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‘Dirty Dancing,’ ‘Three Billboards,’ and economic ripples

fr highhampton“Three Billboards” isn’t the only major filming project going on in Jackson County this month. Last week, ABC wrapped up a week of shooting for its remake of “Dirty Dancing,” turning the High Hampton Inn and Country Club into Kellerman’s Resort, circa 1963.

“I’ve been watching the monitor for four days, and it is nothing short of awesome,” said Clifford Meads, general manager at High Hampton. 

The project was the perfect fit for Cashiers and High Hampton to begin with, Meads said, as it’s about a family returning to the same resort, year after year, to vacation in the mountains — exactly what makes High Hampton tick. And with the high-quality cast the remake commanded — Debra Messing plays Baby’s mother, and Abigail Breslin plays Baby — Meads is excited to have High Hampton represented in the resulting film. 

Like the “Three Billboards” project, Dirty Dancing isn’t something that materialized overnight, though at first it looked like it might be that way. 

Five years ago, Meads decided to send in updated photos and information about High Hampton to the N.C. Film Office, to go on file for projects looking for locations. Two weeks later, he got a call back about the “Dirty Dancing” project, then envisioned as a full-blown feature film. But two months away from filming, project leaders decided they weren’t pleased with the cast and dropped it altogether. It’s only recently resurrected, this time as a TV mini-series slated for a spring/summer 2017 release.

“This has been a five-year relationship,” Meads said. 

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The end result is going to be a good one though, Meads anticipates, not least because of the influx of spending the 350 to 400 people associated with the film have brought to Cashiers with them. High Hampton had about 85 rooms set aside for people working on Dirty Dancing, with others spread around a variety of area hotels. 

“The economic impact has filtered out throughout this county in a big way,” said Meads, who is also a member of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority board. 

According to Guy Gaster, director of the Film Office, “Dirty Dancing” has spent $16 million in North Carolina, and “Three Billboards” has spent $12.8 million. Granted, those numbers incorporate salaries paid for work done in North Carolina, including for top-tier talent, and both projects include filming locations outside of Jackson County. Salary typically accounts for at least 50 percent of a production’s overall spending, Gaster said, but he believes that each project would cause at least a couple million dollars of spending in Jackson County. 

“The immediate economic impact is evident with our hotels and restaurants both seeing at-capacity crowds and overnight visitors during filming,” said Nick Breedlove, the executive director of the Jackson County TDA. 

Working with Smith Travel Research, Breedlove said, the TDA determined that the past month has seen a 10 percent increase in occupancy rates over the same period last year, a “great trend.” However, the previous month — before the projects really got going — saw a 7 percent increase.

“It’s difficult to tell if more people are falling in love with Jackson County and staying overnight or whether it’s related to the film, but it’s likely a combination of both,” Breedlove said. 

The real economic impact, though, is expected to arrive after the films are released. If they find success and develop a following, tourists could make pilgrimages specifically to see the areas where their favorite movies were shot. Or, those who were planning to come this way anyway could prolong their stay to take in the cinematic angle too. 

“We wouldn’t have enough advertising dollars in 10 years to put out what these two films will do when they come out. It’s just huge,” Meads said. “And the benefit of it is we will find people coming up here because they discovered the beauty of it through the film, and it has a huge economic impact.”

The other side of the coin is that, if the film companies wrapping up production in Jackson County leave with a positive impression, more such projects may look to locate there.

“We want to put out a warm welcome mat for them, and hopefully they’ll come back in the future,” said Stephanie Edwards, director of the Cashiers Chamber of Commerce. 

“Our goal here was to have Lionsgate (Movies) walk out of there and say, “That was a terrific filming location,” which they will,” Meads agreed. 

That’s not only true in a professional sense. Cast and crew are leaving Cashiers and Sylva with announced intentions to come back as vacationers. Which, to those who live here, is not surprising. 

“Face it, there are very few places in the country that are as beautiful as the environment that we have here in this county,” Meads said. “People spend a lot of money to come visit where we live.”

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