Erica Arvold is seated in a D.C. auditorium awaiting the start of the first episode of AMC’s new show “Turn,” a suspenseful drama chronicling the movements of America’s first spy ring during the Revolutionary War.
It’s a suspenseful moment in itself for Arvold—this is the first time viewers will lay eyes on the cinematic serial she’s helped cast through her eponymous film and television company based in Charlottesville. Will the crowd assembled for the premiere at the Washington, D.C. National Archives like the show? Will they appreciate the choices Arvold and others made in piecing together the cast?
For at least one night, the reviews are glowing. This is the premiere, when everyone is self-congratulatory and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Written by AMC show runner Craig Silverstein, who’s had success with the CW spy show “Nikita,” and produced by Barry Josephson of “Bones” and “Enchanted,” “Turn” has the personnel cred to go a long way.
As for content, the pilot contains that ideal balance of period-specific suspense and universal human themes that have worked well for hits like HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and AMC’s own “Mad Men.” “People that get into espionage are extraordinary, but they are also quite ordinary,” said former CIA Director General Michael Hayden after the screening. “Spies are just like your friends and neighbors.”
But “Turn” has a long way to go before it matches the success of “Mad Men” or other AMC smashes like “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead.” The first 10-episode season wrapped shooting last Wednesday, and the first installment airs April 6. That’s when it will start the uphill battle that is getting extended to film subsequent seasons.
“We will see how many people tune in and love it,” Arvold said. “This is the movie and television business. You don’t know anything for certain.”
The battle won’t be over for Arvold’s casting company even if AMC does extend the show. While the series has thus far filmed in Richmond, making her a natural choice to cast the locally sourced principal speaking roles and background characters, it doesn’t mean “Turn” can’t be moved elsewhere. Arvold’s hopeful, though, that the cast and producers’ experience in Virginia will land our state the gig going forward.
While walking the premiere night red carpet, the stars in the drama complimented the Virginia-based actors and crew. Several of the leads spoke to how hard the crewmembers have worked to overcome weather challenges this winter, and some called them as professional as their counterparts in more film- and television-heavy locales.
The scenery of the on-location shoots also got high marks. According to lead actress Heather Lind, the area around Richmond lends an authenticity to the drama you can’t get anywhere else.
“When we came out for the pilot, just driving through the landscape and seeing all the battlefields and monuments, it feels kind of like a really beautiful graveyard,” said Lind, who plays Anna Strong, a member of the Culper Ring depicted in the show. “There are ghosts everywhere, in the best sense of the word, and there is history everywhere, and it feels incredibly dense and rich to be here.”
Landing more work for “Turn” won’t be the first challenge Arvold has faced as a Charlottesville-based casting director and producer. When she moved her company from Los Angeles in 2009, she wanted to take some time off to be with her family, and she wasn’t sure she’d be getting back into the business at all. But with significant support from the Virginia Film Office, she not only restarted her career after the brief hiatus, her company has grown in Charlottesville. The surprising thing, Arvold said, is the amount of producing her company has been able to do in this area of the country.
“I’ve had the freedom to do it here,” she said. “I work with a community-based and collaborative model. Sometimes, if it is a big studio film, it pops into a location and zips out, but most of the projects have been more collaborative.”
Arvold’s most notable success in Virginia thus far has been offering full Virginia-based casting support for a big studio film that popped in and zipped out in 2011-2012—the Oscar-winning Lincoln. She said she was able to land that gig, along with all the others, due to her ability to walk the “razor’s edge” between being creative and business-minded. It’s a skill she’s been cultivating since majoring in film studies at the demanding Theater School at Depaul University in Chicago, she said.
Arvold’s next big project will bring her back to the collaborative model. Her company is producing and casting Chesapeake, about a waterman (Keith Carradine) who rescues a drowning boy and a woman from the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. The film is written and directed by Charlottesville native Eric Hurt, and funding will be largely crowdsourced.
There’s also more collaboration with the Virginia film community on the way if “Turn” is a success, Arvold said.
“I’m constantly looking for Americans in Virginia who have an authentic British accent,” she said. “If the show is picked up, one piece of advice for actors, besides getting skinny and growing their hair, is to study up.”
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