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Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.
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How HBO’s ‘Sharp Objects’ with Amy Adams used Barnesville, GA as Wind Gap, Mo.

The limited series spent five weeks in the area in 2017

Originally filed Friday, July 6, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

The modest town of Barnesville, 60 miles south of downtown Atlanta, will be featured in the HBO limited series starring Amy Adams called “Sharp Objects” debuting Sunday, July 8 at 9 p.m.

Over five weeks last summer, Barnesville became the fictional town of Wind Gap, Missouri. 

Gregg Fienberg, an executive producer for “Sharp Objects” who took a break from shooting the second season of “Big Little Lies” to talk to me, said they stumbled upon Barnesville while seeking pig farms.

“We were looking at a couple of other towns when [director] Jean-Marc Vallée said, ‘Wait a minute. We have to stop here,’ “ he said.

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They instantly liked the way the town is laid out visually. “The town has streets coming into it at different angles, which added to the charm and small-town nature of it,” Fienberg said.

Barnesville boasts a lovely main street that can be seen right over some railroad tracks. The camera travels through the town in the opening seconds of “Sharp Objects.” 

The clincher? The cheerful retro-style murals, many created by a local 26-year-old artist Andrew Henry

After they chose Barnesville, the producers commissioned Henry to paint some extra ones, including  a special “Welcome to Wind Gap” sign, which resembles a 1950s-era postcard. 

“It gives it that ‘town that time forgot’ feeling,” Fienberg said. 

This mural is featured in HBO's 'Sharp Objects" and created by artist Andrew Henry. The city of Barnesville chose to keep it up after production wrapped.
Andrew Henry created this mural especially for "Sharp Objects."

Henry said he’s aware of the show’s noir tones, which contrasted with his artistic style. “It was all pretty exciting,” he said. “I just wanted to bring some good work to the table and do some artwork that would be impactful. I like to bring joy to my paintings.” 

He said the “Sharp Objects” team guided him well. “I really enjoyed the creative process working on the show,” he said. “I missed all those artistic people in town when they left.” 

In the end, the weather cooperated and it was even cooler than normal last June. “It all worked out really well,” Fienberg said. “I can’t imagine the town being more cooperative. It almost felt like the town was our own back lot.” 

Niki Sappington, community development director for Barnesville, was tickled pink when HBO called. She said this was the first time the city had been heavily used in a TV show or film in at least two decades. 

She was the city liaison with the film production and said it couldn’t have gone smoother. 

Sappington is aware the drama is not happy go lucky at all. “I’ve seen the trailer and read the book. It’s a dark crime thriller,” she said. “That’s not Barnesville.” 

On the bright side, “ A lot of locals were extras,” she said. “Local businesses were compensated if they were impacted. They rented vacant buildings for the art department and props. We saw a tremendous increase in traffic in the downtown area at night. People stuck around trying to see Amy Adams. They’d come and eat at our restaurants and shop at the local stores. It had a positive impact across the board.” 

According to a story in the Georgia Studio Alliance, tax revenue in the town was boosted 10 percent in July, 2017 vs. the same period a year earlier. 

Christopher Deraney, the head of the local chamber of commerce, even created a fictional Wind Gap, Mo. Facebook page to promote the city and the show. The local Deraney’s restaurant is hosting a viewing party July 8. 

By keeping the murals around, the town hopes the show will drive some tourism their way, along the lines of Senoia and “The Walking Dead,” said Henry, the artist. 

But it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. “Sharp Objects” isn’t expected to air beyond these eight episodes and is defined as a “limited series.” 

“The Walking Dead” on AMC, on the other hand, has been around for eight years, generating more than 100 episodes. It has been the No. 1 cable show among 18-to-49-year-olds for several years and the actors spend most of the year in the area. 

Overall, about 20 percent of “Sharp Objects” production was done in Georgia. The rest was shot back in California, including the lavish home owned by Patricia Clarkson’s powerful character Adora. 

Nonetheless, “Sharp Objects” is a high-end HBO drama that could become a binge-watching option for years to come if it’s a success. It certainly has the pedigree. It’s based on a book by Gillian Flynn of “Gone Girl” fame. The executive producers and director worked on “Big Little Lies.” Adams, of course, is a Oscar-nominated actress who plays Camille, the St. Louis reporter assigned to investigate murders of teen girls in her hometown. 

And reviews have largely been positive, with Metacritic (which collates reviews nationwide) giving “Sharp Objects” a 77 out of 100.

As the Atlantic ‘s Sophie Gilbert noted in her review, “ ‘Sharp Objects’ is Southern Gothic for the 21st century, probing the grim heritage and often squalid reality of small-town America.” 

And Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Fienberg wrote: “ ‘Sharp Objects’ can't precisely capture Flynn's prose and the internalized descent into disorientation taken page-by-page, but series director Jean-Marc Vallee finds his own visual language that, driven by a ferociously wounded performance by Amy Adams, makes this eight-hour limited series haunting and riveting--both prestige and pulp.”

Fienberg, the executive producer, hopes the show resonates with viewers and gives them something to talk about, the way “Big Little Lies” did.

He’s aware it’s a slow-burn of a series, one which relies heavily on visual cues, not narrative dialogue. Flashbacks seamlessly meld into current day. The camera lingers on (literally) sharp objects like a knife or screw. And Barnesville’s storefronts get plenty of airtime.

“It’s a character study,” he said. “And instead of telling you how she’s feeling, we provide visual clues that make the audience participate more. She keeps seeing things. What does it mean to her and why are they important to her?”

TV PREVIEW

“Sharp Objects,” 9 p.m. Sundays, HBO

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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