The production was divided into shoots in the Nashville and Los Angeles areas. Near Nashville, they created the fictional Crowley Corners, an idyllic small American town. In Los Angeles, they wanted to show off the California dream—the beaches of Malibu and Santa Monica, the glitz of Beverly Hills, a stadium concert at the Forum.
“We wanted to have some beautiful photography in this movie and really let the locations set the action up,” says Chelsom. “In the first act, it rushes, rushes, rushes, there’s no chance to stop and breathe because that’s the nature of Miley’s life as Hannah and Miley Stewart in L.A. It is frenetic, crazy. Then you get to Tennessee and the pulse completely changes, the style of photography changes and you have this expanse. You can see the horizon, the sky and the landscape. It all opens up.”
For the cast members, taking the characters out of the studio and on to location made all the difference in terms of getting into their roles and understanding the story.
“This movie takes ‘Hannah Montana’ to another level, a different scale,” says Jason Earles, who co-stars as Miley’s brother in the film and the TV show. “Obviously us being out in the real world in beautiful locations with thousands of extras is not something that you can accomplish on a sound stage when you’re shooting a sitcom. The film is grand in scope, but it all comes back to this real place: family and friendships and relationships we’ve created and stayed true to.”
Numerous locations in and around Nashville were used in the film, including the Hermitage Hotel, Maury Airport, Franklin High School, Vanderbilt University, Rutledge Falls, Smiley Hollow, Leiper’s Fork and the Belks Department Store in Cool Springs.
One of the main locations, Grandma Ruby’s farm, was on a 200-acre ranch south of Nashville, just a few miles from the Cyrus family farm. When filmmakers first scouted the location that became Ruby’s farm, the main house was empty and in disrepair, needing both construction and decor. Production designer Caroline Hanania transformed the nearly 100-year-old house into a warm, inviting home in the beautiful Tennessee countryside. Margo Martindale, who plays Ruby, said the details inspired and informed her performance.
“When I first saw this house it was empty and Caroline had just put up some vintage wallpaper,” says Martindale. “When I arrive days later to film, stepping into Ruby’s house was like stepping into my grandmother’s house. Beautifully done, every little detail, even the cabinets the camera never sees. There’s a sewing room all set up, a room where I pot plants. All I had to do was walk around this house and I knew everything about my character.”
Cast and crew also shot in the nearby town of Columbia, Tennessee, where the Stewart’s fictional hometown of Crowley Corners was re-created on the city’s historic town square. With Columbia’s courthouse serving as Crowley Corners’ town hall, one of the film’s most elaborate slapstick sequences takes place as Miley dashes between her dinner with the mayor, dressed as Hannah Montana, and a date she has with Lucas, dressed as Miley, in a romantic Italian restaurant down the street.
Columbia’s town square also serves as a backdrop to the sequence where Miley and her grandmother travel to town to sell Ruby’s watermelons, squashes and jams at the farmer’s market. When Miley spots Oswald, the British reporter she last saw in Los Angeles, and realizes he’s followed her to Crowley Corners, she decides to sabotage him. The extensive stunt-and-effects sequence that follows involves some devilish hot sauce, a 3-D architectural model, 700 pounds of cascading walnuts and an Irish jig.
Another key location in Tennessee was Smiley Hollow, a rustic corporate retreat and working farm located north of downtown Nashville. Nestled in the rolling hills of Goodlettsville, Smiley Hollow provided the perfect location to create the film’s exterior concert sequences as well as the supper club musical performances and dance numbers. Production designer Hanania and her crew worked for weeks to transform the retreat’s two key locations for the film. This included the retreat’s wooden meeting hall to serve as the Meadows Hall supper club where Robby Ray, Miley and Taylor Swift perform during an open mic fundraiser to save Crowley Meadows from a developer (Barry Bostwick).
Outside the Meadows Hall location was the tree-lined expanse of fields where Hanania and her team created the Crowley Meadows farm and site of the “Save the Meadows” fundraiser. Her team constructed a barn, waterwheel, concert stage, carnival booths and rides. More than 2,000 extras filled the Smiley Hollow location, where both Hannah Montana and Miley Stewart perform several of the film’s musical numbers, including “Rock Star,” “The Climb” and “You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home.”
The farthest location in Tennessee was Rutledge Falls. After a two-hour drive, cast and crew then hiked to the remote waterfalls where Miley and Travis go for a picnic and swim. “There were a lot of unhappy faces on the crew when they realized how far they had to climb down the rocks with the equipment to get to the bottom where we were filming,” says Chelsom. “But when you look at the scene, I think they’d agree it was so worth it. It’s spectacularly gorgeous.”