"Homeland," which stars Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy… (Kent Smith / Showtime )
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Shooting on location comes with advantages and disadvantages. North Carolina offers generous tax credits, and Charlotte is a city with a sizable downtown, one that can sometimes pass for Washington, D.C. (Shooting in downtown D.C. is a logistical and financial challenge.)
Because production in Charlotte is rare, locals are eager to have the cast and crew there and willing to go to some lengths to accommodate them. During Damian Lewis' driving scene, nearly a half-dozen police cars were dispatched as escorts around the city. At one point, the scene required blocking two lanes of freeway during rush hour; a look back from the production van showed a curving line of traffic as far as the eye could see.
But Charlotte also has a downside — namely, producers fear they're burning through locations. The city is not that big, and there are only so many ways to shoot a place so it looks like Dupont Circle or Farragut Square.
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The production has also moved to Mooresville, a throwback small town with a quaint Main Street about a half-hour north of here, for a variety of less urban locations. Fans will recognize it from, among others, the Gettysburg tailor-shop scene in season one--the site is actually a long-running clothing store where the elderly bowtied owner will eagerly greet drop-ins with all the information on tuxedo rentals and tie varieties a man could ever want.
It's also not easy to give any television show a cinematic feel on an accelerated production schedule.
"Homeland," whose 12-episode first season felt as cinematic as anything on television — poses an even bigger challenge. The show shoots nearly hourlong episodes in 12 days, about the same ratio as a network procedural. That means going for high-quality shots fast. "It can be a grind and a hustle," star Claire Danes said.
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To move things along, the entire interior of Brody's house and even some of the exterior have been re-created on a sound stage so that the entire production doesn't have to take time-consuming treks to the actual home in the suburbs.
There are also specific technical challenges, which principals respond to with a certain MacGyver-esque spirit.
During the park scene, a marching band turns up to mark the start of the Carolina Panthers exhibition season. The noise interrupts the take, so director Michael Cuesta uses it as an opportunity to grab shots of the same scene that will be presented in the episode on surveillance cameras and thus not require any sound.
This year's action also moves to Beirut, but that isn't an easy place to shoot. So the show went to Israel instead.
Creators couldn't, however, stop the Democratic convention from taking over Charlotte this month. The production went on a several-week hiatus when Bill Clinton and his pals came to town.