(SATIRE) Screen Scene: Local film news (that almost was)

WILD AND CRAZY STAPLER: Steve Martin's long, arduous journey to Brevard involved the multifaceted artist overcoming an acute fear — one that resulted in a comedy classic not being filmed in Transylvania County as he'd originally intended. Photo courtesy of MasterClass

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.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.