The eight-part thriller, which is based on the 2006 book by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, launches on the premium cable network this weekend.
Pancho Mansfield, eOne’s President, Global Scripted Programming, Television, tells Deadline how it hopes that the crime drama will take the company to the next level, what it means for the crossover between film and TV as well as discusses the project’s rather complicated journey to screen.
Sharp Objects was published by Random House’s Crown in 2006, former Entertainment Weekly journalist Flynn’s first novel, prior to the global success of her 2012 book Gone Girl. It didn’t have a smooth journey to the screen; American Honey and Big Little Lies director Andrea Arnold initially optioned it in 2008 as a film before dropping it and Alliance Atlantis’s film division picking it up in 2012 for Jason Blum, founder of The Purge and Get Out firm Blumhouse Productions.
Blum was initially planning to turn it into a feature film until Mad Men writer Marti Noxon persuaded the Paranormal Activity producer to develop it for the small screen. Then Designated Survivor producer eOne came on board.
Mansfield tells Deadline, “Then the challenge of this was putting all of the pieces together; we felt really good about the script, it had a great central character that we could attach a great star, especially, by this point, the world had opened up to the fact that top stars can appear in television.”
This lead to American Hustle and Arrival star Amy coming on board alongside Jean-Marc Vallée, the Dallas Buyers Club director who had been working with Adams on a failed Janis Joplin biopic. Subsequently, HBO got involved.
Despite a cast of characters at the “top of their game,” Mansfield was aware that there was still work to be done. “You can have all the talent in the world and not have chemistry, you don’t know that until you start making it. We did feel great about the scripts.”
Adams plays Camille Preaker, a reporter who returns to her small hometown to cover the murder of a preteen girl and the disappearance of another. Trying to put together a psychological puzzle from her past, she finds herself identifying with the young victims a bit too closely. It’s clear she isn’t the typical heroine. She’s flawed and as the story unfolds, the audience attempts to piece together a tragic past that is affecting her present.
Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Elizabeth Perkins and Matt Craven also star, as well as Henry Czerny, Taylor John Smith, Sophia Lillis and Madison Davenport.
One of the challenges included turning a 250-page book into an eight-hour drama. Another, with the series shooting across Georgia, LA and Northern California, was whether Vallée would be able to direct the whole run. “Originally, Jean Marc had come off Big Little Lies and wasn’t sure he would be able to shoot all eight episodes. One of the challenges is that the one director, just coming off a production with 90 shooting days, going into another production with over 90 shooting days and having to plan that. That is a challenge for anybody.” Vallée shot it like a feature film. “He knows exactly what he wants; he doesn’t shoot coverage he knows he’s not going to use. If you have someone who knows exactly what he wants to do with it, then why wouldn’t you want one director to shoot it all.”
Despite the fact that HBO has taken all international rights to the project, meaning that it will launch on HBO affiliated channels and the likes of Sky Atlantic in the UK very shortly after its US bow, Mansfield says that it’s a gamechanger for eOne. “It’s really a step in the evolution of eOne. We are escalating quality production in the company.”
Sharp Objects is one of the first major series after The Walking Dead distributor merged all of its film and television units into one division, under the leadership of Mark Gordon. Mansfield says that there’s been a real step change with the two mediums coming together, but it took some time for it to pay off on screen. “There’s no question that the worlds have been blurred and there was a period about eight years ago where a lot of feature producers and feature writers started thinking that the best writing was on TV. Feature producers and writers tried to get in [to TV]. The problem was it took them a while to adapt because they would come in and pitch a movie. Their craft was to think of stories that play out in two hours. This is one of the reasons that it’s taken five years for the novelization of event TV. That’s why now we either have one-offs like Sharp Objects or seasonal anthologies like [Nat Geo’s] Genius. These are [essentially] big movies. They are very Dickensian,” he says.
The company is continuing to scour its own film library to see if it can pull up any small screen gems. “We have gone through our film slate to cherry pick, that’s something that we always do. You always have to go and look because the world changes and I’m sure there’s some nugget that we haven’t gotten to yet but I hope we will.”
The relationship with HBO, which has traditionally not partnered with external studios has evidently worked well as eOne has already set up one of its next projects, Run, from Fleabag and Killing Eve creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her writing partner Vicky Jones, as a pilot at the Warnermedia-owned network.
In terms of premium projects, it is currently working on Gaddafi, from Gomorrah creator Roberto Saviano, which is set up at Sky Italia, and girls soccer drama Yellowjackets from Narcos writers Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, which is being developed by Showtime.
However, much of eOne’s focus is now on literary adaptations with Mansfield and his team aggressively hunting books to adapt and IP to own. Whereas a few years ago, networks were keen on remaking foreign imports, this is dying down with the growth of platforms – “you don’t need to remake [Netflix’s German drama] Dark, just watch Dark”. Now is a boon time for authors. eOne’s current literary slate includes a remake of Ruth Ware’s psychological mystery The Lying Game, thriller An Anonymous Girl from Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen and Tom Harper’s adaptation of Amor Towles’ novel A Gentleman In Moscow, which has Kenneth Branagh attached to star in and produce.
Sharp Objects launches on HBO on July 8.