Sunday, October 1, 2023

Looking for favorite film locations? Local launches WisTL to help

WisTL features more than 1,000 locations of where films and TV series have been set up in cities worldwide. It launched in April by local marketing entrepreneur Vanessa Silva. (Courtesy WisTL)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Filming locations in Hollywood East are a dime a dozen. But a new tool to find out exactly where Pacey and Andy first kissed on “Dawson’s Creek” or the restaurant Alex and Katie dined at on their date in “Safe Haven” has launched for fan-seekers.

READ MORE: ‘Outer Banks’ season 4 halts production following strike, local permits still active

Locally created, WisTL — an acronym for “Where is that location?” — is a web-based platform featuring more than 1,000 places production crews have filmed movies and TV series worldwide. Created by Southport resident Vanessa Silva, it’s been a passion project for more than two decades but one she didn’t get serious about until the last year-and-a-half.

“Throughout the years, when my nieces were teenagers, the first thing they wanted to do when they came to visit me was send a picture to friends of them at Joey’s wall,” Silva said.

She’s referring to a brick structure near the Reel Cafe in downtown Wilmington, used in the teen drama, filmed in the area in the late ’90s and early aughts.

At that time, Silva toyed with creating a tour — this was pre-smartphone — but shunned the idea. Her background is in marketing and technology; she worked in sales for StarNews for a while and then was a marketing consultant. Instead, she sat on the idea for two decades and launched a web-based program in April for users to do their own self-guided tours.

It’s been utilized 450 times so far.

She uploads usually one movie or series a day, as inputting the data can be time-consuming — a 10-hour-a-day project. Part of it includes the coordinates as defined by the geocode system app What3Words; it divides areas worldwide into 10-by-10-foot squares, each associated with three words. This allows users to find precise locations, especially usable for areas in parks, landmarks or even the ocean — places that don’t have addresses (What3Words has been used by emergency personnel doing searches in the wilderness, for example).

For instance, Banks Channel at Wrightsville Beach — used for plenty of exterior shots on “Dawson’s Creek” — is defined by the words swimwear.embarrassing.administered. Clicking on it takes users to a precise location, which they can open on one of many map platforms. 

Recently, she has begun hanging signs for WistL in Southport businesses — many of which were also filming locations. Each is highlighted with a QR code that directs people to the site, categorizing searches by world, country, state, city, genre, title and author. 

For example, when clicking on “I Know What You Did Last Summer” under title, the user will find 10 locations. Many are in Southport, such as Fishy Fish Cafe, which acted as Barry’s gym in the movie. Farther north in Currie, North Carolina, is Missy’s house, which when clicked on gives the tidbit that the house also became famous in the horror flick “The Conjuring,” filmed in Wilmington.

The idea to create WisTL gradually presented itself to Silva, who’s lived on the southeastern coast since the late ‘90s. When she moved to Wilmington, the first thing she did was take a river cruise tour, which touched on popular spots of “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill.” 

After going through a divorce and settling in the coastal town of Southport, Silva decided to hit reset and took a job as a server at Fishy Fishy in the Yacht Basin.

“It was really good for me personally; I met a lot of the people and they brought me back to life, so to speak,” she said. “But throughout every shift, usually more like three dozen times, I was asked about where a filming location was.”

As a server, she said the question didn’t always come at an opportune moment, especially when the restaurant was really busy. 

“Last year, I thought, ‘Now is the time’ — there should be something built that people can use at their own leisure and I could point them to,” Silva said.

So she began working on the web-based platform. WisTL is free to users all the time and doesn’t require a username or password. It’s also designed with a bit of tongue-and-cheek. Sure, there are tangible locations, such as Albrecht’s apartment in “The Crow” or Bald Head Island acting as Hampton Island in “Weekend at Bernies.” But WisTL also breaks down particular scenes, such as the “falling passenger rescue” scene from “Iron Man 3” filmed over Oak Island or where Jamie stargazes in “A Walk to Remember” at the historic Old Smithville Burying Grounds in Southport.

Silva said the goal is to give users a way to interact with their favorite films without costing a thing.

“There’s really no downside to it for the average person,” she said. “It’s a good way to plan an activity for a family vacation or a night out with friends and everyone can participate without financial barriers. I’m a single mom, so dating is a thing. So think about how much you can learn about somebody, if you plan a WisTL outing together, learn about movies they like, and you’re out walking around and talking — it’s interactive, it’s inexpensive.”

Plans to monetize it will come with sponsorships, she added. So far Southport Realty sponsors the Southport city block, listed as a permanent banner on the site.  

“I don’t want pop- up ads and all that stuff that distracts,” she said.  

The goal is for the app to drive local foot traffic and hopefully revenue, which will reflect back to WisTL and become a draw for businesses, both local and corporate.

Wilmington, for instance, benefits greatly from film production; it had a banner year in 2021, with more than $400 million impacting the local economy due to productions spending in the area. This number doesn’t account for the tourism that productions continually draw back into the coastal areas of North Carolina, even after filming is over and the shows and movies are released. Tourists need places to stay, eat, and buy souvenirs in order to visit their favorite locations; popular shows like “One Tree Hill” continue hosting conventions locally.

“There’s a boost to tourism and the counties that have filming locations in them,” Silva said.

Silva has begun hiring a sales team to help with the sponsorships. So far, however, she is the only person verifying all locations and inputting the information. Yet, local businesses have begun reaching out to her with new insights to pinpoint.

“I was at the Riverside Motel, and the owners were watching ‘A Walk to Remember,’ and saw a location behind the motel by the Pilot House,” Silva said, another add-on to her list.

Also coming soon are locally filmed “Scream 5,” “Problem in Providence,” and “Boys of Summer.” However, WisTL is worldwide; more than a dozen countries are featured, such as Tunisia where “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was filmed.

“My best friend’s favorite movie is ‘Elf,’” Silva said. “So I’m also working on getting that up.”

She’s also adding her own favorite series, “Schitt’s Creek.”

“I’m trying to have fun with this,” she said. “That’s really the goal for me.”

Silva has been doing market research by following fandom blogs and chatrooms, and influencers on social media that are also film buffs, to see what productions continue gaining traction. Jenny Han’s popular teen drama, “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” filmed locally in Carolina Beach, and Jonas Pate’s “Outer Banks” filmed in Charleston are both teen dramas that have taken off and are listed on WisTL.

Silva has been sharing the program organically through other social media channels as well. 

“Right now, it’s about building awareness of this cool thing people can do and including titles that would be interesting to them,” she said, “but also cities I know best.”

WisTL also has a code of conduct, asking its WisTLers to be “safety minded, respectful and law-abiding,” as many locations are privately owned. 

“We make it clear to avoid trespassing or being too loud,” she said. “And if anybody has a private residence or business that wants me to remove them, I absolutely will.”

WisTL can be accessed here.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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