Covington Blooms In Sweet Magnolias
The Georgia-lensed series, “Sweet Magnolias,” is currently filming its second season and much of its success is based on community collaboration with the cast and crew working in Covington, Georgia. The collaboration begins with Sherryl Woods writing a beloved series of novels, which were adapted for the screen by Sheryl Anderson, the Showrunner of the Netflix series, and directed by the extremely talented Norman Buckley, who is known for his direction of “The OC,” “Gossip Girl” and “Pretty Little Liars.”
“Sweet Magnolias” season one focused on the divorce between two town sweethearts. The series begins in a mediation session, where the Townsend couple (played by Chris Klein and JoAnna Garcia Swisher) are arguing over if the family home will stay in Maddie Townsend’s possession or be sold to support Bill Townsend’s pregnant fiancé (Jamie Lynn Spears). The story then follows the protagonist, Maddie, as she picks up the pieces, all with the support of her childhood friends.
The renewal for a second season is not a surprise from Netflix, as their investment in female-led dramas adapted from popular Woods novels such as “Virgin River” and “Firefly Lane” has boosted audience interest in women’s relationships and stories. The second season will continue to follow the lives of three lifelong best friends, Maddie Townsend, Helen Decatur (Heather Headley), and Dana Sue Sullivan (Brooke Elliott), as they journey together through more joy, more heartbreak, and a lot of salt rimmed margaritas in the comfort of Covington gone Serenity.
Fortunately, season two is also bringing back trios in both the cast and creators, to recreate the magic of season one. Oz sat down with the trio of major creative influencers behind the scenes, Woods, Anderson, and Buckley, to talk about the teamwork necessary to adapt and create “Sweet Magnolias.” While each brings experience and talent to this Georgia-lensed drama, their focus on authenticity and collaboration is what sets this project apart from other shows screening on the streaming service.
“The joy of ‘Sweet Magnolias’ is that it is a series about community that is created by a community ─ the amazing writers room, the magnificent cast, and the superb crew."
- Sherryl Woods
ADAPTING THE VISION
Sherryl Woods created this popular romance series with lifelong female friendships in mind; however, this is not the first time she has adapted her novels for television. “Chesapeake Shores,” another popular romance series written by Woods, is currently filming its fifth season for Hallmark Channel. Both series have their similarities; they focus on family and relationships in a small tight-knit community and both are produced by Dan Paulson, who brought “Sweet Magnolias” to Netflix. Woods describes Paulson as “inclusive” and “respectful” towards her as the writer, an experience that not all novelists have when their work makes it to the screen.
Adaptations are usually notorious for not getting the imagery right in the book, omitting key parts, and leaving characters lacking the depth the original author intended them to possess. However, there was a sense of respect for Woods’ literary work that permeated the production.
“Dan and I have a very good working relationship and I know how he’s going to treat my books when he translates them to screen. He has respect for the source material as well as what ends up on screen, knowing what is dramatic and works for TV,” Woods told Oz.
Woods’ background as a television critic gives her a unique perspective on changing her original storylines to meet the needs of television, and it was easy to accept changes in the story as long as she felt that the heart of the relationships portrayed remained intact.
“With Sweet Magnolias, the whole thrust of the series is the importance of women friendships that you have your entire life that back you up no matter what in any crisis, and all the changes they made still reflected that,” Woods added.
“Dan and the showrunner have been very good about listening to me and at least hearing me, “ she told Oz, “[but] if anything changes, that’s a whole different ball game. I have a voice and no control! But a voice is a pretty big deal.”
Another collaboration that Woods is grateful for is the one she shares with her literary agent. Unlike in the world of publishing, a literary agent in film and television is optioning your script to networks like Hallmark and streaming platforms like Netflix. Woods had the unique experience of having the same literary agent for almost forty years, an accomplished agent named Denise Marcil. She worked closely with Woods throughout her writing career with her novels, and her agency began advocating for her work to move into film adaptation. “You absolutely need an agent,” Woods told Oz, as having a literary agent submitting your work allows for projects to be taken more seriously. For almost all networks and studios, unsolicited projects sent without an agent won’t be accepted at all. In other words, finding someone who loved her work and had the right connections propelled her writing into different arenas that developed her career into what it is today.
“My past projects have taught me what a blessing it is to work on a show where the themes resonate with you personally, and where you have the opportunity to share the creative process with kindred spirits.”
- Sherryl Anderson
A COMMUNITY OF CREATORS
Sheryl Anderson, Showrunner for the series, was recruited for the project by Co-Executive producer Matt Drake, and for good reason. Anderson’s past experience as an Executive and Co-Executive Producer and writer on hit series, like “Charmed” and “Ties that Bind,” gives her the passion, drive and skills needed to bring the town of Serenity to life. Anderson knew she had to utilize community to adapt “Sweet Magnolias.”
“My past projects have taught me what a blessing it is to work on a show where the themes resonate with you personally, and where you have the opportunity to share the creative process with kindred spirits,” Anderson said. “The joy of ‘Sweet Magnolias’ is that it is a series about community that is created by a community ─ the amazing writers room, the magnificent cast, and the superb crew.”
Anderson used this idea of collaboration to develop a strong writer’s room that used source material, personal experiences, and the wide variety of locations in the small but bustling Covington, GA to develop the 10 episode order. “[Woods] gave us plenty to work with,” she explained, “and we drew on our imaginations of course. We are writers after all!”
After the experience of creating by the Author and the Showrunner for major networks, the shift to the filming schedule for Netflix was an adjustment.
“The biggest difference is schedule. On a network show, you're writing 13 to 22 episodes, and producing them while writing. The streaming model tends to be shorter orders ─ we do 10 episodes at a time ─ and we write first, then shoot the episodes after we're done writing,” Anderson explained.
Ultimately, the focus on the community in this project impacted the show’s culture, as team members from different backgrounds and experience levels, including both cast and crew, collaborated openly to make this heartwarming series possible.
FOCUS ON CONNECTION
This team that brought “Sweet Magnolias” to life is led ultimately by director Norman Buckley, who maintained a collaborative relationship with the Showrunner and producers, according to Anderson.
“Before we started shooting season one,” Anderson told Oz, “[Norman] and I talked a lot about the look I'd envisioned, his thoughts as he'd read the scripts, and the references from art, photography, and film we wanted to evoke.”
Buckley splits his time between Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, but is drawn to the relationships that make small towns like Serenity unique.
“It’s a show that really resonates with me because I grew up in Texas,” he explained, “and there are so many similar things to my own experience. I remember my mother’s friends coming over and sitting in our kitchen and talking while myself and the neighborhood kids played, so that resonates ─the idea of a small community where everybody knows everybody’s business.”
Choosing Covington was perfect for this series then, as the proximity to Atlanta, high quality of local talent, and the city’s familiarity with other productions like “The Vampire Diaries” provided the infrastructure that supported a seamless filming experience while also being authentically a small Southern town.
“I love filming here. I find myself completely at home."
- Norman Buckley
“I love filming here,” Buckley stated, “I find myself completely at home.”
Buckley is well known for directing popular series like “The OC” and “Gossip Girl,” and this is not a departure from the relationships between women that he’s enjoyed portraying throughout his career.
“Practically all of the shows I’ve done are about relationships between [women] and I feel that I have a real facility for that,” he expressed happily, “it’s something that comes organically.”
Just like the community of Serenity, South Carolina, the community of cast, creators, and crew of “Sweet Magnolias” has collaborated to give the series the authenticity and warmth that Sherryl Woods imagined in her novels, and season two promises more success for its team and for Georgia.