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Straight Shooting

Richmond agents show actors the ropes in Rod Lurie's new series.


But "we don't take that tack at all," Thompson says emphatically. And Rod Lurie, writer and director of "Lines of Duty," listened.

Lurie consulted Thompson and other local agents before writing the show, which is set to air on ABC in the fall. The extent of assistance he received from the FBI is "unprecedented," says Andy Edmunds, location manager at the Virginia Film Office.

Although "Lines of Duty" is set in Richmond, most of the filming will take place in Los Angeles. Still, Lurie wanted realistic sets and local flavor for the series, which follows the intertwined stories of a mobster, played by David Paymer, and a rookie FBI agent, played by Virginia native Leslie Bibb.

So the director asked Thompson for advice on how to give the set "the look and feel of an authentic FBI office," the agent says. He even borrowed a few things for the filming of the intro sequence, including a black-and-gold desk plaque engraved with the official FBI seal and personalized for the Richmond office.

Lurie also wanted to make sure that the actors spoke like real agents. For instance, he asked Thompson, "How do junior agents refer to the boss?" Thompson told him that in formal settings, agents address him as sir, mister or sometimes, "Boss." (However, Thompson's counterpart in the show is a woman.) Otherwise, most go by first names, he says, not surnames.

Realism was important for Bibb as well, says Thompson, who has some firsthand knowledge of FBI operations. Bibb's stepfather, Ed Sulzbach, is a well-known retired agent who now lives in Lynchburg. When she met with Lurie to discuss doing the series, Thompson says, "she was insistent that the director would accurately and fairly portray the FBI," and not "gratuitously bash" the organization.

From Thompson and his agents, the actors learned how to carry their weapons, the right words to say when confronting criminals and the legal intricacies of search warrants. They even spent three days filming and observing at the FBI Academy at the Quantico U.S. Marine Corps Base. "That's more than we did for the 'Silence of the Lambs'," Edmunds says.

Local actor Scott Mikels, who had worked on another Lurie pilot called "Capital City," played alongside Bibb as an agent-in-training at Quantico during the filming of the pilot. It was an interesting two days, Mikels says, as he watched real agents learn hand-to-hand combat and how to stay afloat in an emergency (by taking off your pants and inflating them).

In one classroom scene, Mikels says, he was sitting in the same row as Bibb while Lurie prepared to film a profile shot of the actress, panning over her neighbors. "I want you three to know that you're gonna make or break this TV pilot," Lurie told them mock-seriously. "I'm a little worried that my nose will get in the way," replied Mikels, who has, he admits, a prominent one. "No, I don't think your nose is going to be a problem," Lurie said thoughtfully. "But those eyebrows!" Mikels didn't mind the joke, he says — it's probably his craggy features that get him those police/FBI roles.

After the Quantico immersion and initial FBI consulting, Thompson says, Lurie intends to continue asking the Richmond office for advice when filming "tactical kinds of scenes." However, he says, "We're not giving away any secrets we … wouldn't want the bad guys to have knowledge about."

Speaking of bad guys, how convincing is it to have a mobster in Richmond? Not very, Thompson says. Criminals of Tony Soprano's ilk really aren't seen in this town. "At the same time," he says, "it's not an unrealistic portrayal of a criminal organization that does operate in other parts of the country."

Overall, Thompson says, he's impressed with the pilot and the director's approach. The camera approach is similar to "NYPD Blue," he says, jumping from scene to scene and lending Richmond a gritty air. And, he says, the series is based more on character development than action, which mirrors real FBI life.

The Virginia Film Office also is pleased with Lurie's work, simply because it showcases the city. Camera crews will return here three or four times this year, Edmunds says, and have already filmed in locations as diverse as the jogging trail at Belle Isle, Upper Brandon Plantation and a temporarily remodeled Canal Club, as well as government buildings and the real FBI field office off Parham Road. "Richmond is a very versatile city for filmmakers," Edmunds says.

Not to mention that filmmakers are very lucrative for the city. The pilot filming brought in an estimated $4 million, Edmunds says, which takes the $1.9 million the production crew spent directly and multiplies it by 2.1, a standard figure to account for money trickling down. "They rent everything from helicopters to paper clips," he says. "They're like super-tourists."

The ultimate reward, however, would be if "Lines of Duty" gives Richmond a vivid TV identity like "Homicide" did for Baltimore. Edmunds has faith that it will. Viewers will see the city scenery, he predicts, and say "Wow, where'd they shoot this?" S

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