Since its opening weekend on August 10, 2011, The Help, a Dreamworks Pictures film, continues to sweep the box office, staying in the No. 2 spot as recent as this past weekend (it was at No. 1 before then). Based on the novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, The Help is about the relationship between white families and black maids in 1960s Jackson.
The movie was shot in two months in Greenwood, Clarksdale, and Jackson, Mississippi. The popularity of the film has already brought a host of visitors and economic resurgence to the Southern state.
Filming in Greenwood, Mississippi
Located in the Delta region of Mississippi, Greenwood is a Southern city with a population of about 18,000. It’s rural yet majestic with its endless cotton fields and pecan trees. Out of all the towns and cities in the state, Greenwood probably has the best representation of 1960’s Mississippi. It was no surprise that it was hand-picked to be the main film location for The Help.
“We looked for a town that had a lot of similar aspects of Jackson in the 1960s and Greenwood fit the bill,” says Brunson Green, a member of the production team. “Jackson had explosive growth in the late ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, so a lot of the architectural elements that were featured in the book no longer exist.”
“I wanted Mississippi to be a character in the film,” says director Tate Taylor, a Jackson native and friend of the author. “The movie deals with the sacrifices of people who faced economic and social hardship and I wanted to give back to a place that still is dealing with these issues.”
To convince producers to shoot in Greenwood, Mississippi, Taylor traveled to the “Cotton Capital of the World” (a well-known nickname for Greenwood) to scout for locations. He then presented at his first meeting with DreamWorks executives a photo album of potential filming spots in the area. Greenwood’s “frozen-in-time look” with its stately Southern architecture and “modern” 1960s homes won over the filmmakers. Mississippi’s competitive tax incentive program for filming was also an important factor in the final decision.
In addition to Tate Taylor, there were other parties involved in bringing The Help to Greenwood. The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), the Mississippi Film Office, a division of MDA’s Tourism Division, the City of Greenwood, Leflore County, the Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation and other local businesses and organizations all worked together to help bring this project to the area.
The Press Release
On May 13, 2010, an official Press Release came out announcing Dreamworks’ plan to film The Help in Greenwood, Mississippi.
“I am delighted that DreamWorks has chosen to film The Help in Greenwood, Mississippi,”Governor Haley Barbour says. “This film, which will be directed and produced by Mississippi natives and is based on Mississippi-born author Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, will create numerous jobs during its production.”
How “The Help” Makes A Difference to Greenwood’s Economy
Filming began in mid-July and continued into the fall of 2010. During the six month production period, up to 150 cast and crew members of The Help lived and worked in Greenwood and Leflore County. Bill Crump, Chairman of the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Industrial Foundation, says that having The Help filmed in Greenwood was a big boost to the community’s economy. The production brought in approximately $13 million in revenue for Greenwood last year.
The President of the Greenwood-Leflore County Chamber of Commerce, Suresh Chawla, however, believes that Crump’s figure of $13 million was too low. “With all due respect to my good friend Bill, I think there was a lot more than $13 million. I know between The Alluvian, the Hampton Inn, the Holiday Inn, and the Budget Host hotels, the lodging revenue had to be $1 million.” Chawla shares that the CVB “had its highest-revenue year ever” because of The Help.
Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams agrees that many local businesses have been “massively impacted” because of the filming, including Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Ainsworth Sign Co., the Farmers Market and local restaurants. “It brought 170 extra people here for eight to ten months,” says McAdams. “The only thing I could attribute it to was the movie. We’re just blessed that we have a historical town that was appealing enough to catch their eyes.”
The Help also recruited many local residents to be extras in the movie. Russell Baxter, a band director at a local school, was an extra. On the book and movie, Baxter says, “I can’t blame anybody for things that had happened and people that are living now were not a part of those kinds of things. I think attitudes have changed.”
Greenwood resident Henry Carpenter, also a carpenter by trade in real life, plays handyman Jameso in the movie. Carpenter says his involvement in The Help has changed his image. “Some people have more respect for me than they ever had before,” says Carpenter. He grew up on a plantation, working for a white family. That’s history, he says. “This is a new day. This is 2010. I’m not living back in the 60s now,” says Carpenter.
Robin O’Bryant, a Mississippi native, wrote on her blog:
“The Help boosted more than our economy. My community is proud of this film. They are excited to see their grandfathers, sisters, uncles, cousins, nieces and best friends on the big screen. People are happy that the rest of the world will be able to enjoy our pecan trees and sweeping views of Delta farmland. The people I’ve talked to, black and white, hope that instead of letting this story and the controversy surrounding it further divide us, it will serve as another reminder of how far we have left to go.”
The economic impact The Help has on Greenwood is much more than just dollars. It’s a residual effect because of the continuing increase in tourism. Having The Help filmed in town has created a buzz about the community. Greenwood folks are excited to see the movie when it was released a few weeks ago. Except they have to leave town to see it. The only cinema in Greenwood closed five years ago.
Greenwood: The Houses in The Help
The houses of the five leading ladies of The Help (Skeeter, Celia, Hilly, Elizabeth and Aibileen) were filmed on location in Greenwood. To represent the distinct personality of each character, the houses have a mixture of styles that “spanned the spectrum of Southern architecture,” explainsMark Ricker, the film’s production designer (The Nanny Diaries, Julie & Julia). He also credits the book Under Live Oaks: The Last Great Houses of the Old South by Caroline Seebohm and Peter Woloszynski (along with old copies of Better Homes and Gardens) as his primary inspirations for the set designs. For The Help, Ricker also teamed up with Mad Men set designer Rena DeAngelo.
“It was my challenge to give each house its own personality that supported the characters in the film,” says Ricker. Skeeter’s house is a classic white-columned antebellum Southern mansion, while Celia’s house is a pre-Civil War luxurious inn converted into a private residence, and Elizabeth’s is a middle-class ranch house. For actual addresses of the houses used in the film, see “Greenwood Film Locations Featured in The Help” below.
Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly), one of the villains in the story, is a follower with few ideas of her own. She has a puppy-dog loyalty to her friend Hilly, and is not the best mother to her young dauther Mae Mobley. Below is the exterior of Elizabeth’s house, located in Greenwood, Mississippi.
The interiors of her house (in the below photos) - the kitchen, formal living room, and family room - reflect her vapid character. The style is blander compared to the other homes in the movie. By the way, if you think of Mad Men while looking at these photos, it’s because Rena DeAngelo (one of the set designers) won an Emmy for her work on the Mad Men‘s pilot episode.
Celia is an endearing character. Born in Sugar Ditch, Mississippi, she came from a poor family. Because of her marriage to wealthy Johnny Foote (Hilly’s ex), she became one of Jackson’s elites. Celia is not quite comfortable in her new social circle thinking she’s not good enough to be one them. Mark Ricker uses a gold, pink and dusty palette of colors for Celia’s house, since it is more of a “relic of an older generation, filled with all the history of a grander time and rich in family tradition.”
“Celia’s house was a ton of work because we did everything in it. All wallpaper, complete reconstruction of the kitchen, building all the curtains, and the sheer amount of layering in the house,” he states. “We wanted it to have the most “history” so we just kept buying and buying ....”
Hilly, the novel’s “most dastardly villain,” appears on the surface to be respectable. Yet, underneath all the respectability she desperately tries to maintain, she’s cold and unkind. She believes that the black folks in Jackson are poor because they are lazy and not smart enough to manage their money wisely. Therefore, Hilly thinks they don’t even deserve a living wage. Hilly is one of those characters we love to hate.
Hilly’s house represents the beginning of the new South and its interiors are “prim, perfect, pastel and icy.”
Hilly’s Pepto Bismo bathroom, with its vintage wallpapers and bubble gum pink tiles is pivotal to the storyline.
Skeeter, the main voice of the novel and movie, is “a bundle of contradictions.” She’s a free-spirited 23-year-old woman who lives with her parents on her family’s cotton plantation. She’s the only career woman in the story, devoting herself at much risk to write a book about the real lives of the black women who work for the white families of Jackson.
Skeeter’s home is lighter and more comfortable, yet still carries a “formality of tradition.”
Here’s Skeeter (Emma Stone) seated at the kitchen table while her mother, Charlotte Phelan (Allison Janney), tries to straighten her hair before she goes out on a date. The designers used a turquoise laminate table and blue-and-white checkerboard linoleum floor for a classic sixties feel.
Aibileen is the most heroic character in the book and movie. She’s a black woman who has been taking care of “white babies” and “cooking and cleaning” for white families since she was a young girl. Aibileen, with her big heart, is kind and giving. She has an ability to tolerate all the meanness around her without much complaint. She’s almost saint-like sometimes.
Aibileen’s home is warm, inviting and simple reflecting her characters. In the scene below, Aibileen held a secret meeting in her kitchen with Skeeter and Minny to discuss whether they should help Skeeter with her article.
It’s All About the Little Details
Author Kathryn Stockett (who grew up in Jackson with avocado green appliances) loves the film’s interiors. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw it, as it was a tangible representation [of the book] right down to every little detail,” she says. She notes that Skeeter’s room, especially, even had “notes from friends, a yearbook sitting around, old horse ribbons—that familiar mixture of a room going from little girl to college.”
Stockett was surprised at how small the original rooms were. “Mark knows how to expand a room,” she says. “People lived in smaller rooms than they do now; he opened [them] up with armoires and high ceilings. It was like magic!”
Greenwood’s The Help Tour
“We plan to have the tour indefinitely,” says Paige Hunt, executive director of the Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Steel Magnolias was released in 1989, and the tours are still around.”
Sign up for the Greenwood The Help Tour and you’ll get to see not only the private houses where the movie was filmed, but also favorite hangouts of the cast and crew, such as The Alluvian Hotel, Tallahatchie Tavern, and Webster’s Restaurant.
Each day, more and more tourists, inspired by The Help, continue to come to Mississippi. “I received a call from a lady in Louisiana who is coming here with some girlfriends for a weekend getaway,” shares Hunt. “They’re not just doing The Help tour. They’re taking a class at Viking Cooking School and exploring what Greenwood has to offer. The movie has brought a lot of excitement to our community.”
As icing on the cake, tourists to Greenwood can also stop by the charming indie bookshopTurnRow Book Co. It was a daily hangout for the film’s directors and producers. The bookstore may still have a few signed copies of The Help for you to take home as a special souvenir.
Greenwood Film Locations Featured in The Help
Below is a list of some of the major Greenwood film sites in The Help. Most are private property, so please be respectful if you have a chance to visit them. (The list is from here. You can also view the Greenwood filming locations on a Google Map.)
- Skeeter Phelan’s home: Skeeter’s house was actually filmed in two places. The exterior of her farm house is Whittington Farm, at 7300 County Road 518 (Money Road). The interior of the home was the Franklin Residence, 613 River Road.
- Hilly Holbrook’s house: The Johnson residence at 413 Grand Blvd.
- Elizabeth Leefolt’s home: The Perkins residence at 1101 Poplar St.
- Aibileen Clark’s House: The Tims residence at 203 Taft Ave.
- Minny Jackson’s House / Bus Stop: In Baptist Town at the corner of Stephens Avenue and McCain Street
- Jackson Bus Stop: Little Red Park, East Adams and Poplar streets
- Constantine Jefferson’s Home: 1080 County Road 150, Greenwood.
- Celia Foote’s House: Cotesworth, Old Grenada Road (north of Carrollton in Carroll County)
- Baptist Church: Little Zion M.B. Church, 63530 County Road 518 (Money Road), Greenwood. (Also the alleged burial site of blues legend Robert Johnson).
- Robert E. Lee Hotel - Exterior: Leflore County Courthouse, 306 W. Market St.
- Robert E. Lee Hotel - Interior: Old Greenwood Elks Lodge, 102 W. Washington St., site of the fictional 1963 Jackson Junior League Annual Ball and Benefit.
- Avent & Clark Booksellers: A Pocket Full of Posies, 309 Howard St.
- Junior League of Jackson: Mississippi Garden Club Headquarters, 401 E. Market St.
Greenwood’s Baptist Town
One of the main film locations in Greenwood is Baptist Town. Many scenes in the movie were shot there. Baptist Town is a historic 100-year old African-American community. It was also once home to blues legend Robert Johnson. In the past few years, this neighborhood has been plagued with problems of drug abuse, youth gangs, unemployment, and a general lack of community focus.
“During the filming in Baptist Town, it became apparent to members of the cast and crew that there was a large amount of potential talent and imagination present within the Baptist Town community,” says Chris Columbus, producer of The Help and director of numerous films, includingHarry Potter 1 and 2, Mrs. Doubtfire and Home Alone.
With the interest and support of the cast and crew of The Help, Baptist Town Community Development was created to rebuild the town and to provide an educational, cultural, and recreational community center for its residents. The goal of the community center is to provide opportunities for community members to learn, develop, and enhance their academic and artistic abilities.
Net proceeds from The Help’s screening in Madison, Mississippi, on July 30, 2011, went to Baptist Town Community Development as seed money for the Baptist Town Community Center. About 1,100 people attended the benefit screening resulted in approximately $150,000 in ticket sales.
The Baptist Town Community Center is the first step in The Baptist Town Revitalization Plan, a master plan for improving the community. “We are incredibly grateful to those who recognized the need for such a plan and have put so much time and energy into these development efforts,” states Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams. “While revitalization of communities in need is an ongoing process, the residents of Baptist Town are encouraged and eager to move forward with improvements to their community.”
Filming in Jackson, Mississippi
The story of The Help takes place in 1963 during the Civil Rights struggle in Mississippi. Many scenes are set in downtown Jackson, in the historic Bellhaven neighborhood. Even though the book is a work of fiction, many of the sites mentioned in the book are real. The movie was also filmed in the Fondren District of Jackson, Mississippi.
Below is a photo of a stretch of shops and restaurants in the Fondren District that were transformed to fit the time period of The Help.
Jackson residents welcomed the movie crew with open arms and excitement. Many locals worked as extras in The Help. A few members of the movie’s production team grew up in Jackson and worked hard to have their hometown be one of the movie’s locations.
“We knew if we could convince them to bring the production here that we would make a fabulous film, and it’s just been great,” says Brunson.
Kathryn Stockett, the author of the novel and a native of Jackson, uses the Greater Belhaven neighborhood extensively for the setting of her novel. She says in an email to reporters, “Honestly, my heart would be broken if [the movie] were set anywhere but Mississippi.” Greater Belhaven is one of Mississippi’s most historic neighborhoods. Stockett was born here and spent most of her childhood here. Her mother, Ruth Stockett, is an extra in the movie.
“I’m so glad she brought that story home, because it could have been in any southern state, really,” Ruth Stockett said.
One of the notable film locations of The Help in Jackson was Brent’s Drugs (a soda fountain and retail gift shop) on Duling Avenue. During the filming, the neighborhood where Brent’s Drugs is located was sent back in time to the 1960’s, complete with classic cars and actors dressed in period clothing.
Another Jackson business that had a complete makeover in order to become the ideal setting forThe Help is Butterfly Yoga. Here is a photo of the building before its Hollywood transformation.
With a new exterior, the local yoga haven became a Shell Gas Station featured in The Help.
The Old Pix/Capri Theater
On North State Street next to Butterfly Yoga is the old Pix/Capri Theater. It too had a face lift in the movie. The theater’s exterior was painted and letters were added to the billboard to feature Cleopatra (premiered in 1963) next to the names of Burton and Taylor.
The production also employed many local folks to be extras in the film. Jackie Shelt, a fan of the book, watched from the sidewalk as her daughter was playing an extra in The Help. “It helped me, as someone who moved here 20 years ago, to see what really went on,” Shelt said. “It helped me to see some things that still need to change culturally—but how far we’ve come.”
The Mayflower Cafe
Other film locations in Jackson are: the State Capitol, the Mayflower Cafe, and the Greenwood Cemetery.
Mayflower Cafe owner, Jerry Kountouris, shares that the production company pays him about $5,000 to use his space, but for him the experience is priceless. “You can’t pay enough to get this kind of good advertisement,” he says. “This is just tremendous for the whole city and for us, our business.”
The Fairview Inn
Jackson’s only AAA four-diamond small luxury hotel, The Fairview Inn mansion (mentioned in The Help on page 148) was not only a film location for The Help, but was also where many of the stars stayed during filming, including Emma Stone (Skeeter), Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly), Ahna O’Reilly(Elizabeth Leefolt), Anna Camp (Jolene French), Chris Lowell (Stuart Whitworth), Tate Taylor(director and childhood friend of Stockett).
- Overnight accommodations in a luxurious room or suite
- The Help welcome basket upon arrival, including items related to the novel:
- Fairview Inn playing cards
- How to book on playing bridge
- Old-fashioned bottled coke
- Peanuts (coke and peanuts- it’s a Southern thing..)
- Mississippi cheese straws
- Fairview Inn handmade mug.
Filming in Clarksdale, Mississippi
The Help was also filmed at a few locations in Clarksdale, Mississippi, such as Wong’s Foodland, the old Bank of Clarksdale building, and the former Press Register building at 123 East Second where the Clarksdale Press Register was located for forty years until April 2010. Clarksdale’s economy has been linked to its land. Agriculture, cotton farming, agriculture, and light manufacturing have been the staple businesses for the town. But machines take over many tasks in farming, people Clarksdale residents move elsewhere to better support their families. To help improve the economy of the area, community leaders want to renew attention on the Clarksdale by reviving its tourism. In this regard, The Help has definitely lent a big help in the revitalization of Clarksdale.
The Help Driving Tours
Marika Cackett, spokesperson for the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau shares that her agency now offers two self-guided tours: (1) The Help in Belhaven Neighborhood Driving Tourwhich highlights several Jackson streets mentioned in the book and the childhood home of author Kathryn Stockett; and (2) The Help in Jackson Driving Tour which includes the governor’s mansion, Medgar Evers’ home, and Brent’s Drugs.
These tours hopefully will be very profitable for local hotels, restaurants, and other businesses. “People read the book, see the movie, then Google Jackson, Mississippi,” Cackett says. “It’s cool to say we’ve been in a motion picture, and the residual effects from this could be a very good thing.”
If you’re in Jackson and have a couple of hours to spare, you can have your own personal driving tours of all the Bellhaven’s film locations and Jackson’s film locations.
Filming in Mississippi
Brunson Green fought tirelessly to get The Help, his first major studio picture, shot in his home state of Mississippi. “It was really hard for us to bring the film to Mississippi, but state officials worked to make that happen,” Green says.
Mississippi’s Film Incentives
The state’s film incentive program was a huge factor in persuading the filmmakers. It includes a 20 percent rebate for all expenditures (capped at $8 million), and a local incentive of $40,000 to help cover the costs of costume warehouse and office construction.
Mississippi’s new film incentives have made the state more competitive in the film industry. The rebates to filmmakers have increased from 20 to 25 percent to cover payroll for non-Mississippi cast and crew, and from 25 to 30 percent for in-state cast and crew payroll. In 2010 alone, the Mississippi Film Office welcomed over a dozen productions to film in the state, including films, documentaries, music videos, short films and commercials.
Ward Emling, Director of the Mississippi Film Office, says the film bureau is reviewing feature productions under the $20 million budget range. “Since we’ve improved the film incentive, we’re working on a lot more possibilities than we’ve had in years. Plus, The Help doesn’t hurt,” Emling said. “Now that we have this incentive, and the opportunity that it creates, we have to put a laser-like focus on workforce training and infrastructure.”
“After seeing the success of the film and looking back on that Sunday afternoon in December 2009 when we first met with the production team, it’s very emotional for me to see how successful it’s been,” says Bill Crump. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t have more films made here in Mississippi. With the movie’s release, I think we have an excellent opportunity.”
Crump also shares that The Help gives Mississippi an advantage in the tightly-knit film industry in Hollywood. “It doesn’t hurt that Bryce Dallas Howard (who played Hilly Holbrook in The Help), Ron Howard’s little girl, had a wonderful experience here,” Crump said. “Ron Howard is a prominent director, and through word of mouth, more people will hear about what Mississippi has to offer.”
Many Mississippi residents were involved in the making of The Help. Remember the delicious homemade pies Minny made in the movie? They’re by Mississippi’s very own writer and chef Lee Ann Flemming.
Emma Stone on Filming in Mississippi
The stars from The Help thoroughly enjoyed their time filming in Mississippi, especially Emma Stone (“Skeeter”).
“My favorite part of being in Mississippi is that it informed my character’s journey so much,” Stone says. “I’m from Phoenix. I didn’t understand the secrecy, the listening ears of a small town. I couldn’t truly relate to just how hard it would be to keep what Aibileen, Skeeter and Minny were doing under wraps and just how life-and-death that situation was.”
Mississippi Film Office
For more information on filming in Mississippi, visit the Mississippi Film Office’s website.