With the Academy Awards® taking place on March 4, the buzz and awards continue to rack up for the already nationally-acclaimed dark comedic drama, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Viewers are scrambling to watch the film that has now been the winner of four Golden Globes, three SAG awards and nominated for seven Oscars®, may take special notice of the uniquely fictional town of Ebbing, Missouri, where the story is set.
The mountain town of Sylva, NC was the primary filming location, and from May 2-21, 2016 transformed to become the town of Ebbing, Missouri, where this dark drama unfolds. Sylva captures the perfect picture of small-town Americana and proves to be a natural setting for the silver screen. With mountain vistas framing the background and storefronts lining Main Street, the town encompasses all the authentic characteristics that the setting of this Oscar® nominated film needed.
According to Production Designer Inbal Weinberg, the bones of the town were all there, but the transformation of Sylva to Ebbing was no small feat. Weinberg paid close attention to the smallest of details down to bumper stickers, creating high school mascots for this imaginary town and turning the local newspaper office (The Sylva Herald) into the Ebbing Herald, all to perfect the vision and feel that writer-director Martin McDonagh had in mind for Ebbing.
The town of Sylva enthusiastically embraced the filming and wanted to partake in and witness this rare opportunity. The uniquely open set allowed spectators to come out and watch the production unfold, allowing them to really be a part of the excitement. Locals took part in the masquerading task contributing to the hypothetical town by making their own Ebbing themed shirts and memorabilia, and many even made the cut as extras in the film.
“Sylva’s downtown had the perfect mix of being vibrant and active, yet also is one with oodles of smalltown charm every direction you look,” location manager Robert Foulkes said. “Sylva truly had the whole package, and in my opinion, is the best and most interesting looking small town in all of North Carolina.”
Below, get to know the town of Sylva, NC., the real town behind the fictional setting of Ebbing, Missouri.
Ebbing Location: Ebbing Police Station
Sylva Location: Sassy Frass Consignment (581 W. Main Street)
Setting the Scene: On a normal day in Sylva, Sassy Frass is enjoyed and visited by many as a popular upscale consignment, furniture and décor store. All merchandise was removed from the popular store, which was then turned into the interior of a small-town police station. Sassy Frass’ large glass street-facing windows and convenient location directly across from and below TenBiz (Ebbing Advertising Co), worked out perfectly for some of the movies largest scenes to take place.
One of the most attended and exciting scenes was when Mildred Hayes throws Molotov cocktail bombs through the station windows to light the police station on fire in the middle of the night. This was the one scene that made owner, Tammy Fuller, a little nervous, but the store was put back as good as new.
Incidentally, Sylva’s real police station is just two blocks down from its fictional counterpart, located by the Courthouse. A few of Sylva’s finest even landed natural roles as Ebbing police officers.
Ebbing Location: Welby’s Office / Ebbing Advertising Co.
Sylva Location: TenBiz, located above Jackson’s General Store
Setting the Scene: Before the filming started, the crew took photos of the business in preparation to completely clear it out for scene preparation. Everything from the office was removed, except for the CEO and Founder Tonya Snider’s desk, which they kept in place to use as the desk in the film. Owner Tonya, who was on set every day of filming, pointed out that the most impressive part about the scene was how attentive the crew was to even the smallest of details. The pens and notepads on the desks all had “Ebbing Advertising Agency” on them to make it as realistic as possible.
During the scene where Dixon throws Red out of a second-story window, they had to use a special break-away glass. There was limited glass, so the crew only had a few chances to nail this continuous, hard-to-get shot, but they nailed it! Complete with stage blood, that was splattered on the walls and carpet of the office, the scene was one of the most exciting ones shot for crew and spectators. When filming wrapped, everything was re-done and perfectly put back into place at TenBiz, except for a few drops of stage blood on the carpet, that Tonya insisted to keep for a movie souvenir.
Ebbing Location: High School
Sylva Location: Cullowhee Valley Elementary (240 Wisdom Drive, Cullowhee)
Ebbing Location: Gift Shop
Sylva Location: Country Traditions (73 Webster Street, Dillsboro)
When not on the big screen, Country Traditions is home to many gourmet foods, gifts, beer and wine options from NC and beyond. The store offers free cooking demonstrations on Saturdays 5-7 pm, April – October and wine samplings in the parlor.
Ebbing Location: Ebbing Dentist Office
Sylva Location: Cardwell Family Dentistry (formerly F. Patrick McGuire office) (45 King Street, Suite 200)
Ebbing Location: Dixon’s House
Sylva Location: Private Residence on Cowan Street. Drive down Cowan Street to see the building that portrayed Dixon’s house in the movie, but please be respectful that it is a private residence.
Ebbing Location: Street scene
Sylva Location: Jackson’s General Store, Main Street
Ebbing Location: “Welcome to Ebbing” sign
Sylva Location: Sylva Convenient Market and General Store (552 W. Main Street)
The towering “Welcome to Ebbing” Sign was on the side of the Police Station. After filming it was removed and preserved and is photo ready for film tourists. Stop by today for your Insta-worthy shot to prove that you were in Ebbing.
Other locations around town were transformed to set the scene as well including Advanced Healthcare, which became Lombardo Furniture and In Your Ear Music became the Music Emporium. Although the notorious three billboards that provided inspiration for the film’s title were not located in Sylva, but instead in the neighboring town of Black Mountain, a local Sylva business, Allison’s Outdoor Advertising, was responsible for the black block lettering on the now iconic red billboards.
Visit the places that the stars visited:
According to location manager Robert Foulkes, the entire cast and crew were extremely pleased with the choice of Sylva as the movie’s setting. Cast and crew were seen around town dining at local eateries, chatting it up with locals, signing autographs and even shopping local.
The popular eatery and coffee shop, City Lights Café, was a favorite spot for the movie cast to grab coffee and a snack before filming. Between takes, cast members would also visit In Your Ear Music Emporium, an independent music store and vintage vinyl record establishment. Store staff would often lock the doors to give the actors privacy and even had the pleasure of an impromptu acoustic performance of “Hallelujah” by Woody Harrelson himself. He didn’t leave empty-handed, making sure to buy a Willie Nelson vinyl before heading home; Nelson just so happens to be Harrelson’s neighbor in Hawaii.
On a different day, Frances McDormand visited the shop and asked Jason McMahan, the Manager, if he would put on some “angry music” over the loud speakers to help her get into character. “After shuffling through a few songs that weren’t quite what she needed to get into character, I finally found the right genre of music to get her amped up. It was interesting to see how far they go to truly get into the right mindset for their roles,” said Jason.
Outside of being the town where Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand’s character) sets out to solve her daughter’s murder case, Sylva sets a very different kind of stage for visitors to the area.
An ideal destination for outdoor adventure seekers, Sylva and the rest of Jackson County, NC is filled with hiking and biking trails, waterfalls, rafting and fishing opportunities. Jackson County is home to Richland Balsam overlook, which is the highest peak on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Whiteside Mountain, which is considered by some geologists to be the oldest mountain in the world, estimated at 390 to 460 million years old and one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Rocky Mountains, Whitewater Falls.
Sylva’s charming downtown has a booming brew and eclectic dining scene and according to Expedia.com, is “one of the cleanest cities in the US.” Throughout the year, Sylva hosts unique festivals and events and is also a large part of the country’s first and only fly-fishing trail, The WNC Fly-Fishing Trail. With a historic downtown, which offers a perfect melding of past meets present, a picturesque mountain backdrop, and the most photographed courthouse in Western North Carolina, Sylva brings together all the components to create a perfect mountain getaway for any season.
Click below to view and enlarge more behind the scenes photos: