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Lead actors and leadership of TV show “Underground” share Perspective on the Developing the Series, and the Experience of Shooting locally, at Savannah Film Festival

PHOTO by SCAD. Provided to Coastal Empire News

By Lou Phelps. Savannah Business Journal

October 23, 2016 – A standing-room only crowd of Savannah Film Festival attendees had an exclusive first look at Season Two of WGN America’s critically acclaimed hit series “Underground,” and a rare opportunity to hear from the cast and several in the production's leadership of the series that has moved all production to Savannah. 

The panel included a discussion and audience Q&A with cast members Aldis Hodge, Amirah Vann and Aisha Hinds, as well as executive producer and director Anthony Hemingway, production designer Meghan Rogers, costume designer Karyn Wagner and director of photography Kevin McKnight.

Produced by Sony Pictures Television, season two of “Underground” will premiere in March 2017.  The panel was held Sunday, October 23 at 2 pm in the Gutstein Gallery of SCAD, where the actors shared their thoughts on the character development of their roles, and the production company's leadership shared experiences in creating an original television series. 

Underground is an original screenplay, based on the American history of the  “Underground” railroad and slavery in the 1800’s, Season Two introduces Harriett Tubman and Frederick Douglas, famous African American historical figures, into the story line. Executive Producer and music John Legend, has been cast as Douglas. 

Hemingway spoke about the series and story line as “a way to heal” and as “to help us learn,” about slavery. And, said that he took on the assignment because he felt the screenwriters were coming at the story of slavery in American in a new way – “not as victimization,” but about strength and ingenuity.”

“It touches who I am, every fiber of my being,” he added.

Known for his work on a number of leading movies, and the TV show ‘Empire,’ he shared, “I have been built and prepared for this moment in time.” And, said that.” It’s hard work – blood seat and tears on a daily basis.”  Last year, shooting in Louisiana, they had to contend with a tornado. Two weeks ago, shooting was halted in Savannah due to Hurricane Matthew. 

He personally directed three episodes in Season One, and this year won an Emmy for directly "The People vs. O.J. Simpson, a limited television production.   

Actor Aldis Hodge, who plays lead character Noah, talked to the SCAD acting students in attendance to hear the panel about his personal experience so far, that the role has added “worth and value” and elevated him in his personal life. “How I look at myself a a man in this country,” has been changed.

And, he added that the felt that the history of slavery “has been taught poorly,” in the U.S.

As an actor, he also had to think long and hard about getting in involved in a show that is anticipated to go on for five to six years.

“Our audience is very intelligent,” Hodge said, and he was very proud of being involved with a series that approached slavery, “from a different perspective.”

Hemingway also added that the positive relationships of the cast “is one of the strengths of the show.”

Actress Amirah Vann, who portrays ‘Ernestine,’ said that her character is “all about her kids,” and she acknowledged her “Auntie Mama” who was in the audience, and was an important influence in her life.

Also on the panel was Aisha Hinds, who will portray historical figure Harriet Tubman. 

Asked ‘what was informing the work?” she explained, “We know so little about her personal life,” but she has done extensive research.

Hinds added that their goal was “to pull the woman that we idolize out of the portrait and give her movement and voice for this generation.”  And, added, “Yes, I was afraid I would not have enough information.”

Hemingway explained that to aid in writing portions of Season Two, they have added a historian educated at Harvard, son of the show’s Director of Photography, Kevin McKnight.

McKnight said he was attracted to the project because it was “a chance to be bold, an opportunity to make a standout. We’ve used the word ‘BOLD’ from the beginning – to make statement stories.”

They discussed Episode 7 from Season One, entitled “Cradle,”    highlighted by the panel’s moderator.  “It was a side effort script, explained Hemingway, what he termed ‘a breakout script,” where they “stopped the story of the runners and focused on how the children were being affected,” both living in slavery and slaves seeking to escape.

Hemingway also explained that photography, and how each episode is shot, when done well delves into the psychology of the characters, and there is “an understanding of each character what the character needs.”

Both the Production Director and Costume Designer talked about the architecture of Savannah, which they said “is amazing,” and which broadened their opportunities. There are  “constantly great things to use,” in both costuming, settings and historic items to build authentic period sets of the 1800 period in Savannah, they stated.

Rogers added that, “The light is different here in Savannah from Louisiana," which has also been used by them and has influenced decisions. 

As to the script for Season Two, Hemingway acknowledged that they “are still writing by the way. We’re not done.”

Copyright 2016, a publication of Coastal Empire News, Savannah, GA. All Rights Reserved.

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April 4 - Savannah Film Business Has Strong 1st Qtr; Learn to Work as Crew this Saturday

by Lou Phelps, SBJ Staff

The movie business in Savannah had a good first quarter in 2011, and there are more productions on the drawing board, according to Jay Self, Director of Tourism and Film Services, City of Savannah.

And, the Production Assistant Training Seminar (P.A.T.) company will be returning to Savannah this Saturday, April9.P.A.T. works with film commissions, economic development groups, as well as production companies to train entry-level workers for the local film industry.

“In 2010, the program was endorsed through universities and film commissions in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Ohio, Georgia, and Washington DC.Our graduates have since worked on film and TV programs such as Transformers 3, X-Men: First Class, Treme, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Ticket Out, and The Crazies,” according to the company.

The seminar will be held at The Armstrong Center, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Room 126. Sign – In is from 8:45 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., with the seminar running from until 5:00 p.m. Information is available at

The “SAVANNAH” film crew has completed production in the city, spending much of Savannah in town, and spending significantly. Directed by Annette Haywood-Carter – who co-wrote the film with her husband Ken Carter – the historical film tells the true story of Ward Allen, a white aristocrat, and Christmas Moultrie, a freed slave, in the early 1900’s. Allen and Christmas Moultrie were business partners, confidantes and life-long friends.

“This is a great story steeped in the lore of Savannah, Georgia,” Haywood-Carter told local media during production, adding, “Being a Southerner born and bred, it has been a passion of mine to tell great stories from our unique and particular socio-geographic tapestry.”

She got her start in the industry as a script-supervisor on such films as “Driving Miss Daisy” and “The Flintstones.” Haywood-Carter moved to Savannah to raise her two small children and teach graduate classes in filmmaking at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Local insurance executive John Cay and Savannah’s locally owned Meddin Studios helped to facilitate the project, bringing both financing and production facilities to the task according to Self. Cay served as the film’s producer along with Miller and Savin. The team’s production company. Unclaimed Freight Productions, based in Pasadena,CA, began primary shooting on Feb. 14, and wrapped on ……

Los Angeles musician, Skyler Stonestreet also shot her debut music video, "Holy Rollin" in Savannah in late February.The production was a collaboration of SCAD students, alumni, and professors and the Savannah Film Office, produced by Charles Taylor Goubeaud and directed by Tyler M. Reid.

The film Adaptation of the novel “And Yet, You Still Chose Me” is also set to film in Savannah, titled “Picture Me Blue No More.”Shooting is set to begin in May and continue into the summer.It’s a 1980s era drama to be directed by Perla Faye Humphrey who produced and directed “Unforgiven Sins” and “7 Days a Yellow,” both filmed in Atlanta.

The story is set in a poverty-stricken small town near Savannah, and follows the life of Shelley MacDonald, “a naive little girl with big dreams of going to college. But one dreadful night, the unimaginable takes place that spirals her innocent world into mayhem, rips her family apart, and catapults her on a self-destructive journey into womanhood as the barriers to a better life stack against her, and going to college becomes an elusive goal,” according to the film office.

The production company is Onyx Pearl Productions

A new Savannah-based film company, First City Films, LLC. began pre-production of their feature film, “Untouched,” in early February, the company’s first feature film. It is based on a short film written by actor/producer Chip Lane, and was “well received in six festivals and won Runner-Up Best Film in Asheville, NC,” he states.

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