A sign announcing production of an HBO pilot greets visitors at the entrance to Old Sturbridge Village. (CHRIS CHRISTO)Enlarge photo
STURBRIDGE — If you saw hellish flames reaching into the night sky Tuesday originating from Old Sturbridge Village, your eyes weren't playing tricks on you. 

It was "The Devil You Know," an HBO pilot being filmed there about the infamous Salem witch trials. 

At 9 p.m., a barn was set on fire and burned for 45 minutes, leaving only a shell where, according to the script, a hotbed for heretical activities once stood. Sturbridge Fire Department was there in case the blaze got out of hand. 

While everyone at Old Sturbridge Village is tight-lipped (and contractually obligated not to say a single word) about the film production, there is a paper trail in the town's municipal office that indicates a small barn was constructed only to be burned to the ground, and that was done Tuesday night. 

Billed as "a provocative period drama that explores the circumstances around one of the most compelling chapters in American history," "The Devil You Know" — think "Mark of the Devil" meets "The Sopranos" — appears to be HBO gambling that Salem witches will replace "walking" zombies as the next big pop culture craze. 

Darin E. Johnson, vice president of advancement at Old Sturbridge Village, was mum on the specifics on the HBO project and OSV's involvement. However, he did say Old Sturbridge Village would not have allowed filming there if it didn't mean financial gain for the nonprofit living history museum. Monday was the first day of four 12-hour shoots at the village. Old Sturbridge Village has been closed weekdays since March 9 to accommodate production. 

"Obviously, January and February and March, this quarter of the year is the lowest of our entire calendar year. So it gave us the opportunity to be able to provide a shoot location for the series pilot and have financial benefit to the organization," Mr. Johnson said. "If HBO would have come to us and wanted to do this in July or August, we would have had to say no." 

Alexandra E. McNitt, executive director of The Chamber of Central Mass South, said it is not just Old Sturbridge Village that is seeing the financial benefits of a big film production shooting and staying in town for a few days. 

"It's certainly making a difference at the village, not just in the fees that they are getting for utilizing the space but it's also addressing some different maintenance that the village had," Ms. McNitt said. "The village is all exterior sets, so the different maintenance that they are doing is some of the buildings that haven't been painted and have been deferred. HBO had to paint them for their purposes for shooting and then they will be painting them back." 

Thanks to "The Devil You Know," Ms. McNitt said, an estimated 200 guests are staying in Sturbridge hotels. 

"That's a significant amount," Ms. McNitt said. "That's 20 percent of our hotel stock in town. So at this time of year, mid-week, that's great." 

Christopher Rovezzi, owner and chef at Rovezzi's Ristorante, did a vigorous Twitter campaign to get "The Devil You Know" cast and crew into his restaurant. He even accosted the pilot's lead actor, Eddie Izzard, on the street. 

"I offered our restaurant to him," Mr. Rovezzi said. "I said, 'Even television and movie people have to eat at some point.' I told him we're here for him, gave him a business card and that was that." 

Mr. Rovezzi's tenacity paid off. Mr. Izzard, along with fellow cast members Nadia Alexander, Ewen Bremner and Julian Rhind-Tutt, dined at the restaurant late Tuesday night. Before leaving, Mr. Rovezzi apologized to Mr. Izzard. 

"I said, 'Look, I feel I might have come on too strong by approaching you,' " Mr. Rovezzi recalled. 'And Eddie said his philosophy is 'hustle not hassle,' meaning hustle in life and work hard. 'That's what you did. You hustled and you got us in here and it worked.' " 

Weighing in the winning track record of executive producer/writer Jenji Kohan (creator of "Orange Is the New Black") and executive producer/pilot director Gus Van Sant (Academy Award-nominated director for "Good Will Hunting") and the fact that HBO has a void with the cancellation of its vampire soap opera "True Blood," Ms. McNitt said she feels there is a very high probability the premium cable network will pick up "The Devil You Know" pilot. 

And if HBO gives "The Devil You Know" its due, that's when Sturbridge will reap a plentiful harvest, Ms. McNitt said. 

"The hope is the pilot will be picked up. They will choose to come back to Massachusetts to shoot the whole next season, which, in theory, would be December through February of next year," Ms. McNitt said. "Looking long term, if the pilot gets picked up, it could be a real boom for our areas, as well as several other areas of Massachusetts."