Marvel’s superhero sequel Iron Man 3 filmed mainly on location in North Carolina, basing itself at EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington. The story pits Robert Downey Jr’s billionaire hero Tony Stark against The Mandarin.
The production team scouted several major US cities for their production base but in the end opted for an eight-month stay at EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington.
“We were looking for the right amount of stage space,” explains Supervising Location Manager Ilt Jones: “North Carolina’s filming incentives – an abiding concern these days – were also a major factor in the final decision. Johnny Griffin, Director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, did great work and everyone was very accommodating.”
Alongside the extensive studio work the production also filmed on location around the state. Action scenes were shot over several nights at the Port of Wilmington, where months of preparation involved supplying the crew’s biometric data to get special passes from Homeland Security.
A centrepiece action sequence where Iron Man rescues passengers tumbling from an airborne Air Force One was filmed by two units with a combination of actual airborne filming and ground-level special effects.
Airborne elements were filmed using the Red Bull Skydiving Team after months of practising and designing concealed parachutes. The final part of the sequence was filmed over the Cape Fear River using a specially-designed zip line that sloped from a height of 160 feet.
“[The zip line] was comprised of 15 lines – 13 for the actors falling out of Air Force One, one for Iron Man and one for a cameraman,” explains stunt co-ordinator Jeff Habberstad: “The rig was mostly the brainchild of Jim Churchman, who did a lot of the wire rigging on the show and he had 20 stunt riggers working on that sequence.
“We had one stunt rigger for each person that was on the zip line, plus we had a guy driving a pickup truck, which was actually tied in line with all of the people, which controlled their speed.”
“Wilmington really embraced us as a production,” Ilt Jones recalls: “The owner of the land beside the Cape Fear River helped us out by smoothing the terrain for the trailers of our unit base camp and we even had a bridge built out to the jetty itself to help move the cranes.
“It was my first time being based in the American South and it’s really true what they say about southern hospitality.”