KITTANNING -- Just outside of town on Route 422, down the road from USA Flooring ("Spring has sprung, get your floors re-done"), production continued Thursday night on what may be FX's next new drama series.
The basic cable network -- home to critical and audience favorites "The Shield," "Damages" and "Sons of Anarchy" -- spent 12 days in Western Pennsylvania filming a pilot episode based on Elmore Leonard's short story "Fire in the Hole." Today production gears up in Miami for a one-day shoot for scenes that begin the story.
Produced by Sony and written by Graham Yost ("Boomtown," "Band of Brothers"), the proposed series stars Timothy Olyphant ("Live Free or Die Hard") as Raylan Givens, a character who's also appeared in the Leonard novels "Pronto" and "Riding the Rap." Leonard serves as an executive producer on this pilot.
After an incident in Miami, Givens, a U.S. marshal, gets transferred to Harlan County, Ky., where he grew up. In the pilot, Givens and his team, including characters invented by Yost and not featured in Leonard's story, face off against a white supremacist played by guest star Walton Goggins (Shane from "The Shield").
Thursday night behind Sharp Shooters Bar & Restaurant in an apartment complex dressed up in neon to become "38 Motel," director Michael Dinner called for action. On cue, actors Nick Searcy ("Rodney"), Jacob Pitts ("21"), Erica Tazel ("Jericho") and Olyphant emerged from a motel room in a prelude to a confrontation.
The four law officers strode toward their vehicles, but as Olyphant approached a black Lincoln Town Car, a member of the camera crew got caught in the small space between the car and the camera track. Olyphant, surprised to see someone crouching in his path, started laughing. It was one for the blooper reel. The actors returned to the motel room, and after a few more takes the crew was "moving on," preparing for a shootout and a long night of work that was expected to stretch until 5 a.m.
This proposed series is currently untitled ("Fire in the Hole" is a working title that's not likely to be used) and unlike many recent film and TV productions that allowed Pittsburgh to play itself, in this pilot, southwestern Pennsylvania stands in for Kentucky.
"We wanted something that could look like the South, and we looked around, and Pittsburgh has a really good infrastructure for film and television," said Eric Schrier, FX senior vice president of series development. "And the tax rebate was a major reason in picking this over Kentucky, which doesn't have a tax rebate."
(Pennsylvania's film tax credit gives production companies a 25 percent tax credit if they spend at least 60 percent of a production's budget in Pennsylvania.)
Location manager Shawn Boyachek, who moved to Pittsburgh a year ago after commuting from North Carolina to work on several projects here, said the FX pilot has shot mostly outside of Pittsburgh. Scenes were filmed at the courthouse in Washington, a farmhouse in Fayette County, the Tour-Ed mine near Tarentum and the Layton Bridge in Perryopolis. The interior of Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Convention Center played the role of an airport.
"I think it helps broaden the perspective of what Pittsburgh is about," Boyachek said of the far-flung locations. "There's more to Pittsburgh than the bridges and mills and sports teams. There's beautiful country, rolling hills, pasture land and small towns just an hour away from Pittsburgh."
Those locations contributed to building the world of Raylan Givens.
"What seems remarkable to us is the absence of this kind of material on television," said executive producer Sarah Timberman ("Kidnapped"). "When [executive producer] Carl [Beverly] found the short story, we sensed a real opportunity in the wake of 'No Country for Old Men.' In television so many of the things you see are set in a law firm, a courthouse, an advertising agency. Having the opportunity to come back here and show parts of the country you don't necessarily always see on television has been very exciting."
Still, if the project gets picked up to series -- something FX is likely to decide by late summer, Schrier said -- subsequent episodes will film in Los Angeles.
"There are a variety of practical considerations in terms of people who are key to the show needing to be closer to Los Angeles," Timberman said, adding that producers may plan trips back to Pittsburgh or to Kentucky to film some scenes.
The project marks star Olyphant's first trip to Pittsburgh but another collaboration with FX. He starred in the second season of "Damages" and said he may return for some episodes in season three.
This adaptation of "Fire in the Hole" also gives the actor another encounter with a master wordsmith after his role in "Deadwood," written by David Milch ("NYPD Blue").
"Elmore Leonard has more of a delicate dance to his work," said Olyphant, who recently wrapped a remake of the 1973 George Romero film "The Crazies," due in theaters next year. "The dialogue kind of has a pitter-pat to it that's real fun."
The cast and crew stayed in a Downtown hotel, and Olyphant said he was disappointed to discover "the city kind of shuts down at night" but otherwise found Pittsburgh to be "lovely." He was impressed to see so many people wearing Penguins jerseys on the day of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final, even an hour outside Pittsburgh. And he appreciates a certain symmetry.
"Not many cities have team colors that they've committed to across the board, which I'm very fond of," Olyphant said of the black and gold color scheme. " 'This is what we're going with: The football team, the hockey team, the baseball team, the cops, the bridges. We're going with this color.' "
Contact TV editor Rob Owen at email@example.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv.