another way for us to be able to network with our clients and spend time with them.”
But the commission’s locations and relationships efforts are not restricted to trade shows. One-on-one meetings with specific executives and production studios are also a priority.
Earlier this year, Griffin joined Aaron Syrett, director of the North Carolina Film Office, on a trip to L.A. that packed 19 meetings over three and a half days, letting those who work in Hollywood know what “Hollywood East” can do.
“We try and do that a couple of times a year,” Griffin said, “where we literally just go and it’s not timed around any event. It is merely just a chance to call people directly, request an opportunity to meet, and then sit in their office and have 30 to 40 minutes of their undivided attention where we can talk to them.
“If you’re on the trade show floor, these people come by, they’re trying to get around and see other people, and it’s not very conducive to having a casual conversation,” he said. Of those they meet with individually, Griffin added: “A lot of them we’re already in discussions with regarding potential pilots. Others we might not have had discussions with, but it’s a good opportunity for us to drop by, because they’ll tell us, ‘Yeah, we’re getting ready any day now to make decisions on these projects, so it’s a good thing that you came by.’”
While Griffin and others pitch Wilmington to Hollywood, Limbrick, whose career goals include writing scripts and producing, continues taking shots that could end up selling locations next year. Or sooner, as the photos that make up the database are viewable online, on the Wilmington film commission’s website.
Anyone who has a location they want photographed and considered for inclusion in the commission’s database is encouraged to contact Limbrick at email@example.com or through the commission office at 343-3456.
Noting the possibilities of every location shot, Limbrick said while photographing another: “It really varies, because you can turn any set into anything.
“That’s the power of the movie magic.”