'Watsons Go to Birmingham’ premieres tonight
by Sarah Fay Campbell
The original location of Sprayberry's Barbecue in Newnan was transformed into a 1960s-era lunch counter for the filming of the movie "The Watsons Go to Birmingham." The transformation included unsealing the original front door of the historic restaurant, which hadn't been opened in decades.
Donald Sprayberry Jr., co-owner, doesn't know how long ago the front door was sealed. It's been a long time, though. He doesn't remember a time when it was used. "The early ‘50s is probably the last time," he said.
Was he worried? "A little bit, but it worked out fine," he said. "I was glad they were able to unseal it and get it workable without really any problems.”
The TV movie, based on the children's book of the same name, premieres tonight at 8 p.m. on "The Hallmark Channel."
It tells the story of a family that travels from their home in Flint, Michigan, to visit their grandmother for the summer in Birmingham.
It’s a pivotal summer in the Civil Rights Movement, and in September, the Watson children witness the bombing of their grandmother's church, 16th Street Baptist, by white supremacists.
Four girls were killed in the bombing.
Newnan Presbyterian Church on Greenville Street in downtown stood in for the exterior of 16th Street Baptist, and a set was built on Perry Street for the aftermath of the bombing.
"We are honored to be able to help folks know a story that we all need to know and to remember," said Dr. Harry Barrow, pastor of Newnan Presbyterian.
Barrow remembered going by the church one day when the crew was having lunch in the fellowship hall. He expected 30 or 40 people. It appeared more like 300 or 400. "All the makeup people, the costume people, it was unreal, really," he said. There were also some "walk and talk" scenes filmed in downtown Newnan.
At Sprayberry's, the movie crew "changed every light bulb in the dining room," Sprayberry said. They used the existing tables and chairs, but "took out anything that had our name on it," he said. Using the original front door meant that only a portion of the restaurant had to be transformed, and they didn't need as many extras. "They could just fill one part of it and it looked like the whole restaurant was full," he said.
There were antique cars parked out front and "they filmed the actors walking in from the outside and then there was a scene in the dining room," he said.
Sprayberry was on the set all day. It was a long day. "I was here from about 6 a.m. I think they probably got wrapped up around 8 or 9," he said. It got boring after a while, he says, but it was definitely interesting.
Especially getting to watch the cleanup. "When they were done they cleaned up, put everything back. You never would have known they were here," he said. "They are very efficient."