Written by: Michael Raab
Burgaw Is the most famous filming location you’ve never heard of.
Built in 1936, the Pender County Courthouse is a mix of Georgian Revival and Colonial Revival architecture styles. The annual North Carolina Blueberry Festival is held on its spacious grounds, as well as the annual Spring Festival. And, in 1984, the Pender County Courthouse took on its second career, as a location for over 30 motion pictures, television series, and commercials. It started with the movie adaptation of the Stephen King novel, “Silver Bullet.” Burgaw was never the same after that.
“Nothing took the town the way ‘Silver Bullet’ did” explained Pender County Librarian Michael Taylor “because of the level of excitement, plus the towns participation has never been so high since then.” The film company hired all the extras from Burgaw. “They hired everyone on the spot. They hired over 350 people from Pender County. And you got an extra ten dollars if you brought your dog. They were looking for townspeople for a lawn event scene and they wanted you to come dressed as you normally dressed.” However, the uniqueness of the filming created unplanned problems. “In addition to the 350 people who turned up for scenes on the square, you had maybe hundreds of people who came to gawk. It was one big party!” Harrell’s Department Store hosted slasher film scenes from “I Know What You Did Last Summer” in 1997. Nine years later, in 2006, the department store became a Prohibition-era speakeasy for the film “Idlewild.” It starred music artists Andre 3000 and Big Boi, along with well-known actor Terrence Howard.
In 2000, Danny Glover starred in “Freedom Song”, a made-for-tv movie that won several Emmys. John Westbrook, the proprietor of Burgaw Antiqueplace, talks about when they originally contacted him about using his store.
“They said they were going to make a movie on the civil rights movement from the 40s up until the 60s and they’d like to use my building as a replica of the Woolworth’s in Greensboro where the sit-ins took place. Would I be agreeable to that? I said sure.” They reconstructed a copy of the counter, and “ they rented the original chairs from the museum in Greensboro. 25 of them.” After the movie filming ended, the counter stayed and it is still in the store today.
In 2009, a local actor and producer who had grown up in Burgaw, Brandon Luck, wrote and produced “The Jailhouse,” a psychological thriller film. He shot it in the closed jailhouse opposite the Pender County Courthouse and it starred C. Thomas Howell.
Burgaw even subbed for London in 2012 as Chase Credit Card filmed a commercial for the upcoming Summer Olympics on the Courthouse lawn. There were Buckingham Palace guards, British taxi cabs, a double-decker bus, lots of British flags and even a copy of Big Ben.
Later that year, the television series “Revolution” about a world with no electricity, began filming in Burgaw. In one scene on the Courthouse lawn, there was a firefight around a helicopter belonging to the Monroe Militia. The helicopter had to be carted in on a flatbed truck for the scene as there is no way it could have landed on the lawn with the huge oak trees. Donna Best-Klingel of the Brown Dog Coffee Company was a bit perplexed when filming started.
“We knew about the filming but we had no idea who the actors were. They started coming to the coffeehouse and we learned who they were real quickly because fans started coming in. Billy Burke, (lead actor in the series) I had no clue who he was. He sat in the corner of the coffeehouse with his earbuds on. Then these young ladies came in and they just went nuts because he was there.”
However, when the “Under The Dome” television series came to start filming the following year, it was a completely different situation. “It was big. Stephen King was involved. Steven Spielberg was involved. It was huge. We knew what that was all about.” The first-season ending involved a possible hanging on the Courthouse lawn complete with a gallows.
There were many other movies, too many to mention in this article, that were filmed over 3 decades within a four-square-block area of Burgaw. And they are still filming there. Blame it on Stephen King.
Note: If anyone wants to see the short documentary that I did on filming in Burgaw, “Hometown Hollywood,” it is on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnVngt0iv-Y