Disney chooses to shoot TV show in Utah, and boy is producer glad

First Published      Last Updated May 25 2017 07:17 pm

“Andi Mack” » Shot in the Salt Lake Valley, new Disney Channel series from “Lizzie McGuire” creator debuts tonight.

When Terri Minsky created "Andi Mack," she had no intention of shooting the series in Utah. And yet the new Disney Channel series making its television premiere Friday shot its 13-episode first season entirely in the Beehive State, although the fictional setting is left intentionally vague.

"I'm from Pittsburgh, so I kind of set it there in my mind," said Minsky, who created the hit series "Lizzie McGuire" for Disney. "The generic kind of suburban area of a big city. So how I ended up in Utah — that was all Disney."

The cable outlet has a long history of shooting TV movies in and around Salt Lake City, and not just the "High School Musical" trilogy. The list includes "Going to the Mat," "Halloweentown High," "Johnny Tsunami" and "The Luck of the Irish."

"We've had such a long relationship with them," said Virginia Pearce, director of the Utah Film Commission. "One of the producers said, 'I think we've shot at every high school on the Wasatch Front over the years.' "

"Andi Mack" centers on the title character (newcomer Peyton Elizabeth Lee), who's about to turn 13. Andi and her family are knocked off balance when her free-spirited older sister, Bex (Lilan Bowden), returns after being away for many years. The premise of the series is that Andi's life goes from routine to roller coaster overnight as she navigates growing up.

The cast includes Lauren Tom as Andi's overprotective mom; Joshua Rush as Cyrus and Sofia Wylie as Buffy, Andi's best friends; and Asher Angel as Jonah, the boy Andi has a crush on.

The show is aimed at kids and tweens, but it's not a children's show.

"I want people to say, 'This is a Disney show? It doesn't feel like a Disney show!' " Minsky said. "That's my dream. So, Salt Lake City, give me my dream!"

Utahns will be able to pick out plenty of local sites; non-Utahns probably won't have a clue "Andi Mack" was filmed here unless they read the end credits. It comes across, quite intentionally, as sort of generic Middle America.

"We're not really saying where we are, we're just in Shadyside — wherever that may be," said executive producer Michelle Manning. "It's this street."

The street she's referring to is in downtown Magna, and it's one of the show's primary locations.

The crew turned the shell of an old storefront into a cool hangout for the "Andi Mack" kids, and they spruced up other local establishments with paint, new signs, awnings and more, creating a location better than a Hollywood soundstage.

"Even on a backlot in L.A., you couldn't be in here shooting out the window because it wouldn't be real," said Manning. "But here, you believe that there's a world that exists and it's sort of this Anytown USA street."

The veteran producer ("The Breakfast Club," "Sixteen Candles") said it's less complicated to shoot in Utah than in Los Angeles. "And the traffic's not as bad," she added with a laugh.

Minsky had never been to Salt Lake City, and she was unconvinced when all this was first explained to her.

"I was, like, 'Why Utah? What are we going to get in Utah that we can't get in Pittsburgh? Or Los Angeles? Or New York, which is where I live?' " she said. "And then we came to Utah and it was, like, 'Oh. OK, I see the point.'" Minsky was won over when production began in September.

"It was so beautiful and spectacular, just in Liberty Park," she said. "I was, like, 'I don't really see why we need to [go] anywhere else. Let's just shoot here.' "

They did shoot a number of scenes in different areas of the park "because you'd never know you were in the same place."

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The made-in-Utah sitcom “Andi Mack” premieres Friday on the Disney Channel — 6:30 p.m. on DirecTV and Dish; 9:30 p.m. on Comcast.