The Year in Review
By Patra Taylor
It’s no surprise that South Carolina continued to build its reputation as a hotspot for film and television production throughout 2015. After all, there’s nothing quite like the natural beauty and abundant resources available for filming that exist in this business-friendly state.
Nature settings include magnificent mountain vistas, diverse Atlantic coastlines, subtropical jungles, and pristine waterways. Or choose a rustic rural setting, small-town storefront, historic antebellum building or modern urban environment. All these location options and more are available in South Carolina.
This film-friendly state also has bragging rights to professional, highly skilled crews and support services that serve up huge portions of Southern hospitality at no extra charge.
Here’s a sample of some of the film and television productions that took advantage of South Carolina’s resources during 2015:
The City of North Charleston played host to the cast and crew of “Vice Principals” from May through October. An HBO original television series created by Danny McBride and Jody Hill, “Vice Principals” is a dark comedy about two high school vice principals engaged in an epic power struggle as they vie for the top job of principal. McBride, who stars as one of the vice principals in the series, shares executive producer responsibilities with Hill, David Gordon Green and Stephanie Laing, who all exec produced “Eastbound & Down,” an HBO sports comedy that wrapped in June 2013. Portions of “Eastbound & Down” were filmed in Myrtle Beach located along South Carolina’s coastline. McBride also starred in that show which ran for four seasons.
The South’s own Walton Goggins, known for his starring roles in the back-to-back FX television dramas, “The Shield” and “Justified,” and his unforgettable performance in Quentin Tarantino’s latest release, “The Hateful Eight,” plays the other vice principal of the school. Bill Murray and Will Ferrell reportedly make cameo appearances in the series.
“Danny is amazing in ‘Vice Principals,’” states Executive Producer Stephanie Laing. “He’s one of the creators and an executive producer. He worked with a wonderful group of writers to write several of the episodes. He starred in it and he’s in charge of the edit. I don’t know how he does it all.”
McBride brought along members of a Wilmington, North Carolina-based production crew to the “Vice Principals” project. “I’m happy to say that we also picked up a lot of local crews in Charleston that we would love to take with us on any future projects,” continues Laing. “We were 100 percent impressed with everything, from the South Carolina Film Commission to the vendors and the location. And the City of North Charleston was wonderful. They really went with the flow and were champions for us.”
“Vice Principals” was shot at R. B. Stall High School and at the former Goer Manufacturing facility located near North Charleston City Hall. “Sometimes it can be really hard, but we felt that everyone we worked with locally understood our creative process and got behind supporting us shooting 18 episodes, which is a lot,” says Laing. “It was really an enjoyable experience for all of us.”
Laing points out that in addition to filming here, the cast and crew had to live in the area for several months. “Having Charleston as our second home for a good part of 2015 was great,” she notes. “The area has a lot to offer the cast and crew, and if they’re happy, everyone’s happy. We had a great time. I think it would have been very hard for us to have pulled off ‘Vice Principals’ anywhere else.”
HBO is expected to release Season 1 of “Vice Principals” sometime in 2016. “Who knows what the future holds for ‘Vice Principals,’” concludes Laing. “We had a great experience in the Charleston area and I believe all of us involved with the show would love to go back.”
Danny McBride and Walton Goggins demonstrate the proper way to furl/fold a flag.
In late October, the Charleston area also welcomed the cast and crew of “Leavey,” an upcoming American biographical drama film directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. “Leavey” (working title) is about Marine Corporal Megan Leavey, a K-9 operator, and her dog, Rex, who were involved in an explosion during a tour of duty in Iraq. “Leavey” is their story of grit and determination, and the love between a handler and a military working dog.
Written by Pamela Gray, “Leavey” stars Kate Mara as Megan Leavey. Mara’s many television and movie roles include her unforgettable performance as Zoe Barnes on the critically acclaimed Netflix-exclusive series, “House of Cards;” and as Beth Johanssen in the 2015 movie, “The Martian.” The cast also includes Edie Falco, Tom Felton, Ramon Rodriguez and Common.
According to Steve Yetman, local location manager for the project, the cast and crew spent nine days in the Charleston area before moving the production to Spain. “Much of the story takes place at an operational forward base in the Middle East,” explains Yetman, who provides location services for the television and movie industry in South Carolina. “The producers decided that the deserts of Spain best meet their location needs for a portion of the film.” Tabernas Desert is the only desert in Europe and is the backdrop for many movies including Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, “Cleopatra,” “Empire of the Sun,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and many more.
Although their visit to Charleston was short, the production took full advantage of the skilled local crews and support services available in the state such as wardrobe, local casting, transportation, art department, and catering professionals. “Our crews here in Charleston are used to working 12 to 14 hours a day, with only a little breathing in between,” notes Yetman, who is often called upon to scout locations for the South Carolina Film Commission to help determine if the state is viable for prospective projects. Yetman is one of several of the film industry professionals that work as independent contractors for the film commission in this capacity.
What the Charleston area lacked in providing a desert setting, they made up for by finding a match for the military facility they needed. “Because the production was not able to obtain Department of Defense approval, they couldn’t take advantage of places such as Parris Island or even the Charleston Air Force Base,” explains Yetman. “We had the privilege of filming at The Citadel, which is not an easy task to pull off because the military college is very protective of its image. ‘Leavey’ was actually my second opportunity to bring a film project to The Citadel. They allowed us to film there based on the merit of the show and the storyline; and because I did it the first time without frustrating those on campus. It is my understanding that I will be given a third opportunity if I can bring them the right project.”
“Leavey” shot a graduation ceremony at The Citadel that was portrayed as if it were happening at Parris Island, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot for the Eastern United States. The shoot included almost 500 extras that filled the parade grounds for the scene.
“I think things went very well,” concludes Yetman. “I think the producers were happy with the product they got here because we did whatever it took to make it happen.”
Edie Falco chatting it up with crew.
Kate Mara [blue sweater] with The Jackson Family", whose home was used in the film.
Ten episodes of “Outcast” were shot in South Carolina’s York and Chester counties during 2015, another testament to the state’s geographical versatility. Located along the North Carolina border, these counties are known for their beautiful rural settings, and were reportedly selected because of their resemblance to West Virginia landscapes. Because they are located halfway between Columbia, South Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina, two of the fastest growing cities in the Southeast, the “remote” settings found in these two counties are convenient to big city amenities.
“Outcast” was created by Robert Kirkman, who gained fame in the American horror drama genre as a writer and producer for the acclaimed AMC series, “The Walking Dead.” The drama captured the most 18 to 49-year-old viewers of any cable or broadcast television series during its fourth and fifth seasons. The sixth season premiered in October 2015, with a seventh season slated for release in October 2016.
“Outcast” is the story of a young man named Kyle Barnes who is searching for answers as to why he’s been suffering from supernatural possessions his entire life. The series stars Wrenn Schmidt, Patrick Fugit, Philip Glenister, and David Denman.
Downtown Chester, South Carolina was transformed into Rome, West Virginia, the backdrop for the television series that shot in the area from July through December. By all measures, the production of this Cinemax Original Series was an economic boom for area business. According to unit production manager, Barbara D’Alessandro, more than $2 million was spent on housing, sites, fuel and building supplies. Additionally, the production company, stationed in office space located in Rock Hill, had 40 production company workers, hired a weekly crew of between 150 and 175 and occasionally rose to as many as 450 people. D’Alessandro said the production crew used as much local business and talent as possible during their nearly six months residency in the area. The production company also converted a warehouse in Rock Hill into a temporary sound stage for interior shots.
Patrick Fugit [forefront] and Philip Glenister investigate the unknown
The Gentleman Smugglers
Based on the Wall Street Journal’s best-selling book
“Jackpot” by Jason Ryan
In 2015, movies and television series had to make room for the filming and production of the docudrama, “The Gentlemen Smugglers.” Based on the Wall Street Journal best selling book, “Jackpot: High Times, High Seas and the Sting that Launched the War on Drugs” by Jason Ryan, tells the story of a cadre of freewheeling Southern pot smugglers who unloaded nearly a billion dollars worth of marijuana and hashish throughout the Eastern Seaboard’s marshes during the 1970s and 1980s. Operation Jackpot became one of the largest federal drug investigations ever, and is touted as the opening salvo in President Ronald Reagan’s War of Drugs.
“In 2013, I was introduced to Barry Foy, who is one of the kingpins of Operation Jackpot,” states Warren Ostergard, who is the lead producer for “The Gentlemen Smugglers.” “Then Barry introduced me to Jason Ryan, the author of ‘Jackpot.’ We took some time and built a rapport, then I negotiated the rights to the book for film and TV with International Creative Management, Jason’s agent.”
According to Ostergard, the docudrama came about organically as a result of the time he and his crew spent with real life smugglers, Foy and Les Riley. “A docudrama really wasn’t a conversation piece in the beginning,” admits Ostergard who owns Black Bear Studios, a premiere motion picture and commercial studio located in Charleston. “We were really looking to do a fictionalized narrative feature film and/or a scripted TV series. The docudrama just sort of happened.”
“The Gentlemen Smugglers” features some of the actual characters that made a fortune smuggling marijuana into the country before their operation came crashing down. Ostergard notes that filming a two-hour docudrama only requires about five percent of the crew that would be used to shoot the feature film. “We rolled two cameras and tried to keep it as intimate as possible,” continues Ostergard. “When people are talking about their lives, they need to feel comfortable sharing their secrets.”
Portions of the docudrama were filmed at Black Bear Studios’ state-of-the-art facilities, and at Fripp Island, a barrier island located on South Carolina’s Atlantic coast. Fripp Island is best known for its resort amenities and natural conservation. “Fripp is such a beautiful place to film,” says Ostergard. “It’s so remote and pristine. We really enjoyed the four days we spent there.”
“The Gentlemen Smugglers” is being produced in association with Producer Capital Fund, a debt financing company that is owned by Ostergard and other partners.
Ostergard expects production of “The Gentle-men Smugglers” to wrap by the summer of 2016. He plans to debut the docudrama in early 2017.
Rasta Mon know the way in.
I can assure you officer, this is strictly for personal consumption.
The old ‘risk and reward’ of free-spirit enterprise.