Hollywood-on-Hudson: Mohonk hosts Billions as local filmmaking ramps up

Paul Giamatti (Jeff Neumann | SHOWTIME)

Ever since New York State tax credits for filmmaking projects were expanded in Ulster County in 2016, we’ve become a hotbed of production for both the large and small screen. Last time we took a deep dive into what movie and TV projects were tying up our roadways and lining up our citizens for casting calls, the excitement was mainly focused on I Know This Much Is True, Derek Cianfrance’s HBO series starring Mark Ruffalo, Kathryn Hahn and Melissa Leo. The massive undertaking wrapped in October after a full year of production, its 200-or-so days of shooting including plenty of exteriors in the Mount Carmel neighborhood – Poughkeepsie’s Little Italy – and a scene involving a schoolbus that required shutting down a section of Route 209 in the Town of Ulster last April. But a lot of other such projects have been shooting in our region in recent months. Seems like high time for an update.

On December 2 and 3, Mohonk Mountain House served as a set for a party scene in the fifth season of the Showtime series Billions, which stars Paul Giamatti as a US attorney (loosely based on Preet Bharara) and Damian Lewis as the hedge fund tycoon he’s pursuing. A call went out in mid-November for New Paltz area residents to audition as background extras for the scene, where they portrayed “wealthy upscale eventgoers.”

(Note: After filming wrapped Monday there was an accident on snowy roads reportedly involving extras from that production. You can read about that here.)


Also currently filming – primarily in Ulster and Dutchess Counties, according to Laurent Rejto of the Hudson Valley Film Commission – and set to wrap in early December is Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s Things Heard and Seen, a thriller feature for Netflix. It’s based on Elizabeth Brundage’s novel All Things Cease to Appear, which is set primarily in a (possibly haunted) farmhouse. One scene was reportedly shot at the Red Hook Public Library. Amanda Seyfried, James Norton, Natalia Dyer and F. Murray Abraham star, but Rejto reports, “In addition to providing locations, the Film Commission recommended over 25 local crew hires, including the background casting agency that has hired hundreds of regional actors.”

Already wrapped are two projects that took over sections of the City of Kingston in recent months. Monsterland, an anthology series for Hulu based on Nathan Ballingrud’s Shirley Jackson Award-winning short story collection North American Lake Monsters and directed by Babak Anvari, required the closing of sections of North Front, John and Wall Streets in the Uptown Stockade District for three days in mid-November. The historic neighborhood will stand in for New Orleans in the Southern Gothic-flavored episode, starring Kaitlyn Dever and Jonathan Tucker.

Damian Lewis

For several weeks in late June and early July, there was barely a parking space to be found for residents of the Rondout District, especially surrounding the Wurts Street Bridge, which spans the Rondout Creek connecting Kingston with the Town of Esopus hamlet of Connelly. Production buses lined up nose-to-tail gobbled up on-street parking for blocks around, and jammed the parking lots of the waterfront neighborhood’s many churches. The bridge was the focal point for a dramatic sequence – including helicopter shots – in The Undoing, an HBO miniseries starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland. Susanne Bier directed the show, which is based on the novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz. This production also involved a temporary closure of Route 209, and some green-screen scenes requiring more than 250 crew took place at Tech City, Kingston’s former IBM campus.

Noah Jupe, the young actor who portrays the son of Kidman and Grant’s characters in The Undoing, had a busy summer with several visits to the mid-Hudson. He had already made an impression on local moviegoers with his role as a kid hiding from sound-sensitive alien monsters in A Quiet Place, shot in 2017 in Pawling, Beacon and New Paltz. Although that character’s father died at the end of the first film, John Krasinski returned wearing his director’s hat for A Quiet Place 2, also starring Emily Blunt. While the sequel filmed primarily in Erie County, new scenes were shot in September 2019 at locations that had become iconic in AQP 1, including the Pawling farmhouse and the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail bridge in New Paltz. A portion of West Dover Road/County Route 20 in the Towns of Dover and Pawling was shut down for several days of filming.

Also in September, Kingston played host to some scenes from The Plot against America, the new HBO miniseries created by The Wire’s David Simon, based on Philip Roth’s alternate-history novel about the fortunes of a Jewish family from New Jersey when Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR for the presidency in 1940 and America begins to embrace anti-Semitism. Starring SUNY-New Paltz graduate John Turturro, Winona Ryder and Zoe Kazan, the show used locations in Bearsville, Coxsackie and Hudson as well. “We found everything we were looking for locally: 1940s picture cars, props and period-correct set dressing, facility support, a local contractor who built us a dirt road, a horse wrangler – the list goes on. Everyone went out of their way to make it happen for us,” line producer Joe Guest wrote appreciatively. “The Hudson Valley Film Commission provided exceptional support from Day One.”

Earlier this year, Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) came to Orange and Dutchess Counties, primarily Fishkill, to shoot the twisty horror film I’m Thinking of Ending Things, based on Iain Reid’s novel of the same name, for Netflix. Kaufman’s first movie since his 2015 animated feature Anomalisa, its cast includes Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis and Abby Quinn. The latter got her start as a teenaged actress in The Sisterhood of Night, a low-budget indie film shot in Kingston that premiered at the 2014 Woodstock Film Festival.

Two other films shot locally were nominated in late November for four Film Independent Spirit Awards. Diane, directed by Kent Jones and largely shot in Rosendale, Kingston and Saugerties, is a nominee in two categories: Best First Feature and Best Female Lead for Mary Kay Place. Driveways also got two nominations: Best Female Lead for Hong Chau and Best First Screenplay for Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen. Directed by Andrew Ahn and also starring Brian Dennehy, Driveways was filmed in Poughkeepsie, Hyde Park, New Paltz, Rosendale and Kingston. And among the three nominees for the $50,000 Bonnie Award for a mid-career female director (sponsored by American Airlines in honor of Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo, who in 1973 became the first female pilot to fly for a major US airline) is Kelly Reichardt, who’s a faculty member at Bard College.

All in all, our neck of the woods’ ascendancy as Hollywood-on-Hudson continues apace. In Laurent Rejto’s view, 2019 has quite simply been “the most successful year to date for regional film and TV production.”

There is one comment

  1. JR

    This is funded 100% by residents, is it not? No contract exists that requires and guarantees that a municipalities’ residents will see a decrease in taxation. Some businesses and individuals benefit. But these projects earn multi-millions – maybe billions. Did voters approve this expenditure? Maybe someone can explain to me how this benefits so few and yet is considered a good thing.

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