Oscar winners to film movie in Sylva

sylvaSylva is going to hit the big screen next year, made over as the fictional town of Ebbing, Missouri, and home to a character portrayed by Oscar-winning actress Francis McDormand.

The town board’s meeting room was more crowded than it’s been in a long time as about 40 residents, reporters and business owners crowded in to hear a panel of Los Angeles crew members give the run-down of what filming would entail and what they hope the finished product will accomplish. 

“I’d like to promise that we’ll make a great film that everybody can be proud of, that will show Sylva in a great light to show how great it looks, and that you’ll be not too inconvenienced but once it’s all over be really proud of what we make together,” said the movie’s writer, producer and director Martin McDonagh. 

McDonagh has been working on movies since the early 2000s, earning an Oscar for the 2004 short film Six Shooter and an Oscar nomination for the 2008 movie In Bruges. He described the upcoming Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — set for release in 2017 — as a character drama, with the Internet Movie Database classifying it as a crime movie. 

Robert Foulkes, the location manager for Three Billboards, has worked with McDonagh on other movies in the past, as well as a long list of other projects stretching back to 1991, when he served as assistant location manager for Terminator 2: Judgment Day. He oozed enthusiasm for this most current project, even throwing out the prediction that McDormand will get an Oscar nomination for the film. 

“It’s going to be a good movie, a quality movie,” Foulkes said. “I’ve worked on some unquality movies.” 

While town board members and Sylva residents reflected the crew’s enthusiasm, they asked plenty of questions as to what the filming might mean for daily life in town. While Foulkes promised that the forthcoming schedule would proceed with the order of a military operation, filming is still a bit distant for all the details to be pinned down. 

However, a few things are certain. Filming will begin on April 25, with 34 days required to shoot in 15 to 20 locations — in Sylva as well as various places around Asheville. About 12 days of shooting would take place in Sylva, and about half of those would be indoor scenes. The other half, outdoor scenes, would require some disruption to traffic. Parts of three or four days would require detouring traffic away from Main Street, while the rest of the time would likely use a stop-and-go approach, with traffic monitors holding up traffic for a few minutes at a time while scenes are shot and letting cars drive by between takes. Three of the 12 days would involve shooting a nighttime scene in which the “police station” — aka Sassy Frass Consignment — would catch fire. 

“It doesn’t burn down,” Foulkes assured the town. “Sassy Frass will return. Back to normal by Memorial Day.”

Foulkes told the crowd that he’ll be willing to work with business owners and residents to make sure that the movie fits in around town life as easily as it can. Specific camera angles and shot locations are not all nailed down yet, but he told the town board that, in the event a shot requires a business to close its doors for a few hours, “I would work out something that feels like it’s a reasonable compensation.” 

“For the most part it’s an enjoyable process,” Foulkes said. “It’s like a circus coming to town.”  

And like the circus’ big showy tent, the movie and its crew won’t be invisible. Though filming is still nine weeks away, crewmembers will have a presence in Sylva beginning very soon as they scout locations and work on sets. And the days of filming will certainly involve some inconvenience. 

“There will be inconveniences,” said Guy Gaster, director of the North Carolina Film Office. “The goal is that the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term inconveniences.” 

Gaster ticked off a list of examples, including the 100,000 extra visitors that have made their way to Crowders Mountain State Park since the movie Max was filmed there, the 131 percent uptick in people searching the film office’s site for Wilmington locations after Nicholas Sparks’ The Choice was filmed there and, most notably, the record attendance DuPont State Forest experienced after The Hunger Games was filmed there. 

“The state did maybe too good of a job promoting DuPont State Forest,” Gaster said. 

Because  it had only learned of the plan that Friday, the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority has not yet taken an official yay or nay position on the movie, said TDA Director Nick Breedlove, but it’s a fact that filming a major movie in Sylva has the potential to increase its occupancy tax collections and customers to shops and restaurants. 

“I’ve offered my office’s resources (to the crew),” Breedlove said. 

“The hope is the film is good enough that is going to last, not just the next two years when it comes out but 10, 20, 30 years,” McDonagh said. 

Breedlove did give the caveat that the film crew should be cognizant of Western Carolina University’s graduation the weekend of May 6, while Joni Newell of Cullowhee River Club asked that the film crew avoid parking a big truck in front of her building and Rev. Jeff Mathis, pastor at First Baptist Church, told Foulkes of the church’s hefty daytime ministry schedule and asked that they take care not to disrupt that. 

However, the people filling the room mostly seemed to be excited that the movie is coming to Sylva and eager to help. 

“We’re delighted about this project and additionally we would be happy to share our building with you guys,” Mathis said. 

Tracy Fitzmaurice, the county librarian, told the crew that the library’s got the best view in town, encouraging them to stop by and ask for the keys if they’d like to see. 

“I’m excited about it, because I think it’s a great opportunity for Sylva and for Jackson County,” said Mayor Lynda Sossamon. 

That’s a sentiment shared by Tammy Fuller, owner of Sassy Frass, where much of the Sylva filming will take place. 

“I truly have fallen in love with the cast and the crew and the producer,” Fuller said. “I really believe that it is an honor for them to be coming to Sylva, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store and what the movie is. I am just so blessed to be able to have them.” 



Finding Sylva

The road to Sylva as the main filming location for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, was a long one. 

Location manager Robert Foulkes first began scouting for the film in December 2014, traveling to Louisiana, Georgia, Ohio and New Mexico in search of the perfect town. But the movie ended up not happening at that time, and he went to work on a different project. 

Then, in late 2015, Foulkes got a call that the movie was back on. 

“North Carolina had recently brought back their tax incentives, but that gave the incentive to the production company to want to come here,” Foulkes said. “We weren’t necessarily sold on anything we had seen in any other states, and we jumped on the chance.”

Foulkes began working with the N.C. Film Office, and based on writer Martin McDonagh’s vision for the kind of look and street set-up the town should have, he narrowed North Carolina’s short list down to 19 towns. Five days of driving brought him through all 19, and Sylva came out a clear winner.

“I love Sylva,” McDonagh said. “Everybody’s been so friendly to us so far, it’s hard to picture the film in my head anywhere else now because it’s such a beautiful place and because of that sense of life on the streets.”

Interestingly, even though the story takes place in Missouri, the film crew didn’t scout there at all. 

“Missouri doesn’t have a tax incentive program for filming,” Foulkes said, “so we didn’t even look in Missouri.”

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