Madisonians are plugged in politically, but many of us were confused by the campaign bus that came to town last fall advertising "Deirdre Samuels for Senate."
Who the heck is Deirdre Samuels?
We'll find out on Feb. 14, when Battleground premieres on the popular streaming website Hulu.com. Battleground is Hulu's first original scripted series: a faux documentary about Samuels, a Wisconsin politician running against an incumbent U.S. Senator. Instead of shooting it on an L.A. soundstage, executive producer JD Walsh pushed to make the film right here, in his hometown. About 50 cast and crew members rented space near Badger Bowl for a couple months, making excursions to such iconic locations as Wingra Park, Mickies Dairy Bar and Camp Randall Stadium.
"We have a huge rally that the President is coming to, so we filmed on a football Saturday and made it seem that everybody going to the football game was actually going to the rally,"" says Walsh, a 1992 West High grad.
Walsh calls Battleground "a love letter to Madison, because the city meant so much to me." This is where he met his co-executive producer, Marc Webb, director of (500) Days of Summer and the forthcoming Amazing Spider-man. The two became friends in first grade at Randall School and found their vocations at West under the tutelage of drama teacher Rebecca Jallings. Both moved to L.A., with Walsh making his mark as an actor on TV (Two and a Half Men) and movies (Bad Boys II).
Walsh got the idea for Battleground after campaigning for John Kerry in Ohio in 2004.
"I started seeing these campaign workers who spent their lives on the road. As soon as it was over they would just pick up and move to the next campaign. The concept of the people who are drawn to that life was fascinating to me. I wondered how come this show had never been done before."
Two years ago, Walsh flew to Madison and shot a 20-minute pilot, raising money from family members. Webb got interested, and they shopped Battleground to TV networks with no success. Then came Hulu, which was looking for smart content that had somehow slipped through the cracks elsewhere. Suddenly, after what seemed like ages in limbo, Walsh found himself in Madison last October, shooting 13 episodes on what he calls "an indie movie budget."
Watch the launch trailer for the program:
Walsh had a hard time convincing Hollywood executives to let him film the series' first season in Madison, where he had a feel for the people, places and politics. Once the production set up shop here, though, the benefits were obvious. Walsh discovered a pool of talented regional actors, along with businesses eager to accommodate his cameras for free.
"In L.A., you ask a restaurant if you can film there, and they say, 'Of course, that'll be $10,000.' Whereas in Madison there was a sense of excitement about being part of a show that would put the city in such a positive light."