Bill Brown chugged Diet Mountain Dew and blasted the air conditioning as he started out from Belleair Bluffs toward Atlanta at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday. His white Honda Pilot SUV was brimming with 500 to 600 hand-stenciled William Dean chocolates, 300 macarons, 150 florentine cookies, nougat, fruit jellies and bar chocolates, all nestled among gel ice packs.
His destination: the film set of Catching Fire, sequel to The Hunger Games, based on the popular book series.
William Dean's unique chocolates, seven of them, had a quick cameo in the first film, something founder Brown discovered in a darkened movie theater in Largo on the film's opening weekend earlier this year. That surprise led Brown to contact the movie's food stylist, Jack White, who has worked on more than 75 Hollywood films.
The duo kept in touch, with White extending an invitation to Brown to provide chocolates for the second film. He asked Brown to bring them to the stylist's refrigerated truck, from which they were taken to one of more than 20 sites around Atlanta where the movie is being filmed.
"Food is such a big part of the second book. There's a big scene where there's a feast, with table after table of food. I got to walk through the tables where the feast will be filmed, but it was just empty tables. The whole point of the scene is to be gluttonous. It's all about the decadence and opulence."
In the story, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) attend a banquet at the mansion of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), taking tinier and tinier bites in order to try all the sumptuous foods — only to be handed goblets of an emetic. All nods to ancient Roman vomitoria aside, Brown has high hopes for the feast scene, which he says began filming Wednesday night.
"I think it's going to be one of the more beautiful food scenes in a movie because of its scale. It will look like the Pilgrims' feast times a thousand."
While Brown has no assurance that his candies won't end up on the cutting room floor, he's at least confident that the stars — including such big names as Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci and Liam Hemsworth — will sample his wares.
"Jack White said to make sure the chocolates and cookies were edible because the stars want to eat them."
This week, Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman's character) may be nibbling florentines stenciled with a Hunger Games logo, but the fate of William Dean chocolates won't be known until the film's release in November 2013.
Brown says it took five to six employees about two days to make the products he drove to Atlanta, the whole carload ringing in at about $2,000 retail. Still, he didn't present a bill to the producers of Catching Fire.
"We had seven chocolates in the first movie and have the potential for more than 1,000 in the second. . . . For a small company like us to get something like this — that is huge."
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293.