Hampton’s Do It Best Home Center used in true-crime series ‘Manhunt: Lone Wolf’

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 | 10:07 AM

This summer, a crew transformed the Hampton Do It Best Home Center into 1990s-era Walmart locations in Georgia and North Carolina, according to store general manager James Izotic.

The home improvement center closed for a day of filming the true-crime series “Manhunt: Lone Wolf,” which is focusing on the search for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bomber, Eric Rudolph, who purchased bomb-making supplies at the Walmart stores.

“They were out scouting, looking for locations, and they said our store was visually appealing. It was clean and neat and that we had a large selection of merchandise because really, we sell everything from coffee to toilets to clothing,” Izotic said.

Judith Light (“Who’s the Boss,” “Transparent”) and Gethin Anthony (“Game of Thrones”) performed alongside more than 40 background actors at the Hampton store.

“The first rule they give you as background – what they call extras – is do not talk to the stars. But, honestly, we were all sitting in here and if we didn’t speak, it would have been a little awkward,” Izotic said of performing as a Walmart employee. “They were really friendly; they were really nice.”

Discovery Channel aired the Lionsgate Television anthology series’ first season “Manhunt: Unabomber.” The second season is slated to air on Spectrum Originals.

Experiences like Izotic’s may become increasingly common in Southwestern Pennsylvania’s burgeoning film industry.

“Untitled Pickle Project,” a Seth Rogen movie, filmed some scenes in Pittsburgh over this past weekend, and “Manhunt: Lone Wolf” is filming through October in Southwestern Pennsylvania. So far this year, production has wrapped on Academy and Tony Award-winner Denzel Washington’s Netflix adaption of the August Wilson play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” as well as the Netflix coming of age series “I Am Not Okay With This,” based on Charles Forsman’s graphic novel.

Filmmakers shoot productions in Pittsburgh for several reasons, according to Pittsburgh Film Office director Dawn Keezer.

One is the diversity of locations Southwestern Pennsylvania provides. “As long as you don’t need a beach or a desert, we can pretty much look like that,” she said, noting that directors request that Pittsburgh double for New York City more frequently than any other location. Mellon Square, Downtown, has substituted for Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center many times. While Pittsburgh has channeled Paris, San Francisco, Atlanta and Ukraine, lately more productions are remaining set in Pittsburgh.

Additionally, Keezer said the area has enough local, experienced crew members to manage three consecutive projects.

Teamsters Local 249 union has approximately 150 members in the industry representing transportation – moving equipment, cast and crew from location to location – or finding appropriate places to film scenes based on scripts. The union also represents vendors supplying materials used on sets. Teamsters was involved in the “Manhunt: Lone Wolf” transportation and location departments, local union vice president Keith Frank said.

“Our crew is top-notch, one of the best in the country. We are very knowledgeable, experienced and very capable,” Frank said.

Frank and Keezer agree that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s film tax credit plays a large role in attracting people to produce works in the region. The 14-year-old program currently offers a 25% tax credit to films spending at least 60% of their total budgets in the Commonwealth.

Keezer said that 36 states offer film incentive programs.

“For Pennsylvania, and especially Southwestern Pennsylvania, to be able to stay at the top of the industry and to be able to continue to attract the work, the revenue pouring into the state, we’ve got to increase the film tax credits in order to really grow this industry as a vital economic generator for the region,” she said.

The Commonwealth’s film tax credit program has a $70 million cap per fiscal year.

The Pittsburgh Film Office has applied for a $5 million Redevelopment Assistant Capital Program grant for the construction of a film production campus dubbed Pittsburgh Film & Industry Village at the brownfield-designated Carrie Furnaces site in Rankin.

“Part of our plan when we started the film tax credit program in Pennsylvania was about creating an industry. You need infrastructure and you need equipment providers and you need all of the things that make an industry grow,” Keezer said.

She foresees the Film & Industry Village as a place where “you can walk down a walkway and hire your wardrobe people and get all your special effects people and just hire everyone all in this one space.”

In addition, Frank thinks the park would bring hospitality, construction and tourism revenue to Rankin.

“I think it’s critical. We’re 100% behind it. We think that’s what Pittsburgh needs to take us to the next level. I don’t think we can afford not to do it. I think if we stay still, we’re falling behind,” he said.