published Friday, July 13th, 2012

Chattanooga in 'Iron Man 3'?

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    Two small North Carolina towns will be a silver screen stand-in for Chattanooga in the 2013 blockbuster movie “Iron Man 3.”

With the dust kicked up by film crews for "42" just now settling back to the field at Engel Stadium, a major 2013 summer blockbuster also will feature scenes set in Chattanooga.

This time, however, a small North Carolina town serves as a Scenic City stand-in.

When it hits theaters on May 3, 2013, "Iron Man 3" will feature at least one scene filmed in Kenansville, N.C., which was dolled up to look like a snowy facsimile of Chattanooga.

Lindell Kay, a reporter at The Daily News in Jacksonville, N.C., wrote that production crews from Wilmington, N.C.-based Screen Gems Studios transformed the Tar Heel hamlet of 850 into "a cool, wintry Chattanooga."

"They did their best to make it look like Chattanooga," Kay said during a phone interview Thursday. "I don't know how it fits into the story, but I'm anxious to see how it does."

Chattanooga Film Commissioner Missy Crutchfield said neither she nor the Tennessee Film, Entertainment & Music Commission were approached about filming on-site in Chattanooga.

The two previous "Iron Man" movies, which starred Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, grossed $1.2 billion at the box office. The Marvel Comics character also had a starring role in this summer's "The Avengers," which earned a record $200 million during its opening weekend in May.

Based on the success of "The Avengers," Marvel reportedly increased the budget for "Iron Man 3" from $140 million to $200 million.

With a pedigree like that, the film was a highly sought-after property, and Crutchfield said that Wilmington, N.C, where the bulk of the film is being shot, may simply have offered a better incentives package than Chattanooga.

"It's all about the bottom line," she said. "We're going to fight to have them here, but you can't win every battle. They'll make North Carolina look like anywhere they want it to look like. It's just the way it is."

Officials at Principal Communications Group, the company handling public relations for "Iron Man 3," were asked Thursday why North Carolina was chosen instead of Chattanooga and what role Chattanooga plays in the film's plot, but they did not respond by press time.

In the midst of storms and temperatures in the 80s, crews in Kenansville added fake snow and holiday decorations to a closed set that included an armory, a ball field, Vidant Duplin Hospital and Kenan Memorial Auditorium. Photos from the set leaked to the Internet show the auditorium with a new sign dubbing it "Hamilton County Memorial Hall," a possible reference to Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium.

Police cars, firetrucks and other vehicles also had been affixed with City of Chattanooga emblems, and several buildings had signs designating them as Hamilton County governmental offices, Kay said.

Production in Kenansville wrapped Wednesday and crews have moved to Pink Hill, N.C., an even smaller community to the southwest. There they will film another "Chattanooga" scene set during a Christmas parade through downtown, Kay said.

Crews in Pink Hill have built a set that includes a number of empty storefronts, a bar, diner and other buildings, he said, and he also has seen permits from the city's fire marshal for special-effects shots.

"I guess when the movie hits theaters, you'll get to see Chattanooga get blown up," he said, laughing.

Kenansville and Pink Hill won't be the only locations to stand in for another city in "Iron Man 3." Downtown Wilmington, N.C., will stand in for New York City.

Movie magic makes these substitutions commonplace in the industry, Crutchfield said. Chattanooga will stand in for Brooklyn in "42," the biopic of black baseball player Jackie Robinson, which wrapped filming in June and is set to premiere April 12, 2013.

Even though "Iron Man 3" was not filmed in the Scenic City, any big screen appearance is good for the city, Crutchfield said.

"We show so well," she said. "Hopefully, ['Iron Man 3'] will make other folks think of filming here and living here. People are always improving their incentives package, and hopefully, we can continue to improve ours."

Staff writer Holly Leber contributed to the reporting for this story.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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