Heart of the Country labels itself as “A modern re-telling of The Prodigal story, in the form of Wall Street meets Sweet Home Alabama meets Nicholas Sparks.” Half of the references in that description speak to notions of down-home, good old-fashioned Southern families and romance. Sweet Home Alabama was a popular romantic comedy about a displaced Southerner who returns from New York City and her successful, sophisticated lifestyle, and winds up reconnecting with her roots. Nicholas Sparks, who has been blogged about on here in the past, is a notable North Carolina resident and something of an icon who has shaped popular romantic writing, and with it, the image of the state.
After Faith Carraday’s husband, Luke, is caught taking part in some shady business dealings, he is arrested. Faith abandons Luke and their life together in Manhattan and seeks solace with her father and sister in her hometown in Columbus County, North Carolina. Unfortunately, her reception is strained. Faith bolted from home when she was given the opportunity to attend Julliard. Since then she hasn’t remained close with her father, Calvin, and sister, Olivia. Olivia is jealous of sharing their father’s affections, and, Calvin has grown old and tired. As Faith tries to heal and sort out her life, Luke approaches his high society family and attempts to make amends.
The story was co-authored by novelist Rene Gutteridge and screenwriter/director/actor John Ward. As if taking a cue from Nicholas Sparks and his writing method in The Last Song, Heart of the Country was written in novel form and screenplay, fairly close together; Gutteridge indicates working with Ward’s material in her acknowledgement. Gutteridge took a larger role in the novel and Ward in the screenplay. Both the film and the novel were released in 2013. The film version was shot on location in Wilmington, North Carolina and New York City. Jana Kramer stars as Faith Carraday and Gerald McRaney, an actor primarily known for his work on TV shows, plays her father Calvin. Funnily enough, McRaney has an unlisted role in Nicholas Sparks’s upcoming adaptation, The Best of Me. Kramer played a supporting role in One Tree Hill – also set in North Carolina and filmed in Wilmington — in seasons 7 and 8 and the first two episodes in season 9. She left the show to pursue her country music career. During this film, Kramer gets a chance to flaunt her musical talents on screen with a few songs.
It’s not a surprising coincidence that One Tree Hill and Heart of the Country were filmed in Wilmington, however. Over the years, Wilmington has earned the nickname of “Hollywood of the East,” “Hollywood East,” and even “Wilmywood.” Our State attributes Wilmington’s major break in the film industry in the early 1980s to Dino DiLaurentiis’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Firestarter, which starred a young Drew Barrymore. DiLaurentiis was interested in finding a plantation for filming, and after a location scout shared a photo of Orton Plantation, DiLaurentiis was smitten. So smitten, in fact, that he built a studio in Wilmington.
Since Firestarter, Wilmington has been the backdrop to films like Blue Velvet, Weekend at Bernie’s, Sleeping with the Enemy, a handful of Nicholas Sparks adaptations, The Secret Life of Bees, and more. Wilmington Regional Film Commission has lists for Feature Films, TV Shows, Music Videos, and Commercials shot in the area. The North Carolina Film Office likewise has a listing of films and TV shows shot in the state. Of these films and TV shows listed, it might be interesting to consider how many were really set in North Carolina, or crafted to look like another location? Heart of the Country sticks close to home. Although the story is set in Columbus County and Wilmington is actually located in New Hanover County, the two counties neighbor each other on the southern tip of the state, so shooting in Wilmington wasn’t much of a departure from the storyline.
Sources consulted: Bayridge Films, CMIL, Examiner, Facebook, Heart of the Country, IMDb (The Best of Me, Heart of the Country, Jana Kramer, Gerald McRaney, Sweet Home Alabama), Jana Kramer, NC Hollywood, North Carolina Film Office, Our State, Rene Gutteridge, Taste of Country, Wikipedia (Jana Kramer, Gerald McRaney, One Tree Hill), The Wilmywood Daily, Wilmington Regional Film Commission, Inc.