The Asheville area has had the good fortune to attract the productions of such films as Being There, Hannibal, The Last of the Mohicans, The Hunger Games and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but the city’s near-brushes with film fame are as numerous as its success stories.
For every Masterminds, there’s a story of various factors that have derailed a major project from setting up shop in Western North Carolina. Here are a few of the standout woulda-coulda-shouldas that just missed taking place in our backyards.
• In search of a decrepit city in which to set his Snake Plissken sequel Escape from L.A., John Carpenter took a tip from supporting player Peter Fonda and visited Asheville in late 1994. He soon became enamored with the urban blocks’ naturally desolate style and took 17 rolls of film scouting locations downtown, in West Asheville and throughout the River Arts District.
“We wouldn’t have to change a thing,” Carpenter told co-writer Debra Hill over calzones at Barley’s Taproom. “And the streets shut themselves off. We’d save a fortune!”
Back in California, Carpenter pitched the setting to star Kurt Russell, who promptly nixed the idea due to his severe pine pollen allergy. Unwilling to cast someone else in the role of his iconic antihero, Carpenter gave up on his mountain dream and the bulk of the film wound up being made in, of all places, Los Angeles.
• Forget the long-held rumors that the adaptation of Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain wasn’t filmed in WNC due to sparse forests and unattractive tax incentives. Director Anthony Minghella was all set to use special effects to gussy up the natural beauty, but while scouting locations in late 2002, he got into a losing battle at the Tunnel Road Ingles over the last remaining bottle of Highland Brewing Co.’s Cold Mountain Winter Ale.
In the report filed with the Asheville Police Department, Minghella claimed that 86-year-old Marge Funderburke cornered him by the milk coolers, stepped on his toes, elbowed him in the stomach and wrestled the container from him. Fuming over the incident, he crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains off his list and took the production to Romania. So incensed was the late director that he refused to provide Nicole Kidman and Jude Law with the local dialect coaches he’d originally hired.
• Long before Steve Martin settled in Transylvania County, he was drawn to the area in the mid-1970s as a place to hone his banjo skills among some of the old-time masters of the instrument. Escaping L.A. (noticing a theme here?) for Waynesville whenever possible, he began writing the script for The Jerk and started visiting surrounding towns as potential filming locations.
On his first visit to Brevard, however, Martin was so disturbed by the town’s white squirrels that he scampered to the top of the courthouse, nervously babbling largely incoherent lines from the future comedy classic until the local fire department got him down. As he noted in his autobiography Born Standing Up, Martin has since undergone extensive therapy to confront this phobia and now lives in harmony with the local mascots — to the point that he occasionally dons a giant snowy rodent costume for the annual White Squirrel Festival. Should the long-rumored sequel to The Jerk transpire, Martin has hinted that it would honor his original vision and chronicle Navin Johnson’s adventures in Appalachia.