With season three of HBO’s “True Detective” out now, Northwest Arkansas is abuzz spotting familiar locales — a dimly lit Hugo’s with Mahershala Ali among the shadows, for example. (Perhaps a little nostalgia was at play considering that creator Nic Pizzolatto was working on his MFA in creative writing at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville that decade?) Although the 200-plus cast and crew was made up of many TV/film veterans who moved in to shoot on location in the Arkansas Ozarks, HBO also recruited locals to participate. Tom Wallace, a 73-year-old retired Air Force and railroad worker who makes his home in Little Rock, was the first hire in the state of Arkansas, as a location scout. His first task: find office/studio space for the entire cast and crew.
We asked Wallace about his experience behind the scenes — and discovered Wallace’s ties to the Apollo moon missions along the way.
Working with them was truly amazing. There were so many talented people that had done so many other things like Jurassic Park, The Wire, Deadwood, Game of Thrones. I was surrounded by people that had done all these fantastic shows so it was very rewarding. But it could be pretty stressful at times too. My main charge was to scout locations. They furnished me the scripts for the show and I read the scripts and I went out and developed locations for what the script was calling for.
What are some examples of places you scouted?
We had over 200 locations total for the series and one of them was an old abandoned fire tower that played a big part in the series. Another was the state police headquarters that was up in Springdale. A lot of them were homes in Northwest Arkansas. We filmed in peoples’ residences and that required us to get contracts signed, and pay people for the use of their properties.
From what you’ve seen of the show, is there a vivid moment of a location you scouted?
The fire tower was really a high priority because they didn’t have a way to reproduce a fire tower. It’s in the run-up to the show at the very first, they have some different places they show in the intro. It’s just amazing to see how they photograph it with drones and booms and all the camera equipment. It’s really interesting.
Where is the actual fire tower?
The fire tower is supposedly part of the Devil’s Den complex. We used to have towers all over the state but since they have the satellites and all that looking for forest fires, people have bought the towers. They’re privately owned and dismantled so there’s only two or three of them left in the state so fortunately we were able to locate one that was close by so we could use it in the series.
I’m wondering how your previous career helped prepare you for film scouting.
I was in the photo squadron when I was in the Air National Guard, so there were some similarities. I have a longtime love of the outdoors and have always been involved with photography since I was 18 or 19. When I first got married I worked for a professional photo finisher in Dallas, a photochrome developer. They did professional photographs for people all over the United States. They actually had a contract with NASA and we processed all the film from the Apollo moon missions. So I’ve always been involved in photography and this was just another way to branch out on using my cameras and my expertise.
Now that it’s out, what is it like to watch the series?
I used to watch movies and take it for granted but now I’m constantly looking at all the different locations and how they set the cameras up. And I think about the time. I may have spent four or five days looking for a location that gets five seconds in the series. You just look at it totally differently once you’ve been involved in it and see the places you’ve actually found for them to do their filming. When you go out on set there’s all the people. There’s probably 200 people out there, doing so many different things like electric, makeup. It’s a very involved process.