The Hunger Games logo may bear the image of the fictional mockingjay, but with this Friday’s premiere of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the Atlanta History Center hopes fans will be drawn to another bird’s name: Swan.
Buckhead’s historic Swan House was among several Atlanta filming locations for the highly anticipated “Hunger Games” sequel. The property was built in 1928 for the wealthy Edward H. Inman family, but soon millions of moviegoers will know it as the national Capitol and home of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the evil dictator who rules the “Hunger Games” world of Panem.
Eagle-eyed viewers can already spot shots of Swan House in the first “Catching Fire” trailer, and starting Friday, they’ll have the chance to see those locations for themselves. The History Center is launching Swan House Capitol Tours, a limited-time experience allowing fans inside access to rooms featured in “Catching Fire.”
The docent-led, 45-minute tour includes an exhibit of behind-the-scenes images and production props, along with photo opportunities in the dining room and President Snow’s office, two prominent settings seen in the trailer. Visitors can also stroll the outside grounds used in the film, including the picturesque Boxwood Garden and grand front-lawn staircase. And, yes, licensed “Hunger Games” merchandise will be available for purchase in the center’s gift shop.
At a preview event last week, Michael Rose, executive vice president of the Atlanta History Center, said he hopes Capitol Tours will remove the stodginess most people — especially teenagers — associate with historic houses. He encourages “Hunger Games” fans to visit in costume and sees the film as a potential gateway to history for a new generation. “If we can get them here with the movie, they will discover that history is not boring,” Rose said.
Rose believes young women who embrace the girl power of “Hunger Games” hero Katniss Everdeen will find a kindred spirit in the home’s matriarch, Emily Inman, a key player in Georgia’s suffrage movement who took over the family finances after her husband’s death in 1931. “I’m sure Emily would have been a ‘Hunger Games’ fan,” Rose said. “She would be all over Katniss.”
In the “Hunger Games” novels, the Capitol is depicted as a high-tech center of glamour and opulence. While the Swan House’s classic design is decidedly low-tech, its striking Italian Baroque façade and ornate interior details provided ready-made scenery for the film’s set designers. “They loved the grandeur of the house, how regal it was,” said Sean Thorndike, vice president of sales and operations. “They couldn’t pass up what was already there: all the architectural elements, all the décor. Even though this is a futuristic movie, they loved that [the house] looked older and majestic.”
Among the items that caught the production team’s eye were the dining room’s hand-painted wallpaper and two swan console tables, the namesake for the Swan House. “Those are our signature pieces,” said Jessica VanLanduyt, Swan House manager. “That was a big deal [to have them in the movie].”
Amid the excitement of filming, the history center’s executive team was equally cautious about preserving the home’s legacy. Over the three-week shoot, VanLanduyt and her team worked closely with the production team to determine which existing artifacts would be used in the movie, and Swan House representatives were always on set to ensure minimal disturbance to the rooms. “We had to make sure everybody won,” VanLanduyt said.
The Swan House Capitol Tours are just the latest in a series of pop culture-driven experiences designed to attract fans to Georgia’s growing number of shooting locations. This type of tourism, what some call “set jetting,” is seen by officials as another economic benefit of the increased film and television production drawn here by state tax credits.
Of all the productions that have come to Georgia, the “Hunger Games” movies are by far the most popular, says Lee Thomas, director of the state’s Film, Music and Digital Entertainment office. “North Carolina is still attracting tourists seeking out locations from the first ‘Hunger Games’ movie,” Thomas said at the preview event. “The tourism opportunity of hosting the ‘Hunger Games’ franchise cannot be overestimated.”
The Swan House Capitol Tours are scheduled to run through January 6, but may be extended based on demand. In the meantime, staff members will be among the frenzied crowd at the midnight premieres of “Catching Fire” this Friday. While most fans will be squealing for actors Jennifer Lawrence or Josh Hutcherson, Rose says History Center employees will be on the lookout for a different star.
“Every time the house comes up, we’re going to scream, ‘Swaaan!'” he said.