August 16, 2011


Sitcom pilot scene filmed at city bar

Dark Horse Tavern featured in ‘Upstate,’ a fictional portrayal of life in Central NY

FilmBob Ellis/staff photographer
The crew filming a pilot for a sitcom reviews a shot during a break at the Dark Horse Tavern on Main Street. From left are director of photography Jeff Lower, director Tom Seeley and producer Christine Guest.

Staff Reporter

The cast and crew who hope to sell a cable television sitcom, which revolves around life in Central New York, spent Monday shooting a scene at the Dark Horse Tavern on Main Street in Cortland.
Producers of the show, titled “Upstate,” are filming on location around the region. They thought the Main Street bar was a good match for their pilot’s atmosphere.
Dark Horse owner George Seibel, who watched from behind the scenes as crews filmed until the bar opened for business that afternoon, said the bar has been lucky enough to retain its charm since it opened in 1975. He loved the chance to have his bar featured on a potential pilot.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing for the community and the Dark Horse,” he said.
The pilot’s director Tom Seeley, is a Rochester native who has worked as a writer and television producer in California for 23 years. His writing partner there, who also helped develop “Upstate,” was Cortland native Norm Gunzenhauser.
“His favorite bar was the Dark Horse, so he’s very jealous that I’m here filming,” Seeley said. “It’s all atmosphere, so it’s a great setting.”
The Dark Horse will serve as one scene setting in the pilot. Seeley was reluctant to say more. The show is set in Syracuse. The Dark Horse doubled as a Syracuse-area bar.
The television crew came to Cortland on Saturday to scout locations, which also included the kitchen of a residence on Holler Road. Some crew members caught glimpses of the Dark Horse after watching the HBO show “Hard Knocks,” filmed when during last year’s New York Jets training camp.
The plot of “Upstate” will be a familiar story to residents of Cortland and the surrounding region.
“A man, John Michaels, lives in Syracuse and when the big factory closes, is out of work,” Seeley said.
Michaels is a married man in his 40s, has a daughter in her freshman year at Syracuse University, and has a supporting cast of friends.
“It’s all about the changing economy, the struggle families are going through as the world changes from brick and mortar to pixels,” Seeley said. “It’s a comedy because it’s too sad otherwise — it’s about the people, their lives and how they respond and we can find humor in all of that.”
Given the economic lull in Central New York towns like Cortland, producers hope audiences will latch onto that theme if the pilot is picked up.
“All states have an upstate ... and they’re in the same situation, the giant cities kind of overshadow the things they have,” said Steve Kimatian, the pilot’s executive producer.
Shooting on locations, including Syracuse and Cortland, provided authenticity they could not duplicate on a Hollywood set, Seeley said.
It was less costly too — thousands of dollars rather than millions. If the series gets picked up by a network, Seeley said he wants to continue filming in Central New York, to make it “a character” in the show as well.
The cast is from Cortland and Tompkins counties. Christine Guest, an instructor at Tompkins Cortland Community College and a former director at WSYR-TV in Syracuse, helped organize the cast and production crews. Kimatian is also a former vice president and general manager at WSYR-TV.
The production involves about 30 people, including the actors.
Seeley has written for major sitcoms, including “Murphy Brown,” “Cheers” and “Newhart.”
The pilot is financed by investors, but producers are still working to secure enough money to finish the project. Seeley said they have raised $150,000 so far, out of a $200,000 budget.
When Seeley, Kimatian and their crew packed up and left Monday afternoon, it was back to business as usual at the Dark Horse.

To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe