Monday, February 26, 2007

'Swingtown' extras

CBS pilot Swingtown is interviewing male and female extras from ages 18-40 for high school scenes as well as adult scenes this Friday and Saturday in Austin for filming between March 12-19 (the high school scenes during spring break, natch). Come by 501 N. I-35 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. either day dressed as a '70s hipster and expect to get your photo taken. More info is upcoming at

Thursday, February 22, 2007

When the competition gives up

OK, this is that odd, delicate subject I can't avoid any longer. You see I'm an old beat newspaper reporter. I used to cover city hall, schools, the county courthouse, etc. in a myriad of small to mid-sized towns. A best reporter's job (in my mind) is to put a blanket over the area in question and strive to capture its essence for the reading public.

When I started writing about the Texas film industry 10 years ago, it was mainly about getting to see movies for free. One day I decided to write a column, thinking Texans would like to know what's going on in their burgeoning film scene. I, of course, was such an idiot that I didn't realize Jane Sumner had been doing just such a column at the Dallas Morning News for a couple of decades. Jane creamed me. She was a beat reporter who knew her beat up and down. Over time I slowly started to catch up. Sometimes I beat her to the scoop.

My column was picked up by the Austin American-Statesman in 2000 and ran there until 2004, when I jumped ship because of disagreements over the column's future form as it moved to the paper's XL entertainment section. Shortly after it was picked up by The Austin Chronicle. About the same time Jane Sumner left the Morning News and a year later my column debuted there as well.

Meanwhile my old pals at the Statesman had their own form of the film industry column in the XL as planned. That is until the tabloid shrank so much that the column dropped. Their solution was to move film news to a Web blog, where it appears to mainly consist of press releases and links, you know bloggy stuff like you see here.

That's all well and good, but I can't help but be amazed that they have yet to mention anywhere either online or in print the TV pilot I told my readers about a month ago or the indie film starring Julia Roberts that I confirmed last week (after noting the film a few weeks before that). All this at a time when many in the film industry are fighting for state incentives to stay competitive.

The old beat reporter in my misses my own perception of competition (slap me around if I'm sounding pompous here. Ouch!)I also miss the two-newspaper cities we not too long ago had in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio (Austin, too, if you go back to the Austin Citizen). I can't help believing we'd all be better off with more, not less.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Who killed 'Idiocracy' and why?

So I finally got around to seeing Mike Judge's Austin-shot film Idiocracy last night. I saw it on DVD, of course, since it was just barely released to theaters--one week in five cities with next to no publicity.

We're not talking Academy Awards here, but Idiocracy is a pretty good movie -- in the 2.5 to 3 star range. So why did the Hollywood corporate weasels kill this film? I have a few theories.

+ It wasn't funny enough. They were expecting yuck yucks a la Porky's or Beavis and Butt-Head. But, duh, was Office Space aimed at the lowest common denominator? Oh, right, they stepped on that Judge film, too. But now it's a cult hit on DVD of the highest standing. I have yet to meet a college student who hasn't viewed it at least five times.

+ Not enough sex. Even the deleted scenes are pretty tame when it comes down to it. Sure, there's low-brow sex humor, but it's pretty mild. I'm betting they begged Judge to add some monster jigglers.

+ It makes fun of corporations by name. Surely they had to get permission, but in the end Fuddruckers is referred to by the most obvious of names and Costco and Starbucks are full of prostitutes for sale.

+ It's smart. Yes, this is social commentary on the dumbing down of America much as Office Space was a treatise on the trap of a corporate job. It's good and sometimes subtle, too. For instance, Judge envisioned a future where almost everybody is mixed race. But he didn't spell that out. You had to figure it out for yourself.

The truth is Judge is most interested in making fun of the world he grew up in and lives in now--the world that "elected" George W. Bush twice. Judge does it damn well, and is the closest we've got to a Will Rogers or Mark Twain of the big screen. Check out the very literate (and often not) discussion at IMDB for proof that this film resonates.

I urge you to go out and watch Idicracy if only to prove the corporate weasels wrong once again.

One complaint: Why cut the great joke about search for the Museum of Art, which was actually the Museum of Fart. Funny! Low brow! If one there were some boobs in there...

Judge is said to be at work on another film. Let's hope this one gets the full release his work deserves.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Will they ever make the 'Dallas' film?

It's looking less likely by the day with the announcment that the presumed director is pregnant with twins. Only John Travolta's commitment to play J.R. gives this oft-delayed film legs. It's a shame given the efforts by the Dallas Film Commission to keep filming in Big D and out of little La. (alas). That's Louisiana to you nonpunsters, not the City of Angels.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Julia Roberts coming to Austin

Read my latest FILM NEWS column in The Austin Chronicle. for the details on both a star-studded film and a TV pilot shooting in late March. Plus the latest on the film incentives front.

Monday, February 12, 2007


It's confirmed. The CBS pilot will shoot in Austin next month. Grant Show of Melrose Place fame is starring. (Read my column Thursday for news of a much bigger star also coming to Austin in March.)

I can already hear the opening credits:

Let's make some romance
You know the night is fallin'
And the music's callin'
And we've got to get down to Swingtown...

Separated at birth?

is it just me? Tell me it's not just me...

Friday, February 9, 2007

The sounds of silence

Another golden oldie post:

I was talking with a class full of students today when we got off on a tangent about sounds and smells. (As I type this I have one of my extreme cases of hiccups).

I feel the smell of autumn coming on. The north winds are supposed to give an early blast to Texas and drop the temperature and the humidity. It's the feel that makes me melancholy for the days when I rode my banana-seated bike to elementary school. When I was running a fever and enjoyed staying out in the cold air by the monkey bars to cool my sweaty brow.

The sound of my life? As an old college friend, Darden Smith, sings, "It's the sounds of a midnight train." Most of my life I've lived one block away from train tracks. Now is no different, only the train whine seems even louder and more frequently.

This weekend I found a baby squirrel outside by a tree. Actually my dog found it and was playing with it. The little guy was no more than a week old, plump and pink, maybe the size of a fat pinkie finger.

I got on the Web and researched what to do. First I hung a pillowcase in the tree in hopes the mother would spot it and rescue him. Then I scanned the branches looking for a nest. Nothing.

Before they closed, I went to the local vet and got some powdered kitten milk and a dropper to feed the squirrel baby. But I left the critter out there until almost dark, knowing full well his mother was his best hope. Nothing.

I held him in my hand and he squealed as I gave him the bottle. Quickly his body was turning less pink and developing a few dark patches. I put him under a heat lamp and tried to keep him as warm as possible.

Back to the Web and more info: don't feed the milk until you hydrate him! He's in shock and dry. Get him Pedialyte and force some liquid in. A quick trip to the store and I had what was needed.

I gave him the liquid three or four more times before going to bed. It didn't look good. He was getting darker and thinner looking. By morning he was cold and gone.

It reminded me of the Tom Petty lyric: "Everything changed, then changed again. It's hard to find a friend."

Nothing lasts. The university I attended changed its name from Southwest Texas State to Texas State. That generic monicker is supposed to add some prestige. The majority of students and alumni appear to oppose the change, but it was rammed down their throats.

The dorm I lived in there has been flattened to make a parking lot. The frat house I lived in burned down years ago. SWT now lives only in my head.

That's the way of life, I guess. We make up our own stories and cling to them. They're comfortable. We recognize their sights, their sounds. And when they're gone, all that's left is silence.

The eyes have it

I'm reviving a few older blog posts from a different location. Why? Because I like them.

A good friend's dad died today and someone stole my frozen dinner leaving me to survive tonight on a skimpy serving of veggies.

But I want to talk about Country Day School. That's the eden of a preschool/kindergarten I attended for two years near Austin. We considered it country then, but now you'll find its abandoned buildings down the road from Westlake High School (Country Day moved about a mile away).

Every day we could count on hiking along trails rife with Indian arrowheads and more-recent rifle shells, climbing into a nonfunctional milk truck and fighting to drive, getting juice and cookies before naptime, being kids.

This week a woman I've had very minor contact with in the last year asked me my name and we realized we'd attended Country Day at the same time. She'd also gone to my elementary school, junior high and, for a year, my high school. I had no idea who she was.

Why? Partly because she was one year behind me, but mainly because in the fourth grade she got cancer. The first sign was blood dripping from her nose and then her eye started looking funny. Soon she had to have a tumor--and that eye--removed. Her life was never the same.

She's working on a book about her experience and showed me the opening chapter. It's a compelling tale of survival. After all, she's got one good eye and an imagination.

Back at Country Day she and I also had to endure the coldest swimming pool in the history of mankind (or at least that's the way I remember it). That and stabbing cloves into apples to make air fresheners ought to count for something.

By the way, what comes around goes around, dinner thief! Just ask the woman with one eye who never gave up and is still smiling today. I hope the thief is hungry for many tomorrows to come. And, by the way, you owe me $4.

Keep the University of Texas weird

It's funny how times change. I just had lunch over by the University of Texas campus, which resulted in a discussion about how normal and clean cut all the students look. I grew up in Austin, where we loved to go down to the Drag to gawk at the freaks. Gee, I miss them.

Which brings us to Red (if you think that's him in the photo, you don't know Austin weird), a bespeckled librarian at Austin Community College who is so thin that bony isn't a sufficient description. Red is the guy who created the buzzword around these parts: Keep Austin Weird. He made up some basic bumperstickers and gave them away for free around ACC and elsewhere. Seems he wanted to save the hippie/punk counterculture that allows people to get away with calling Austin "the music capital of the world."

Then some capitalist dillweed stole the idea and started making his own bumperstickers and t-shirts, only using a chic font that made it all so edgy. Red didn't much care, because he figured it wasn't in the spirit of the thing to do so. Then the dillweed tried to copyright the phrase and the New York Times wrote an article about it.

Now in Austin you can't turn around without someone spouting about the Keep Austin Weird Movement. It's on the radio, in the newspaper's letters to the editors. Everyone has heard it, even though few of them know about Red.

Here's what he'd tell U.T. students: Quit walking around like sheep. Break out of the mold. Or as they say hereabouts, Keep It Weird.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

All-documentary film festival

What sort of films do reviewers flock to at film festivals? Documentaries. Why? They have a natural story arc that makes them a safer bet than a lot of fiction features from first-times (say that three times real fast).

That's why the announement of the Thin Line Film Festival in Denton on Labor Day weekend is intriguing. They're busy raising funds, and one way to help is this event:

"On February 23rd, Texas Filmmakers will host the 2007 Golden Era Gala at the University of North Texas Gateway Center. This is the first attempt to raise money through more traditional ways for non-profit
corporations. The event is themed after the Golden Era of Hollywood Cinema and guests are encouraged to dress for the period. Guests will hear from the Texas Film Commissioner, Bob Hudgins; the Dallas Film Commissioner, Janis Burklund; and AFI-Dallas Creative Director, Michael Cain. Then the real fun begins
with the 19-piece big band, Foo McBubba. Brave Combo will even come by later in the evening to perform a song off their new album."

Tickets are available online at

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

What time is it, Charlize?

Did the lovely Charlize Theron come crossways with the SXSW curse? She must learn that big brother is always watching.

SXSW gets local

The South By Southwest Film Festival will include a bunch of Texas-made films including Werner Campbell and Bob Ray's long-awaited (Werner says it's like being pregnant for five years and the water's finally about to burst) roller derby doc Hell on Wheels, which rumor has it will include a kick-ass soundtrack.

Also on the bill:

* ELVIS & ANABELLE, the latest from Burnt Orange Productions, the University of Texas film arm, will have its world premiere.

* The new documentary feature INSIDE THE CIRCLE from Marcy Garriott will have its world premiere in the Lone Star States section.

* THIRD WARD, TX, the new documentary feature by Andrew Garrison will screen in the Lone Star States section.

* THE UNFORESEEN, the new documentary feature from Laura Dunn will screen in the Lone Star States section, continuing its festival run after its world premiere at the 2007
Sundance Film Festival.

* The new documentary feature WEAVING WORLDS from Bennie Klain will have its world premiere in the Lone Star States section.

* AUGUST EVENING, the first narrative feature from Chris Eska will have a Special Screening.

What do most of these films have in common? They received Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund grants from the Austin Film Society.

The whole fest looks great, and I'm hoping my son doesn't pop out until after it's done! Check out the full lineup.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Reviving 'Inspector Mom'

Will the Dallas-shot Lifetime Movie Network series Inspector Mom starring Danika McKellar (Winnie of Wonder Years) get a second season on the Web (as well as a couple more TV movies)? Word is more people need to view the webisodes online to seal the deal.
Oh, and check out the first TV movie when it shows again on Feb 20 and the second movie on March 6.

There's also a contest to solve the big mystery with a $2,000 prize.

Monday, February 5, 2007

When in Fort Worth...

Here's a note about a play to check out in Cowtown:

The Butterfly Connection presents "My Brother and Sister With Wings."

Mark Edward Howell will be playing the Ringmaster. It is a dark play taking place in the early 1900s, written by Rob Bosquez of Fort Worth, Texas, and directed by Adam Dietriech also of Fort Worth. The play will take place Feb. 16th-18 and 23rd-25th at the Rose Marine Theater, 1440 N. Main in Fort Worth (about 5 blocks South of Billy Bobs, Tx) @ 7:30 p.m. nightly. For more info please call the Butterfly Connection at 817-333-4028. Please be sure to make reservations. Tickets are $10. STRONG LANGUAGE AND ADULT CONTENT.

Neil Stone chimes in...

Neil wrote to comment on my Dallas Morning News column about incentives. With his permission I throw it out for discussion:


You obviously don't understand the politics involved. You're "beating a dead horse".

What Hollywood wants and is getting (quietly) is partnerships. The incentives are just the "tip of the iceberg". Many of the productions in other states are partially to totally funded by local people or organizations that share in the profits and therefore the production companies take little to no risk.

From what I'm aware of in Texas (especially Austin) is that hardly anyone is willing to "put their hand in their pocket" and put up their own money. Everyone here wants "a free ride".

I've been in this business since 1972 (with 25 years in Hollywood & New York) and when I talk to the studio heads and production companies there, they all say the same thing; "it's fun to come here, there's lots of free labor and the people are nice but..."

It's going to take more than just incentives from the state to bring the business here.

I work here but most of my business ends up in L.A., N.Y. or Tokyo.

Take a "peek under the tent" and see how it really is.

N. Stone

Sunday, February 4, 2007

How to promote a bad film

This is hilarious and sadly true: It is possible to sell a horrible film to an unsuspecting public. A successful film flack explains how it's done.

Horror in Houston

Joe Grisaffi dropped me a note about his new horror flick Dead of Knight, which is shooting in Houston. He describes it as: "The spirit of a cursed medieval knight is accidentally released in present day. The spirit must complete a deadly quest to be released from the clutches of the evil queen who holds him captive, and to be reunited in eternity with the lover he once betrayed."

It stars Jerin Julia as Marla, Brandon Hearnsberger as Jaxson, Christie Guidry as Cynthia and Dimitri Kouzas as Walker. Co-starring are Sara Gaston, Dan Braverman, Anne Quackenbush, Alan Hall, Kyle Greer, Tiffany Grant, Celeste Roberts and Wayne Stevens. The screenplay is written by Emilio Iasiello. The movie is being produced by Grisaffi’s company, Starship Films, LLC.

Grisaffi’s casting company Southwest Casting handles the audience for Judge Alex and Cristina’s Court. And you can go to the Web site to register to be an extra on the new film.

Dead of Knight is expected to be released on DVD in May, 2007. Grisaffi's previous film, Laughing Boy is available on Netflix and at

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Film and books: do they mix?

A couple of my favorite filmmaker folk, Kat Candler and Gary Kent, were at a Saturday reading at Book People by Robert Stickmanz from his just republished novel Prelude from Dalton Publishing, which is also putting my book out in June. Check out a great feature by Kat's jumping off bridges producer Stacy Schoolfield in the latest issue of Filmmaker Magazine about how they worked to self distribute the film. Gary is writing a memoir of his long career in independent film, which includes a stint as Jack Nicholson's personal stuntman.

Friday, February 2, 2007

HBO picks up Dallas-set show

HBO has picked up 12 Miles of Bad Road. Will it shoot in North Texas? Not likely as HBO folks indicated early on that most of the show will be shot in Los Angeles, Another Texas-set show, Reba, goes off the air on the CW on Feb. 18.

Latest Dallas Morning News column

My Dallas Morning News SHOT IN TEXAS column this month gives a big-picture look at the industry, the effects of strike talk and, of course, the battle for incentives. Joe-O sez: Check it out.

Austin Stories lives on DVD

OK, I'm slow. I just discovered that for more than a year Howard Kremer has been selling DVD compilations on eBay of the 12 Austin Stories episodes MTV shot way back in 1997. Is this legal? I doubt it, but more power to Howard who now goes by the name Dragon Boy Suede. If this all means nothing to you, Kremer, Chip Pope and Laura House starred as three slacker-types in the comedy, which was the highest rated shows on MTV up to that time, but was dumped when they had a change in management. In Austin it was routinely sneered at, but it holds up as a nice snapshot of the time before the Capital City really began to transmogrify into Dallas junior.

Oh, and it was a lot of fun to be on the set. In my pre-film columnist days, I was an extra in both the pilot (as a sleazy record industry guy) and in episode set at the car lot on South Congress that is now being made over into fancy shops (as a sleazy car dealer). Do you note a trend here?

The show was mainly shot in an empty HEB grocery store on East Riverside (last I saw it was a fitness center now). My scene in the pilot was in the back of the building where they'd set up a fake entrance to a nightclub. I was waiting in line. By this point I was an experienced extra with work on everything from Courage Under Fire (the back of my head stars!) to Richard Linklater's The Newton Boys (my scene was completely cut). So I sidled up through the line until I got in exactly the point where I knew the camera would catch me. Sure enough, for a moment in the episode the stars step back and there's me swiveling my head back and forth.

That's me with Juliana Sheffield, the very first McBubbly, after the shoot. It was summertime and I was sweating like a barnyard critter.
A few weeks later at the car lot I was selected from the group of extras to be one of three car dealers who ended the episode by sneering at the cast through the showroom window. It was shot at the big time! The night the episode aired, my pal Murray, who was also in the episode, and my then-girlfriend, now-wife Tiffany sat down to watch it. The ending had been changed! Tiffany walked down the hall out of sight and said, "Look, I'm on Austin Stories..." Even I had to laugh.

Oh, and I wrote an article about my day on the set that appeared in the San Antonio Express-News at the time. Check it out.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Austin Studios grows up and out...

Voters in Austin, Texas, approved $5 million to improve Austin Studios. Here's my lastest Austin Chronicle FILM NEWS column about how they're spending the cash.