This year Pittsburgh will achieve the Holy Grail of local film production: a TV series.
The Netflix drama "Hemlock Grove" will begin production in Western Pennsylvania in early June -- and a native author insisted on having the program filmed at home.
"Hemlock Grove" is based on a novel by 28-year-old Brian McGreevy, who grew up near Charleroi. The novel and the TV series are set in a town on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. Mr. McGreevy serves as an executive producer on "Hemlock Grove" and scripted the first episode with writing partner Lee Shipman.
"In our first meeting with the studio, Gaumont, they presented us with options for Vancouver and Pittsburgh, and I made a very long argument for why it had to be Pittsburgh," Mr. McGreevy said. "And it turned out I was completely wasting my breath. They said, 'Cool, it's Pittsburgh. Moving on.' "
Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said landing "Hemlock Grove" is a win for the region.
"It illustrates everything we've been working toward since the beginning of the film tax credit program," she said. "We've always wanted a series. Series mean long-term employment opportunities, and the icing on the cake for this one is it's written by a local Pittsburgher. He gets his first deal and brings it home. We're extremely grateful to Gaumont and Brian McGreevy."
The novel and TV series tell the story of a murder in a Western Pennsylvania steel town, Hemlock Grove, where the Godfrey family has held sway for generations. The Godfreys ran the local steel mill and own a biotech facility. Bill Skarsgard (the 22-year-old brother of "True Blood" star Alexander Skarsgard) stars as Godfrey scion Roman, and Famke Janssen ("Nip/Tuck") plays his mother. Roman and new-to-town Peter, who tells a high school friend he's a werewolf, team up to investigate the murder.
Andy House, head of production for Gaumont International Television, said the state's film tax credit made Pennsylvania attractive to producers. Now his goal is to bring on a predominantly local crew for the production, which will shoot until Thanksgiving.
"I want to hire everybody locally we can," Mr. House said, "otherwise you're flying people in and housing them."
Mr. House declined to reveal the show's budget, but "Hemlock Grove" will be produced in a fashion that's on par with premium cable drama series that cost more than $3 million per episode. Pre-production work is under way in Los Angeles, where Mr. McGreevy now lives. A production office is expected to open in late April in Monroeville, where the show will occupy a building previously used as a soundstage for "I Am Number Four" and "The Next Three Days." (It's too early for local casting or extras casting, but that will come in time.)
In success, "Hemlock Grove" will not be a one-and-done production like movies that come to town. Mr. House said the production has multi-year options on the space it will rent so the production can store the sets and be ready to go for subsequent seasons. Mr. McGreevy said he has "nebulous plans" for more books and more seasons of the TV series. ("Writing books is pretty hard and producing a TV show is pretty hard," Mr. McGreevy said, "and I'm a fan of putting one foot in front of the other.")
"The nice thing about a series is it allows people to be trained," Ms. Keezer said. "It allows a place to build the industry, to build the workforce, because it is there for a longer period of time."
Pittsburgh's recent TV series productions include the Fox pilot "Locke & Key" last year (Fox opted not to order a series) and the 2007 Spike TV series "The Kill Point," which filmed one season in Pittsburgh but was not renewed. "Kill Point" had a budget of approximately $23 million while the budget for "Hemlock" will likely be in the $40 million range, making it Pittsburgh's most ambitious TV production to date.
Gaumont International Television is the newly opened Los Angeles division of Paris-based Gaumont Film Company. "Hemlock Grove" and the NBC series "Hannibal," based on the Hannibal Lecter character from the Thomas Harris novels (including "Silence of the Lambs"), are the company's inaugural projects.
Netflix has three other series on order, including a fourth season of the comedy "Arrested Development." "Hemlock Grove" will be available to Netflix streaming customers in 2013.
"We've all been wondering when exactly the Internet was going to consume television. I think we're seeing the first bites," said Mr. House, a veteran television production executive who spent 18 years at Sony overseeing such varied series as "Dawson's Creek," the first season of "Breaking Bad" and the pilot of set-in-Pittsburgh drama "The Guardian."
Mr. House said "Hemlock Grove" executive producer Eli Roth ("Hostel") will direct the premiere and the last two episodes of the show's first season, which covers the plot of Mr. McGreevy's novel. Each episode will run about 50 minutes, the length of many premium cable dramas (broadcast network shows are usually 42 minutes without commercials).
"Growing up, especially in the Mon Valley, I didn't have a lot of direct references or models of how you pursue this kind of thing," Mr. McGreevy said of his career path. "But I read a lot of [novels by] Michael Chabon, and so that certainly meant a lot to me. ... It would be great if there are kids in the area who see this show and know you actually can make it happen. And if you're really lucky, you get to bring it back home."