That’s a wrap: ‘Sleepy Hollow’ finishes TV pilot while some restaurants lose money

  • Posted: Sunday, March 24, 2013 1:05 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, March 24, 2013 1:08 a.m.
Monuments from the set of the Fox pilot Sleepy Hollow gets packed up by crew members outside of St. Lukes Episcapol Church off of Council Street in Salisbury on Saturday March 23, 2013.  Fliming was completed on Friday night.
Monuments from the set of the Fox pilot Sleepy Hollow gets packed up by crew members outside of St. Lukes Episcapol Church off of Council Street in Salisbury on Saturday March 23, 2013. Fliming was completed on Friday night.

SALISBURY — As quickly as downtown Salisbury turned into Sleepy Hollow, crews reversed the transformation Saturday and removed nearly every sign that Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman were ever here.

Fact Box

Sleepy Hollow 101

Based on the short story by Washington Irving, the TV pilot “Sleepy Hollow” is set in the 1800s and modern times.

Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman travel through time to do battle between good and evil.

20th Century Fox turned the front yard at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church into a Revolutionary War-era cemetery, filmed a shootout between the villainous horseman and Sleepy Hollow police on Council Street and even renamed the Salisbury Post the “Sleepy Hollow Register.”

Penned by Fringe creators and Star Trek writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, “Sleepy Hollow” stars Tom Mison, John Cho, Orlando Jones, Katia Winter and Nicole Beharie.

Len Wiseman of “Total Recall” and “Live Free or Die Hard” directed the pilot.

Find out May 13 if the pilot will air and become a TV series.

Even though 20th Century Fox Television has wrapped five days of work on the TV pilot “Sleepy Hollow,” production will continue through April 9 at other locations in the Charlotte region.

The studio should learn May 13 if the pilot will become a TV series on Fox, a spokesman for 20th Century Fox said. If the show is not ordered to series, the pilot will never air or be available to be seen, he said.

While the project thrilled many Salisbury residents, including those who went out late at night to watch the action at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and Bell Tower Park, others were not pleased.

Many local restaurant owners said they lost thousands of dollars last week. Not only did regular customers stay away because the streets were closed, but “Sleepy Hollow” didn’t eat local, owners said.

“I’m glad they’re in town and I want it to be good for the town, but it definitely is putting a hurting on us,” Uncle Buck’s owner Judy Howard said Friday afternoon.

Filming shut down a roughly 12-block area of downtown every night from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., including the 100 block of East Innes Street, where Uncle Buck’s stands. Howard estimated she lost an average of $500 a day last week.

“It absolutely killed us,” Howard said.

She said a member of the production team hand-delivered a letter to Uncle Buck’s before filming that outlined street closures and assured her the project would not interfere with business. Howard said she was so excited about the project, she dropped off take-out menus and pound cake for the crew.

Then Howard discovered the catering truck. An out-of-town caterer prepared all meals for the cast and crew, which numbered between 150 and 200 people.

“I was very disappointed to see that,” Howard said.

Nashville Night’s revenue was “substantially short” last week, owner Dick Palmore said, and Salty Caper’s sales were down 40 percent, owner Gian Moscardini said.

Several restaurant owners said they never received the letter from 20th Century Fox or any communication from the city of Salisbury preparing them for street closures.

“It was a surprise to me,” Moscardini said. “More communication would have been nice.”

Gritz owner Bev Ryan said not only did she lose dinner customers, but her breakfast service suffered because downtown streets were still closed when she opens.

“This is great for Salisbury, but if they come back, I would like to see them support local businesses somehow,” she said.

If the pilot gets picked up as a TV series, Salisbury would become a permanent backdrop in “Sleepy Hollow,” according to city spokeswoman Elaney Hasselmann. Filming would take place this summer, the studio said.

An economic impact

Randy Hemann, executive director of Downtown Salisbury Inc., said he understands concerns of downtown merchants and will advocate for them if the project returns to Salisbury.

“There were businesses that weren’t accessible,” Hemann said. “It did have an economic impact on them.”

Hemann said he’s already talking to city officials about the problems and has a list of what needs to be improved if “Sleepy Hollow” returns.

Overall, Hemann said, the city did a good job. Some of the issues, including downtown residents who couldn’t get to their homes or were told they couldn’t leave once inside, can be resolved with better communication and more practice, he said.

“We would like to do more coordination between businesses and the police department,” Hemann said. “The residential component needs to be worked on.”

Hemann said he would like to see the studio use local restaurants if they return. While dining in may not be feasible on a tight production timetable, downtown restaurants could take turns catering meals, he said.

Even angry restaurant owners agreed, “Sleepy Hollow” was good for Salisbury.

“This is a great way to promote a town and a great way to bring business to a town,” said Mikey Wetzel, owner of Go Burrito, who said he lost thousands of dollars last week. “The execution of it was very poor, and I hope they learn from it. I’m about as mad as I get.”

While some downtown restaurants lost money, “Sleepy Hollow” generated welcomed revenue for others, including Tastebuds Coffee owner Kirk Knapp, who said sales were up 30 percent.

The total economic impact of the project hasn’t been tallied yet, but figures should be available next month.

The city can’t charge a location fee under state law, but 20th Century Fox will pay Salisbury a variety of other fees, including permits and equipment rentals. The studio also will pay wages for off-duty police officers who worked on the set each night.

The studio negotiated payment with private property owners like St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and is expected to make donations to the city, Rowan County and other groups, Hasselmann said. Cast and crew stayed in local hotels, paying a 3 percent occupancy tax to both the city and county.

“There is no question about it having an economic benefit to the community,” said Robert Van Geons, executive director for RowanWorks Economic Development Commission. “Projects like this provide a direct injection of capital into a community.”

The film industry has become increasingly important to North Carolina’s economy, and Rowan County has landed several projects. But “Sleepy Hollow” is the most intense shoot that’s been done here, Van Geons said.

“It cannot be understated for a community like us,” he said. “Projects like this help to differentiate us from other communities our size around the region.”

Plenty of publicity

Even if the pilot doesn’t air, Salisbury and Rowan County still have been mentioned repeatedly in national coverage of “Sleepy Hollow” and trade publications. The buzz could help lure other projects, Hemann said.

Beth Petty, director for the Charlotte Regional Film Commission, predicted Salisbury and Rowan soon will see more production crews. Her office sends out information about Salisbury-Rowan to prospective film projects nearly every day, Petty said.

“We are always showing it,” she said. “… You have great historic buildings and architecture.”

Petty praised the city’s work with “Sleepy Hollow” and said 20th Century Fox was pleased.

“I’ve only heard great comments and that everything went well,” Petty said. “Salisbury and Rowan County did a fantastic job of supporting the production.”

If “Sleepy Hollow” returns for a TV series, cast and crew may have more time to get to know Salisbury.

In general, Petty said, filming a pilot requires a very tight time schedule, while shooting a series occurs over of longer period of time, allowing cast and crew more opportunities to explore their location.

“Every time I come to Salisbury, I discover a great place or a wonderful restaurant,” she said. “Production crews will do that as well.”

That’s music to Heather Teeter’s ears.

“We were all very excited and happy to have the attention for our town and expected an uptick in business,” said Teeter, owner of Sweet Meadow Cafe. “Unfortunately, they brought their own caterers with them.”

Teeter said she was originally told that only Church and Council streets would be closed. She didn’t realize Innes Street, where Sweet Meadow is located, was blocked until she drove to work Tuesday night and was turned away by a police officer. Her dishwasher couldn’t get to work on his bicycle.

She started calling city and studio officials the next day. Although Sweet Meadow is closed weeknights, Teeter said she had a large private party scheduled for Thursday and needed to prepare.

“We were fit to be tied,” she said.

Eventually, the city issued word that Sweet Meadow employees and customers should be allowed access to the restaurant, Teeter said, and Thursday’s event went off without a hitch.

She said she doesn’t want to have to be the squeaky wheel again and has talked to other downtown restaurant owners about organizing.

“This got out of control really quickly,” Teeter said. “If we had some involvement and can make sure plans are being stuck to, we can handle this as a town with bells on.”

Friday afternoon, Howard of Uncle Buck’s called the Post to report a development. The location manager for “Sleepy Hollow” had just ordered 55 meals at a cost of about $400.

While that didn’t make up for the money Howard lost last week, she said, it certainly helped.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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