More on 'Hemlock Grove,' the TV series

Wednesday, 28 March 2012 10:55 AM Written by 

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Today PG media writer Maria Sciullo has an interview with author Brian McGreevy about his new novel, "Hemlock Grove," which I reported will be turned into a Netflix TV series that will film in Pittsburgh from June-Novemeber.

Andy House, head of production for "Hemlock Grove" producer Gaumont International Television, praised the Pittsburgh Film Office for bringing the production to Western Pennsylvania.

"I have to give huge credit to Dawn Keezer and her staff with the Pittsburgh Film Office," he said. "When I first called to find out about the incentives, she was very quick to respond and very helpful. I've always found big state and federal applications to be daunting to say the least and Dawn explained the process and held our hand to guide us through. I can't say enough about Dawn Keezer just in all aspects of being our partner in setting this thing up."

Read more about this project after the jump. ...

Steven Kratz, press secretary for the Pennsylvania department of community and economic development, said the current film tax credit of $60 million for the fiscal year ending June 30th has been endorsed by Gov. Corbett for retntaion at the same rate for 2012-13. The state legislature is still evaluating budget proposals for 2012-13.

"It's safe to say without tools like the film tax credit, it woud have been difficult to have a project like this," Kratz said. "The biggest economic impact as far as film and television productions go comes from television series because of the potentinal length of time of a long-running show that goes for many years."

The "Hemlock Grove" writers' room is currently in Los Angeles and producers hope to have most of the first-season scripts done before production begins. House said he expects McGreevy and writing partner Lee Shipman will relocate to Pittsburgh when production begins in early June. Two other writer/producers, Mark Verheiden ("Battlestar Galactica," "Falling Skies") and Dan Paige ("Once and Again"), will remain in Los Angeles with trips to Pittsburgh during production. All four are considered showrunners on the series but Verheiden and Paige obviously have more experience since this is the first TV series for McGreevy and Shipman.

"'Showrunners are responsible for getting a number of things to a studio or network: Delivery of quality scripts on time, delivery of quality episodes and the show runners deal an awful lot with getting scripts out and overall supervision, the tone and look of the show," House said. Executive producer Eli Roth will direct three episodes in the first season -- the premiere and the last two -- and director-producer Deran Sarafian ("House") will likely direct four episodes.

To achieve economies of scale with fewer location moves, "Hemlock Grove" will use block shooting after the 10-day shoot for the premiere episode, meaning one director will helm two episodes that shoot simultaneously for 16 days. House said "Rescue Me" used a similar approach.

"That way you can take some advantage of combining the same locations [used in two episodes]," House said. So if there are scenes at a park in episode two and episode three, you shoot those two scenes at the same time. "Because this is not really episodic, it's very serialized, so shooting two episodes is like shooting a two-hour movie."

Some episodes will have extensive post-production visual effects and some will not, House said. He imagines 6-8 weeks for post-productions on episodes. Some of that may happen in Pittsburgh.

"As much as possible, it's our goal to take advantage of the tax incentive and so we're going to try to do as much of the work on the show as we can in Pittsburgh," House said. "Over the years I have watched crews being built in Vancouver and Toronto so that they now have the third and fourth biggest crew base in North America. And I'm looking forward to seeing something like that happen in Pittsburgh. We're seeing crew bases being built in Louisiana and Georgia. I worked on a show called 'Dawson's Creek,' which shot in Wilmington, N.C. It shot there for six or seven years and The WB followed on its heels with 'One Tree Hill' and that went for six or seven years. The thing about TV series is they come back. We have multiple-year options on our facility because it's our intention to come back for multiple years."

The entire, completed first season of "Hemlock Grove" is due to be delivered to Netflix in late January 2013.

"Everyone is looking at this as a hybrid medium," McGreevy said, "somewhere between TV and a 13-hour independent movie."

McGreevy is pleased that Netflix ordered a series right of the gate, bypassing the usual network pilot process where a first episode is ordered and then a decision is made about whether or not to continue with subsequent epsiodes. He's also glad to be working unencumbered of censors (something he discussed at length in a GQ interview) and to have the architecture of the whole first season mapped out in advance.

"I'm coming from the perspective of a novelist and the feature side of things," McGreevy said. "I don't know how you can effectively execute your beginning if you don't know what the ending is. There are obviously people who are excellent at doing it. I'm just not one of those people."

McGreevy said his mother, the Rev. Rebecca Hickok at Waverly Presbyterian (at the intersection of Squirrel Hill and Wilkinsburg at Forbes and Braddock), sent him an ad "Dark Knight Rises" director Christopher Nolan took out in the Post-Gazette last year thanking Pittsburgh during production of his third Batman movie. That gesture made McGreevy more determined that "Hemlock Grove" would be filmed in his hometown. He said to film in Vancouver would not convey the notion of place as a character.

"I'm talking about visual composition. The way the towns in Pittsburgh are layered isn't really replicable in another city," he said. "The closest I can imagine is San Francisco but obviously visually it's very different. One sequence we have we're looking for a cemetery on a hill where the composition is out of balance. In Pittsburgh it's not a question of finding that, it's a question of which one do you use."

"Hemlock Grove" is set in "ambiguous Southwestern Pennsylvania," but McGreevy said the book features prominent locations he'd like to use in the TV series.

"The question is, can we get the permission we need," he said. "But it will obviously be a Pittsburgh show."

McGreevy grew up near Charleroi and attended Charleroi Area High School but never graduated due to "creative differences with high school," but continued at CCAC and later graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2003. McGreevy credits Post-Gazette staff writer John Hayes, who handled the paper's M'n'M (Movies and Music) web page, with piquing his interest in writing as a career. Hayes dug up details on McGreevy's participation in the M'n'M page, which is no longer available online:

In April 2001, while he was a 17-year-old sophomore at CCAC, Brian McGreevy served on the Post-Gazette's six-member Movies 'n' Music panel. On his M'n'M questionnaire, he wrote: 
Job or role in which I see myself in 10 years: Excommunicated priest. 
Five things I'll never be: 1) A Pharisee, 2) Beatified, 3) Royalty, 4) A patsy, 5) The last son of Krypton.
Five things I'll always be: 1) Self-deluded, 2) a Batman devotee, 3) An unwavering beam of light, 4) Underwhelming, 5) Humanistic
If I had a million dollars I'd: Spend it on the biggest, shiniest, loudest thing I could find.
In his review of Linkin Park's "Hybrid Theory" CD he wrote: "As far as rap/rock acts go, LinkinPark is far less offensive to the ears than Fred Durst and most of his ilk. Last fall's 'Hybrid Theory' is an uneven work with all the cliches to be expected of the genre, namely a lot of cacophonous noise for its own sake and scream-singing to a hip-hop background."

"That had a major impact on my life," McGreevy said of working on the M'n'M page with John Hayes. "He's the one who told me about the idea of pursuing a writing degree."

Now McGreevy is in the unusual position of overseeing a TV series based on his book.

"It's going to be very interesting because it's really the first time this has been done where the novelist is involved so closely creatively with the production," McGreevy said, noting after his interview he would be looking at a camera test. Soon he may even be auditioning his mother.

"I keep on telling my mom she will know as soon as I do what our requirements are as far as extras go," he said, noting it's a little early yet for extras casting. "She is very adament that her Malamute make an appearance."

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