On the dingy third floor of the David Stott Building -- a near-empty Art Deco skyscraper built downtown in 1929 -- Hollywood has arrived.
It’s one of those Detroit things. Sometimes cool things just rise from the ashes here.
AMC, the cable station, is filming a pilot called “Low Winter Sun”, a Detroit cop show based on a 2006 British miniseries, and the crew has artfully converted the vacant floor into a Detroit police station, replete with dingy desks, a pencil sharpener, peeling paint and FBI Wanted flyers.
For the past couple weeks, the crew has filmed at the Stott Building and in Greektown, Eastern Market, Delray, Woodward, Mario’s restaurant on Second Avenue. And they’ve even ventured across 8 Mile into Warren. One recent day, they were filming in a downtown alley off State Street between Woodward and Griswold.
“I’m fascinated by this city,” says Chris Mundy, the writer and executive producer of the show. ”It’s such a grander city than I ever expected. And I’m attracted to the fact that even when people complain about Detroit, in the next breath they’re so proud of Detroit and will defend it to the death.”
As talent goes, the show is loaded. There’s Mundy, whose credits include being co-executive producer of the CBS show Criminal Minds. And director, Ernest Dickerson, one of the directors of HBO’s “The Wire” who frequently collaborates with Spike Lee. And then there’s some top flight English and American actors and actresses including Sprague Grayden, Mark Strong, Lennie James (the pimp on HBO’s “Hung) and Ruben Santiago Hudson of Law and Order.
That being said, some folks here might ask: What about “Detroit 187”, that ABC cop series set in Detroit that started off rather sluggishly, but gained momentum, only to be pronounced dead on arrival after one season? What’s the difference here?
“We’re on cable, we’re on AMC so you’ve got a little more freedom to do some things. You can be a little darker,” says Mundy, a former writer for Rolling Stone. “I don’t know 187 well enough to know for sure, but the ones I saw were really good, but they did a case every week in the way NYPD Blue did every week. We’re really doing one story each season. Ours will be more serialized.”
Admittedly, not all pilots turn to shows. But he says AMC, which is working with Endemol productions on this show, has turned every pilot its produced into a series.
“We’re hoping we don’t break that streak,” he says with a smile.
The show is about murder, revenge and corruption and one cop who kills another. Not exactly “Family Ties.” But Detroiters can appreciate the grit.
Mundy talks about Detroit being such a great setting for the show because it represents a place looking for a second chance, much like some characters in the show.
“I’ve always thought of this show of people looking for a second chance and what are you willing t do to get a second chance,” he said. “When I was going to adapt it from the British show, I wanted it (to be) set in a city where the city would become a character and I wanted a city that was kind of in the same position.”
The director, Dickerson, who is also one of the directors for the HBO show “Treme”, echoes that fascination.
“It’s a beautiful city,” he says. “I like to call it a broken beauty. You can see the past. You see the history here, the beautiful architecture.”
There’s an authenticity to the set up on the third floor. It really does look like a police station. Mundy says he has a production designer named Ruth Ammon, who “spent a bunch of time at four different precinct houses and taking photos and trying to get everything right. She’s totally brilliant.”
For authenticity, they'’ve also had the help of Ira Todd, a veteran Detroit police investigator known for his interrogation skills, who is acting as a consultant for the show. Todd gives advice and indulges some of the cast with compelling tales of his dealings with Detroit criminals.
“Ira has been unbelievably helpful,” says Mundy as he sits next to Todd and chats during a break in filming. Later, he says: “When I first met him, he’s like ‘Do you want to see Detroit or do you want to see the real Detroit?’ He absolutely followed through on that promise.”
Todd has enjoyed hanging around.
“I get to see both sides,” he says. “I think they get to see the real side of me and what police officers are all about. I get to see what the actors are all about. As an interrogator, I’m into observing non-verbal emotions from different people, and I watch these actors who display a lot of non verbal stuff like that.”
If all goes as planned, Mundy said the actors will likely move to Detroit. He said they have been discussing where they’d live.
“Everyone wants to make sure they’re staying very local,” he says. “I don’t think anyone is decamping for the suburbs.”