Melding history with Hollywood
- January 1, 2009
by Lisa Antonelli Bacon
Want to see where President Lincoln greeted Union troops? Maybe you want to see the parking lot where the Jackal, man of international mystery and intrigue,
faced off his enemies in a gunfight. And who doesn’t want to see the lavish hotel that once hosted a gigantic food fight.
Tough luck. You can’t. But you can see where Sam Waterston, in the title role of “Gore Vidal’s Lincoln,” shook hands with uniformed actors. You can see where
Bruce Willis shot up a fake hospital while filming “The Jackal.” And if it’s hard to imagine food flying around the venerable Jefferson Hotel, go for a
gander. The child actors in “First Kid” had the time of their lives there.
Virginia Film Tours takes people to Virginia locations where famous movie scenes were created. “It’s where Hollywood meets history,” says Helene Wagner,
quoting the tagline from her tour business.
Wagner started the tours three years ago to leverage Virginia’s rich history with the dozens of films and TV shows filmed in and around Richmond. Helene, a
screenwriter and the founder and director of the Virginia Screenwriters Forum, provides the running commentary on the coach tours. Husband Tom, co-owner of
the company, shows film clips on a monitor, highlighting scenes shot at each location.
“They worked for several years to perfect it and make it happen,” says Mary Nelson, communications manager for the Virginia Film Office. “[Helene] went over
all the films,” adds Nelson. “She worked very closely with the Virginia Film Office on developing research.”
In addition, Wagner interviewed film crews for behind-the-scenes anecdotes. They provided colorful tidbits like how Anthony Hopkins recorded voice mail
greetings as Hannibal Lecter on crew members’ phones.
Wagner began the tours in Richmond, a popular Hollywood shooting location because of its many historic and scenic locations, such as the Virginia State
Capitol. Recently, Wagner repackaged the original idea and expanded tour options while retaining the film connection. “Richmond’s Ultimate Film Lovers Hotel
Packages,” for instance, includes overnight stays at a downtown Richmond hotel. The Virginia Plantations Group Film Tour extends beyond Richmond, taking in
the three plantations (Tuckahoe, Westover and Berkeley Plantation) where movies such as “The New World “and HBO’s miniseries “John Adams” were filmed.
Another new offering is a horse country tour. It includes a one-day guided tour of Middleburg as well as visits to the area’s famous horse farms. Wagner
provides commentary on the state’s most famous horses and movies filmed in the countryside, including “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.” During one of the
stops, guests learn about horseracing from a professional jockey as they observe a thoroughbred during a morning gallop.
The tours cost $60 per person (not including hotel stays) for small groups of four to 12 passengers who travel in a van. For larger groups of 17 to 52
people, the cost drops to $35 per person, and these groups travel in a luxury coach bus. Wagner can arrange a tour from three hours to all day or an entire
weekend. Typically, she runs 30 to 35 tours a year.