Wilmington, film officials rally to save TV project post Florence

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Warner Bros. discussed moving ‘Swamp Thing’ away from the Port City after national coverage of the storm’s impacts

WILMINGTON — Hurricane Florence may have turned portions of the region into a swampy mess, but it almost claimed the local film industry’s biggest TV project in years — “Swamp Thing.”

As Hurricane Florence drenched the region in rain and wind, national news coverage sent images of local towns and homes under water across the country, catching the eye of executives from Warner Bros. Television and DC Universe, who were prepping production on the new series “Swamp Thing” in Wilmington.

Mayor Bill Saffo said, in the days after Florence, he participated in talks with those TV officials fearful their future filming location was no longer viable.

“When they were looking at intense flooding in Burgaw and Lumberton on national news programs, they thought Wilmington was flooded,” Saffo said. “The perception was that Wilmington was underwater and that we were cut off from the rest of the world for good.”

Those images sparked discussion, Saffo said, of moving the project to another state.

While Wilmington was temporarily inaccessible as roads flooded and rivers rose following Florence, Saffo said he helped local film officials assure the “Swamp Thing” was still the best place for the series, which could employ up to 300 local crew members.

“Once they realized all the crews were back in Wilmington and that it was going to be business as usual, I think it calmed their fears,” he said.

Florence’s influence wasn’t isolated to “Swamp Thing.” Hulu’s drama series pilot “Reprisal” was scheduled to start shooting the week the hurricane headed toward land and prompted evacuations.

The series stars Abigail Spencer as a femme fatale seeking vengeance against a gang of gearheads. Despite the delay, it has already called crews back to work and will likely start shooting the first week of October.

For local film officials, Hurricane Florence has reinserted the threat of hurricanes into the conversations with prospective clients.

Wilmington Regional Film Commission director Johnny Griffin said the question of hurricanes will be on the forefront of most conversations for the next few months because insurance companies have certain requirements for productions that shoot in hurricane-prone areas.

A destructive storm also forces the commission to take stock of the region’s locations it has previously identified as possible filming locations used to promote the area.

“The looks of some places change during a storm, and obviously with vegetation and some buildings don’t survive, so we do a bit of an audit,” Griffin said.

Since “Swamp Thing” and “Reprisal” are already on the ground in Wilmington, Griffin said they, too, will have to do an audit of the locations they already chose as possible filming locations to ensure they weren’t damaged.

“This wasn’t one of those hurricanes where the entire town was changed,” he said. “We are still here and we still have enough locations for projects looking at the area.”

Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at Hunter.Ingram@StarNewsOnline.com.