Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Joe's Top 10 Texas film stories of the decade
The last decade has been a wild ride. I started writing about the Texas film industry in the late '90s, mainly covering film festivals for the San Antonio Express-News and writing the occasional film feature for the Austin American-Statesman. Then I had the notion that Texas needed a column about the industry itself that looked forward not backward. I, of course, was clueless that Jane Sumner had been writing just such a column for The Dallas Morning News for a couple of decades.
Being the fool I am, I proceeded to write a column with hopes that I could sell it to smaller newspapers all over Texas. I was wrong. But I got lucky and the Austin American-Statesman picked the column up in early 2000. I moved the column to The Austin Chronicle in 2004 and added a Dallas Morning News column in late 2005—a year after Sumner took early retirement. As we end the aughts, here are the top film stories I covered during the last decade. They provide a microcosm of what the state's film industry underwent:
1. The Alamo comes to town. I heard rumors that Ron Howard was planning to do a remake of The Alamo and shoot it in Texas. When Howard went to the governor's mansion to announce the project, I was there covering it for the Statesman. Unfortunately so was one of their capitol reporters. I wrote the story anyway, and it ran the next day on the cover of Variety. Later I sniffed out the filming location and that story ran on the cover of the Statesman. During filming I visited the set and provided this report for the San Antonio Express-News. Are you getting the point of why this film that wasn't directed by Howard and wasn't particularly good (blame Disney and its cost-cutting and script-chopping ways) still tops my list? It also is perhaps the biggest example of the Texas Myth.
2. My original Statesman column was titled “On Location,” which made it easy to convince my editors to send me to the sets of such local productions as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Rookie, which was directed by Texan John Lee Hancock, the same guy who would go on to direct the ill-fated The Alamo. He's a great guy, a fine writer and we'll be seeing more and more for him years to come.
3. The most in-depth stories I wrote about the film industry appeared in The Austin Chronicle. Certainly my best journalism is contained in a piece that put a face on the slow down of the Texas film scene, but this piece on the death of Burnt Orange Productions also had its merits. Both pieces are about dreamers and what happens when art runs up against business.
4. I wrote about the technical side of film as well in this piece marking the death of VHS. Video Business, a sister publication to Variety had me investigate the now-forgotten EZ Disc. And then there were the high-def format wars and the changes in film distribution.
5. Friday Night Lights reared its head majorly during the decade, including in the under-reported case of Richard Linklater, who started work on what I now realize was his last try at directing a version of the book. He even cast Mehcad Brooks, an Austin native who credits the nascient project with getting his career going. Linklater declined to talk to me about the project, despite widespread publicity in Texas, and wasn't pleased by this story that ran in Variety. I somehow didn't cover the actual FNL film much, but I did visit the set of the television show both in the first season and in the second.
6. I've written a few hundred film columns across the decade. Here's an example from the Statesman, another from The Austin Chronicle and yet one more from The Dallas Morning News.
7. The Alamo Drafthouse's Rolling Road Show gave me the chance to try more creative writing approaches as I watched The Last Picture Show in Archer City and viewed The Goonies in a cave with tiny Corey Feldman in attendance.
8. It all began for me with coverage of film festivals. I wrote about Tim McCanlies' Dancer, Texas at one of those early festivals, which was technically in the '90s. But a blurb from my review still appears in publicity materials. This piece about Alejandro Gomez Monteverde's film Bella was a cover story in The Austin Chronicle. The Texas Film Hall of Fame awards are a chance to do a little star gazing. Here are some fun photos and a few more.
9. The big film industry battle of the decade was the long struggle to convince the Texas Legislature to create a film incentives program, then to adequately fund it. Here's a story about the side battle over how Texas is portrayed on screen, and here's another piece about the overall incentives push.
10. Television series production is clearly the current savior for the Texas film industry. Here's a visit to the set of North Texas-shot The Deep End and a chat with star Billy Zane.