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From Reel to Real

Fan tours bring “The Hunger Games” movies to life.

Your country has a morbid tradition. Every year, it selects young people from each of its regions to battle in a fight to the death. Twenty-three entrants perish. A lone victor survives.

This year, your government has drafted you.

If this scenario from “The Hunger Games” makes you eager to channel your inner Katniss Everdeen or Peeta Mellark, your chances await in the wilderness of Transylvania County, North Carolina, or the urban jungle of Atlanta, Georgia.

In these locations, which served, respectively, as sets for the first two movie adaptations of “The Hunger Games” book series, fans can re-enact the games and their fanfare—this time for points instead of body counts. 

“Just like the real games, we start with a reaping, where everyone fills out ID cards and gives thumbprints,” says Leigh Trapp, co-creator and director of Hunger Games Unofficial Fan Tours. Trapp and her staff offer daylong and full weekend immersions in all things Panem. 

From the reapings to the ends of the tours, the fans’ experiences are authentic. Those traveling to North Carolina can relive the first movie of the series, “The Hunger Games,” by visiting the fictional District 12, hiking through the set of the Arena, camouflaging themselves like Peeta, learning archery a la Katniss, zip-lining through the trees to commemorate Rue, firing slingshots and eating the food the tributes ate. Local actors portray Katniss and other key roles, re-enacting movie scenes and interacting in character with the fans.

There are two separate North Carolina day tours. One covers DuPont State Forest and focuses on the Arena and the other focuses on life in District 12, which takes fans through Henry River Mill Village where the District 12 scenes were shot.

On the weekend-long version, participants also learn to build shelters in the woods and start fires using flint.

“That turned out to be way more difficult than it looks, but we had a great time trying in the pouring rain,” Teresa Fields, a fan who has gone on both weekend adventures, says in an email.

The Atlanta excursion, which commemorates the sequel, “Catching Fire,” focuses more on life in the Capitol, says Fields. A makeup artist preps participants’ faces for a lavish dinner like the one in the film and fans wear elaborate costumes as they explore Swan House, a mansion and Atlanta landmark that doubles as President Snow’s headquarters in the movie. Fans see the platform from which Donald Sutherland speaks as President Snow and witness a peacemaker doing his job. They also do some other “great VIP things,” Trapp says, though she prefers to keep those secret.

In addition to their indulgence in what Trapp calls “ridiculous fandom fun,” the tours make for nice vacations.

“This was the first time we had ever been to North Carolina and Georgia and the locations of the tours really showcased the beauty of both states,” Angie Webb, a fan who did both weekend adventures, writes via email. 

Being with like-minded people who love “The Hunger Games” books and movies resulted in new friendships as well.

“My husband and I still talk to people from the North Carolina tour we took two years ago,” Webb says.

Both Webb and Fields say they’ll sign up for the tour of the sets of “Mockingjay,” the conclusion of the series, which the movie studio has split into two separate films. The first installment will open in U.S. theaters this November. Trapp is busy designing the tour now and plans to have it ready by spring or summer of 2015. It will take place partly in Atlanta, but the specifics remain unknown as the first movie was also shot in Massachusetts and Part 2 goes to Berlin and Paris. 

No matter where Trapp takes the tour, it’s bound to satisfy fans, considering the success of the first two. More than 5,000 people from all over the world have done the tours since they began in 2012, she says. Trapp knows what she’s doing when it comes to fulfilling fans’ dreams. She has designed and led “Harry Potter”-themed tours in London—complete with fans walking the city wearing capes and holding wands—and she recreated the world of “Twilight” for vampire fanatics traveling to Seattle. 

According to Webb, Trapp’s “Hunger Games” tours offer everything a fan could want. 

Well, maybe one thing is missing.

“Of course, being able to see the cast,” Webb writes. “Oh wait, that is asking too much! We would not have added anything. It really exceeded our expectations.”

Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York City-based freelance writer.