Central Kentucky is being scouted for locations for a movie based on the true story of FBI agent Mark Putnam, who confessed to killing a pregnant informant with whom he had been having an affair.
Bourbon County Judge-Executive Mike Williams said Friday that the county government has been approached about the use of the courthouse in downtown Paris for a movie “about an FBI agent involved in criminal activity” in Pike County.
Locations in Lexington are also being considered, Williams said he was told by a location scout.
The state has approved a tax incentive for a movie titled Above Suspicion, which, according to a description of the incentive agreement, “is based on a true story of a Kentucky woman turned FBI informant.”
The movie is based on the story of Putnam, the former FBI agent who admitted killing his informant girlfriend in June 1989 in Pike County. The case received nationwide attention.
Variety, the entertainment newspaper, reported last week that Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke and Jack Huston, who will appear in the new movie version of Ben-Hur, are set to appear in Above Suspicion, “the chilling true story of a newly married FBI poster boy assigned to an Appalachian mountain town in Kentucky. There he is drawn into an illicit affair with an impoverished woman who becomes his star informant.”
The resulting death and scandal “shook the foundations of the nation’s top law enforcement agency,” and ended in the first conviction of an FBI agent for a killing, Variety reported.
Putnam was released from prison in 2000 after serving 10 years of his 16-year sentence for manslaughter in the death of Susan Daniels Smith.
Putnam said he accidentally strangled Smith in a fit of rage after she started slapping him and threatened to tell his wife and superiors about their affair and her pregnancy. Putnam drove around with Smith’s body in the trunk of his rental car for a day before dumping the body in a ravine in Pike County.
A year later, Putnam led authorities to Smith’s corpse. He said he confessed because he was racked by guilt, though he didn’t come forward until state police and the FBI began to focus on him as a suspect in Smith’s disappearance.
Williams, the Bourbon judge-executive, said the fiscal court magistrates did not take any action at their Thursday meeting in which they considered authorizing use of the courthouse.
“They just want to make sure there is not going to be any alteration of the building,” Williams said. “We want to make sure there are no impacts to our building. We’re quite proud of the courthouse here. The approach will be to make absolutely sure there is no risk to the building or the aesthetic quality or the historical significance of the structure.”
Williams said the courthouse might be used for filming on three separate days later this month. Variety reported that the principal photography for the movie is scheduled to start later this month.
The movie production company is interested in the 1905 Bourbon County courthouse because they wanted a building “similar to the courthouse from that era in that community,” Williams said.
He said a group of about 10 people, including an assistant director and a set designer, looked at the courthouse last week.
Williams said he has been in contact with a location scout named Alan Forbes, who has an office in Cincinnati. Forbes, who could not be reached immediately for comment, has been a location scout for movies such as Carol (Cate Blanchett), Batman Forever (Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey), The Ides of March (George Clooney and Ryan Gosling), and Seabiscuit, which was filmed in Paris, Keeneland and other Central Kentucky locations.
Williams said he did not know whether Bourbon County would receive any money for use of the courthouse.
“That’s something we haven’t talked about yet but it is one of the things we would talk about,” Williams said.
Jay Hall with the Kentucky Film Office said he could not discuss locations being considered for Above Suspicion.
“Unfortunately all information they give to us is proprietary with the exception of that which is public, which is the name of the company that applied for the tax incentive and the amount of tax incentive they received,” Hall said.
The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority authorized more than $3 million in a tax incentive for Above Suspicion, according to an incentive agreement list for May.
Hall referred questions to a production company, but the number he gave for that company was busy each time it was called on Friday.
A 1993 TV movie, Sister Sorrow, was based on the Putnam case. So was a 1994 TV movie Betrayed by Love.
There have been at least two books published about the Putnam case. The upcoming movie is based on Above Suspicion by Joe Sharkey.