Need a TV-series fix? Try “Boardwalk Empire”

Filed under: Boardwalk Buzz — John B. Bryans @ 1:08 pm

Boardwalk Empire is an upcoming American television series from premium cable network HBO, set in Atlantic City, New Jersey during the Prohibition era. Starring Steve Buscemi, the show is adapted from Nelson Johnson’s book, Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by Emmy award-winning screenwriter and producer Terence Winter of The Sopranos.

Read more at Need a TV-series fix? HBO’s newest drama “Boardwalk Empire”

Author and Publisher on the Set of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire

Filed under: Top Stories — John B. Bryans @ 6:27 pm

On Friday, December 11, Boardwalk Empire author Nelson Johnson and his wife, Johanna, along with several of us from Plexus, were guests of HBO on the set of Boardwalk Empire. Departing from HBO’s offices on 6th Avenue, our hosts transported us to an amazing set in Brooklyn.

Terence Winter and Nelson Johnson (L - R)

Terence Winter and Nelson Johnson (L - R)

While we aren’t able to post our photos, my impression is that only an expert will be able to tell this set from Atlantic City’s actual 1920s boardwalk. (With one exception–more on that later.)

The set was larger and more complex than I had expected. Starting at the Canton Tea Parlor and Chop Suey house, we walked past Dittrich Studios offering “your foto on a post card,” then tarried for a minute at the palm reader’s lair before arriving at Fralinger’s Original Salt Water Taffy Shop.

We stopped at the baby incubator attraction where 25¢ buys a look at “Living Infants” weighing less than 3 pounds, and peered in the window at La Belle Femme–the dress shop where, we are told, Kelly Macdonald‘s character is employed.

Atlantic City’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel was home for many years to the real-life Nucky Johnson (Nucky “Thompson” as played by Steve Buscemi). Opening the doors to its facsimile, Nelson and I gazed into a lobby featuring cafe tables, Doric columns, and a huge, ornate chandelier. Further back, beyond an arched entryway, we could see three period elevators–one with its doors open, its textured walls and handrail glowing like burnished brass.

Further down, we encountered Babette’s Supper Club, where I can easily picture Nucky holding court. Just beyond the restaurant, at the far end of the boardwalk, sits a grand amusement arcade whose marquee promises “The Human Cannonball,” “Sea Elephant Dancing,” “Circus Acts,” and other exciting attractions of the day.

From wind-lashed signage to the alignment of the boards beneath our feet, an obsession with historic detail brought a smile to our faces. And while the producers couldn’t physically move the Empire State Building (which rises prominently above the set) they’ll apparently have no trouble erasing it digitally when the time comes.

On our tour, we particularly enjoyed the insights offered by Ed McGinty, a production consultant on the series who really knows (and cares about) his Atlantic City history. Ed, whose grandfather was a bellman at the Ritz-Carlton, pointed out the “rust stains” on the building walls, and the “knuckles” on the boardwalk railing which he described as unique to Atlantic City–just two examples of the painstaking effort being made to ensure authenticity in the set design.

The benches lining the boardwalk’s ocean side were of special interest, as we’d heard that Martin Scorsese wanted them facing the ocean (an enormous row of stacked steel containers blanketed in blue, for now) rather than the shops on the inland side, as in real life. While 1920s merchants probably wouldn’t have cared for this rearrangement, I’m sure audiences will.

It was extremely cold that day, and the wind whipping off the East River didn’t encourage a lengthy stay on the “boardwalk.” Our friends at HBO drove us up to Harlem, where a scene from the 4th episode was being filmed in an historic church. The place was hopping–crammed to the rafters with actors, extras, production crew, and security personnel.

Plexus Gang with Terence Winter

L - R: John Bryans, Vicki Gold Levi, Terence Winter, Nelson Johnson, Tom Hogan Jr.

In a back room set up for an interrogation scene came the highlight of my day as we were introduced to Executive Producer and screenwriter Terence Winter. Terry told us about his first meeting with Scorsese to discuss the project: Marty wanted Terry to pitch him; Terry thought he was there to hear Marty’s ideas. Terry had brought wine for “dinner,” but Marty had just undergone dental surgery and eating was not on the agenda. (So now, Terry figures, Marty must think he brings a bottle of wine to all his concept meetings.)

Terry enthusiastically shared his passion for the 1920s and his approach to the HBO project. We took a few photos, which Terry said we might post here–including one with the two scribes, Winter and Johnson. (Thanks to Johanna Johnson for the former, and to Rob Colding for the group shot.)

And then it was back to Penn Station for the train ride home to South Jersey, and the wind-down of a remarkable day. Perhaps I’m a little biased, but after this experience I can easily understand why there is so much excitement brewing over this series.

It’s going to be a corker!

Blockbuster Novel of 1939 Atlantic City is New From “Boardwalk Empire” Publisher

Filed under: Top Stories — John B. Bryans @ 11:13 am

October 5, 2009, Medford, NJ—Plexus Publishing, Inc., whose Boardwalk Empire is the basis of a highly–anticipated dramatic series from Martin Scorsese and HBO, announced publication of A Boardwalk Story, an historical novel by J. Louis “Jack” Yampolsky. The novel is the first from Yampolsky, described by the publisher as “an 80-something accountant and financial manager with a rare gift for storytelling.” (more…)

Filming in November a Good Bet

Filed under: Top Stories — John B. Bryans @ 10:04 am

According to Backstage, filming on the 11 episodes of Boardwalk Empire ordered by HBO will get underway in November, in NYC. For those interested in making a series appearance, there’s a casting call at Grant Wilfley Casting. Good luck to you!

We like what we’re hearing…

Filed under: Top Stories — John B. Bryans @ 4:41 pm

It was great to hear HBO Programming Head Michael Lombardo’s comments about Boardwalk Empire during last week’s spate of renewal announcements from the network.

As reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, while HBO’s full development pipeline is expected to present the network with some tough choices in the coming months, Boardwalk Empire is one project that looks almost certain to make the air.

The Futon Critic (a dynamite resource) not only got the news out a day earlier than the NYT but provided the most complete quote about Boardwalk Empire. According to TFC, when asked when a decision would be made on the series, Lombardo said:

“We are anxiously awaiting a cut from Mr. Scorsese so we can greenlight the series. We’re set up to get going again in September but we’re waiting to get a cut of the pilot. By everything we’ve seen it’s fantastic, it’s big, it’s everything we’d hoped it’d be. It’s a tremendous cast with a tremendous writer.”

As most visitors to this site know by now, that “tremendous cast” is headed by Steve Buscemi, while the writer in question is Terence Winter.

Expect to hear more in September.

Publishers Weekly Picture of the Day

Filed under: Top Stories — John B. Bryans @ 5:18 pm

I don’t think they archive the Picture of the Day, so by the time you visit Publishers Weekly on the web it may be gone — but it was very cool today to see they’d posted the photo of Tom Hogan Sr., Tom Hogan Jr., and me holding the check from HBO.

They did get one important fact wrong: Mark Wahlberg is an executive producer of Boardwalk Empire, but is not starring in it. The star, of course, is Steve Buscemi.

If you want to see the photo, it is posted on Tom Hogan Jr.’s Boardwalk Empire blog, with his June 11 post. Thanks to Laura Hegyi who took the photo and even cropped it to make us some of us look better. (Now, if she could just Photoshop a whole new look for me!)

HBO picks up its option, expands cast as shooting gets underway in New York

Filed under: Top Stories — John B. Bryans @ 1:36 pm

Dear Boardwalk Empire Enthusiast,

Last week was a big one for the upcoming Scorsese production for HBO. Three new cast members were announced, filming of the pilot began in New York City, and HBO officially picked up its option on the book by Nelson Johnson from Plexus Publishing, Inc.

Plexus cannot confirm that all of the following will make an appearance in the pilot episode, but this list reflects the current cast to the best of our knowledge, roughly in the order cast:

  • Steve Buscemi starring as Nucky Johnson
  • Kelly Macdonald as Margaret, an enterprising Irish immigrant
  • Michael Pitt as Jimmy Darmody, an ambitious punk in Nuckys gang
  • Michael Shannon as federal agent Van Alden
  • Stephen Graham as Al Capone
  • Vincent Piazza as Lucky Luciano
  • Aleksa Palladino as Angela Darmody, Jimmys wife
  • Paul Sparks as a bootlegging funeral director
  • Shea Whigham as Eli Johnson, a corrupt county sheriff
  • Anthony Laciura as Louis Kessel
  • Charisma Carpenter in an as-yet unnamed role
  • Ann Marie Seall as an Upper Class Babette
  • Michael Kenneth Williams as Chalky White, the de facto “mayor” of Chickenbone Beach
  • Paz de la Huerta as Lucy, Nucky’s wild girlfriend
  • Dabney Coleman as Commodore Kaestner, Nucky’s predecessor and mentor

As has been previously reported, Martin Scorsese is directing the pilot and is also a co-executive producer along with Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, and Tim Van Patten.

Big news today!

Filed under: Top Stories — John B. Bryans @ 1:37 pm

Warning: some of this is going to get personal. (Since I can’t win an Emmy or an Oscar I figure this blog post is my best chance to get it out of my system.)

A lot of people may not have even realized it given all the recent hoopla over Boardwalk Empire, but up until now HBO has merely had an option on the Plexus book by Nelson Johnson. All that changed this morning: HBO has picked up the option. (Yeah, they had to–they’re actually shooting the beast!)

This is a great feeling–especially considering the book had its start as an unsolicited manuscript from an unpublished author I’d never heard of, sitting in a pile of similar manuscripts on my cluttered desk some 8 years ago. And here I am in a small regional publishing house in rural southern NJ +15 years after my career in trade publishing in NYC seemed to be winding down–with the biggest deal of my career happening now.


So, right now I’m thinking of my dad, James A. Bryans–an amazing book publisher who had many significant achievements in his career (including discovering Jim Thompson, bringing Shakespearian themes into pulp fiction, acquiring To Kill a Mockingbird for Popular Library, publishing many of the first and most popular tv tie-in books, beating much bigger publishers to get the Warren Report out, creating the longest-running series of American historical novels ever published, editing Coal Miner’s Daughter and Jack Hemingway’s memoirs–just to name some).

“Big Jim” was not only my dad, he was my best friend and my mentor in the publishing business, and though I lost him ten years ago I feel him smiling down on me. If he were in the room he’d say something like, “Way to go, kid–you’ve finally slain that lion!”

Pardon the personal and sentimental nature of this post–I’m letting it happen just this once, and hope you’ll understand. Today is a BIG day for me, for Nelson Johnson (congrats, Nelson–you deserve it), for Brian Lipson (thanks, Brian), and for my wonderful friends and colleagues at Plexus: Tom Sr, Heide, Amy, Kara, Dana, Lisa, Tom Jr, Rob, Linda, Pat P, and the rest of this talented team–congrats and thanks for helping to make Boardwalk Empire a success!

And thanks to my mom down in Florida who never asked or expected her kids to act like other people’s kids.  I love you, mom. Love you, Sarah, and love you, Jenny.

To close, I’m climbing up on my desk and yelling:

Go, Marty, Mark (and thank you, Mark!), Stephen, Terence, Steve Buscemi, and the whole talented cast and crew!

Go, Boardwalk Empire!!!

(This is going to be fun.)