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Murrells Inlet: Reality show raises concerns about community’s image

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Reality TV is coming to Murrells Inlet.

Employees of a show with the proposed title “Party Down South” were unloading equipment from a rental truck Wednesday at Kings Krest, a house next door to Oliver’s Lodge on the marsh, in preparation for a month-long tape session of young adults living together.

A production chief calling herself Sara said she couldn’t make any comment about the show and told a reporter that only employees were allowed on the Kings Krest property Wednesday morning. “Sorry,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.

The secrecy about the show has only fueled speculation that it will be a boorish display of drunken behavior similar to “Jersey Shore,” “Big Brother” and other shows featuring 20-somethings gone wild. A working title for the show has been “The Dirty South.” There are dozens of references to the production by that name.

Fears are that the show’s characters will be bad for the inlet’s image as they goof around on the Marsh Walk and in the water and the show itself will portray the inlet in a negative light. The participants are being recruited from states across the South with the promise of being depicted as “country strong” in order to show America how to really party.

Those doing business with the producers have signed nondisclosure agreements. Richard Weston, whose family owns Kings Krest, couldn’t comment about the deal for the house that sleeps 11 and usually rents for $2,500 a week. Amy Valhos, owner of Applewood House of Pancakes in Litchfield, said a producer asked if she would agree to allow a crew to film the reality stars eating breakfast in her restaurant. There will be about 100 reality cast members and crew in all, and some shows go on for years, she was told.

Georgetown County issued a permit to the production company to move three trailers onto the site for food service, office space and storage. It’s a temporary use, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

The production company has also leased Lawshe Plantation near Andrews and told county officials they may end up filming there more than at Murrells Inlet, Johnson said.

The filming is scheduled to start Saturday and take 28 days.

“From what they were saying the last day or two, this thing is still evolving,” Johnson said.

The county first became aware of the project about a month ago when someone phoned to get a copy of the county’s ordinance about filming. There isn’t one.

“I was thinking movie,” Johnson said. His initial concern was about closing streets or the Marsh Walk for filming. “We said you can’t close anything.”

In several meetings with the production company “we talked a whole lot about noise,” Johnson said. “There’s still a bunch of unhappy people. I suspect we’ll be writing some sort of ordinance.”

Although the location is residential, the filming isn’t considered a commercial use. “What’s the difference between seven people living in it and being filmed and just seven people who may not be related renting it?” Johnson asked. “It seems like a lot of people are more concerned that it’s a reality show that might be distasteful.”

Although he admits to watching “Duck Dynasty,” Johnson said he hasn’t seen “Jersey Shore,” which is frequently cited as a model for tourism communities to avoid.

But any ordinance the county creates for future films isn’t going to touch on content. “You can’t tell them they can’t come and do a reality show, but let Rudy Mancke come and do a film on oysters,” Johnson said.

An ordinance isn’t likely to limit filming to commercial areas, either. Johnson pointed out that “The Patriot,” featuring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger, was filmed at Mansfield Plantation outside Georgetown, a residential area.

The casting call that went out to potential applicants for “Party Down South” hinted at the show’s content. This ungrammatical excerpt appeared on realitywanted.com:

“Country Music, Friends, Kegs, BBQ cook-outs, and daisy dukes can only mean one thing ... It’s summertime ya’ll! It’s time to put the cammo away, pile in the truck, and head to the beaches and lakes for summer fun, Southern style. Scorching beach bods, rope swings, blazing bon fires and filled-up red solo cups ... there ain’t no way your gonna beat this summer.”

There’s plenty of skepticism about the show’s content. The production company that made “Jersey Shore”, 495 Productions, has the contract with CMT for eight episodes.

Leon Rice, whose family owns Marshmere, the house next door, said he’s not going to trash the show’s characters and producers, but he’s concerned about his guests and family when they go to the inlet. “It could be disruptive,” he said, “and we don’t know what’s going to happen at night.”

Rice said the county was complicit in keeping the filming confidential until it was too late for inlet residents to stop it.

“They knew there would be an uproar,” he said.

The filming is a commercial enterprise, he said, and residential neighborhoods have zoning as protection.

“The county has put their heads in the sand,” he said. “This should serve as a lesson to never let it happen again in an area of single-family zoning.”

Sue Sledz, executive director of Murrells Inlet 2020 said the show’s content will likely be contrary to the image the inlet has been promoting. “A key concern is the potential impact that would change the perception of Murrells Inlet,” she said. “Murrells Inlet 2020 gives very careful consideration to how we brand the inlet. Our organization will continue to work hard to make the inlet a nice place to live, work and visit.

County Council Member Jerry Oakley said government can’t control a film crew and shouldn’t try. “It’s a protected activity,” he said. “They can film whatever they want.”

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