Proposed 'Mulligan' TV series would showcase beauty, grit of Pittsburgh
Steve Parys gets a lot of scripts thrust in his direction these days.
The 55-year-old director turns most of them down.
Parys knows how rare it can be to find a winning pitch after nearly 30 years in the entertainment industry, with his behind-the-scenes credits spanning films such as "The Silence of the Lambs," "The Chief," and "Concussion," to TV shows such as "Gone," "Foxcatcher" and "Outsiders."
But last spring, one particular TV show script by a fledgling writer almost instantly won Parys over — not only because he found the writing "stellar," characters engaging and storyline's blend of dark comedy and drama compelling, but also because it was created by a Western Pennsylvania native striving to create one of the most realistic depictions of modern Pittsburgh to air on television.
"I was born and raised here and I love this city, so I just loved the fact that it was a very Pittsburgh-centric script, and it's a really, really good script," said Parys, who's lived in the South Side for almost 20 years.
The proposed TV series , "Mulligan," centers on a "guy's second chance at life, his second shot at doing things right" while capturing the grit, humor and beauty of Pittsburgh in a way that few shows have, Parys said.
The tentative cast and crew is in place — including more than 30 locally based actors and artists — and filming on the proposed TV pilot is scheduled to begin next month.
"I was beyond lucky that we got Steve," said the show's creator, writer and star, Patrick Cannon — an actor making his first foray into writing as a candidate for a master's of fine arts in screenwriting and playwrighting at Point Park University.
Cannon, 28, had been working on the script on and off for nearly three years. Parys was his top choice and first pitch to a director.
"Steve coming on board actually got the ball rolling, because we knew we could not pass up the opportunity to work with somebody of his caliber," said Cannon.
Parys has been first assistant director of more than two dozen feature films and TV series. Pittsburghers may know Parys' work as director of "The Chief," the 2010 film chronicling the life of Art Rooney Sr. Parys also was first AD in the pilot for "Downward Dog," but did not continue with the show once it was picked up because WGN had just green-lighted "Outsiders" for a second season.
The new proposed show's premise: Following a downward spiral, former professional golfer-turned-convict Jack O'Mally gets released from Allegheny County Jail and embarks on a fresh start — er, mulligan — at being a better person by taking a job at his brother's driving range and miniature golf course.
Its primary setting: Scally's Golf and Training Center in Moon near the Pittsburgh International Airport. Parys said he also plans to shoot scenes across the region, including Allegheny County Jail (or at least its exterior), beneath the 31st Street Bridge and in local bars, such as The Summit in Mt. Washington.
"It's a dramedy with hints of mystery," said Cannon, who likened the show's stylistic feel to a combination of "Friday Night Lights," "Orange is the New Black" and even "Breaking Bad," featuring characters that resemble a toned-down version of the cast of "Parks and Recreation" or "The Office."
If it gets picked up, the TV series will follow the protagonist, O'Mally, as he works to rekindle damaged relationships, make amends to hometown friends and family and refocus the priorities in his life while struggling to overcome addiction and a criminal record stemming from two DUIs and assaulting a cop.
"There's definitely some comedic elements, but overall, honestly it's a lot like life," Cannon said. "There's some really intense dramatic stuff" — like confronting the opioid epidemic plaguing the nation and Western Pennsylvania in particular.
Cannon lives in New York, but he grew up in Imperial and Sheraden and graduated from West Allegheny High School.
The heroin epidemic has "hit our community very hard, and it's hit me close to home too many times at this point," said Cannon, who has lost neighors and childhood friends to opioid-related overdoses in recent years.
"I felt like it had to be a part of the story because it's a part of what's going on in our city, whether we like it or not," Cannon said.
The proposed show will feature cinematography by Jeff Garton and is being produced by Ashley Kate Adams of AKA Studio Productions, a producer and actress whose credits include the Netflix hit "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," "Royal Pains," "Pitching Tents" and "Rules of Cool."
Adams, of New York, also will star in the show, alongside Cannon and local actors including Daina Michelle Griffith ("The Dark Knight Rises"), Patrick Jordan ("The Dark Knight Rises," "Outsiders"), Jason McCune ("Outsiders," "Fathers and Daughters"), Makeda Duncan ("Lightheaded"), Tony Bingham — whom Cannon called a "staple of the Pittsburgh theater world" — and Mike Sullivan, whom Cannon praised as "one of the single best unknown actors in this country."
Because of its edgier nature, "Mulligan" might be best for a cable network such as FX, though Parys and Cannon aren't opposed to exploring making adjustments for a different network or gauging interest among online streaming services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon.
Parys said "Mulligan" already has a base budget in place but is working to generate additional buzz and individual donations through an IndieGoGo campaign .
Though still in the early stages of pitching, Cannon and Parys said they have at least one non-negotiable: the show must be filmed locally to work. Though both Cannon and Parys are big fans of the hit NBC series, "This is Us," for instance, they lamented that while that show is set here, it was filmed in Los Angeles and hasn't incorporated many Pittsburgh-specific components.
"The intensity and passion and just the confidence of Pittsburgh is definitely a huge part of 'Mulligan'," Cannon said. "The show simply doesn't exist outside of Pittsburgh."
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, email@example.com or on Twitter @NewsNatasha.