Harlan’s city departments are preparing for the production of a major motion picture now underway in the community.
During Monday’s regular council meeting, Mayor Danny Howard and Police Chief Mike Thomas discussed plans including the need to close streets temporarily and provide extra security for the crew.
City officials will continue conversations with the film crew regarding other services the city could provide to help the production company over the next few months, the mayor said.
“This has already brought some economic benefit to our town,” Howard reported. “I believe it’s important that we help them, encourage them in any way possible while they are here, and then stay out of their way.”
With a working title of “Above Suspicion,” the movie is reportedly based on the story of Mark Putnam, a former agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation based in Pike County. He was convicted 26 years ago of strangling his pregnant lover and informant, Susan Daniels Smith, and then hiding her body, which was recovered from a grassy ravine a year later.
Putnam was the first FBI agent to be convicted of homicide and his case created a media sensation. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison and was released in September 2000.
Representatives from the film production have said they chose Harlan as the primary shooting location for the movie because the downtown and other areas are little changed from what they looked like 30 years ago. The same, they reported, was not the case with downtown Pikeville, where the incidents actually occurred.
According to the Internet Movie Database, the film has been announced in the pre-production phase with principal credits listed including a lead actress, Emilia Clarke, who currently appears on HBO’s hit series “Game of Thrones” and Jack Huston, probably best known for another HBO series, “Boardwalk Empire.”
The film’s director, Phillip Noyce, has major film successes on his resume, with such notable hits as “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger,” both starring Harrison Ford, as well as “Dead Calm” starring Sam Neill, Nicole Kidman and Billy Zane.
Noyce was one of several dozen crew members in Harlan on Monday doing location scouting and early production planning.
The screenplay was written by Chris Gerolmo, whose notable credits include 1988’s “Mississippi Burning” starring Academy Award winner Gene Hackman.
The film’s advance crew and location scouts have been in and out of Harlan for the past several weeks, checking locations and making arrangements for the use of property, not only as film scenery but also to house the substantial number of crew members who will be in town working on the project for perhaps as long as three months.
“They’ve rented several places, and even paying ‘New York’ prices,” Howard said. “They have serious intentions to make an important movie and I think it’s a great opportunity for us in Harlan to put our best foot forward and help them in any way that we can.”
A casting call for local extras was reportedly held Tuesday at their office location at Village Center Mall. The word has also gone around that the property managers are in the market for 1970s and 1980s vintage automobiles for use in exterior scenes.
The crew has also reported they could make use of the type of vehicles that still look as if they were what was typically on the road here during the late 1980s, so heavily customized trucks and autos would not get much interest.
“There’s probably going to be some minor inconveniences for a few folks as we have to deal with streets being blocked a little while or other things like that,” Howard said, “but I much prefer to look at it as a great opportunity for us.”