From GPP’s Craig Miller
By Lesley Conn
Get ready to witness some real drama in downtown Savannah.
Following in the footsteps of movies such as “Forrest Gump” and “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” the production company shooting an ABC television pilot has decided the best way to get the Savannah feel for its show is to film here.
Beginning today, an 80-person film crew is expected to begin shooting scenes for the pilot, called “Solving Charlie,” said Jay Self, the city’s director of Tourism and Film Services.
Today’s shooting will happen mostly around Columbia and Oglethorpe squares, both along York Street.
On Monday, the crew is scheduled to film an elaborate street chase in and around Factors’ Walk.
Tuesday and Wednesday, crews will be in the Thomas Square area.
“We’re the murder scene, I understand,” said Virginia Mobley, president of the Thomas Square Neighborhood Association.
There’s no guarantee the pilot will be picked up by ABC or that the initial episode will even make it on air, Self said.
Two other ABC pilots were shot here in 2006 and 2007 but didn’t progress beyond that.
Sometimes, after a pilot is viewed for a test audience, it doesn’t make the cut, Self said.
The biggest name connected to the show isn’t one of the actors. It’s director Gregory Hoblit, a nine-time Emmy winner who has directed and produced episodes of “NYPD Blue,” “Hill Street Blues” and “L.A. Law.”
In 1991, he won an Emmy for directing the pilot episode of “Cop Rock,” according to the Internet Movie Database Web site.
Hoblit’s successful career is keeping Self hopeful.
“With this director and with this company, we’re assured of a quality product,” he said.
The best scenario, he said, would be that the show would become a successful series. Even if they shot only partially in Savannah, the exposure is invaluable, he said.
“An hour’s worth of the word ‘Savannah’ on network television is certainly more than we can afford to pay for,” he said.
He’s also hopeful, though, that a long-running series could help establish Savannah as a production city. That could help replenish the technical support staff that located in Savannah after films such as “Gump,” “Bagger Vance” and “Forces of Nature” were filmed here in the 1990s.
“This is one thing that could be a real bright spot in our economic future,” he said.
Christine Emerick is excited, too – as long as filming at Factors’ Walk doesn’t block the entrance to Cobblestone Cafe, which she and her husband, Jerry, own. She doesn’t expect any problems, especially after Self met Friday with her husband to go over details.
“I think it could be a good thing for Savannah,” she said. “It’s a beautiful city, and it’s rich in history.”
Even a few days’ shooting will help the city financially. An industry formula estimates that a TV production crew spends a minimum of $165,000 a day, Self said.
To prepare residents for the tractor-trailers, production equipment and street closures, Self’s office has sent about 300 letters to residents and businesses near the scheduled shooting.
Mobley and her neighbors are getting used to the routine. Scenes from “Bagger Vance” were shot in their neighborhood in 1999, and several commercials have been filmed recently.
They are prepared to have to park their cars a few streets over and have alerted agents for the show that if they are shooting Wednesday, they’ll need to make additional plans with the city. Wednesday is trash pickup day on their street.
“We’re pretty good sports about it,” she said. “There’s a lot of logistics, but they’re not difficult to overcome.”
Nor will it be too hard to keep their excitement in check. After all, even “Bagger Vance’s” famous director couldn’t keep the thrill alive for Mobley and other curious neighbors.
“We weren’t even impressed by Robert Redford by the time it was half over,” she said.
Limited traffic delays
Filming for an ABC pilot should not cause extended traffic problems, said Jay Self, the city’s director of Tourism and Film Services.
Only two short sections of streets are scheduled to be closed for filming: East President Street near Oglethorpe and Columbia squares today, and a portion of 38th Street between Abercorn and Habersham later in the week.
Any other streets will be closed only for three minutes at a time, and Savannah-Chatham police will be on hand to help with traffic flow.