Saturday, December 31, 2011

My top 10 stories of 2011

I did some interesting nonfiction writing in 2011, but also found the opportunities for a free-lancer to be teasingly ephemeral like a batch of bright fake flowers appearing from a magician’s sleeve then as quickly evaporating. Here are my highlights from the year:

10. I’ve been penning a The Dallas Morning News column about the film industry for the past six years and previously wrote similar columns for the Austin American-Statesman and The Austin Chronicle dating back to 2000. It was a long run, but I decided to stop with my December column. I need to focus my energies elsewhere, in particular on my fiction writing.

9. Writing about writing was a hallmark of the year. My long interview with Tom Grimes appeared in The Writer's Chronicle, the magazine of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), and I got to talk to some writers I admire a lot, including A.G. Mojtabai.

8. The Austin Chronicle was kind enough to ask me to do some pretty extensive coverage during this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival. And, yes, I got to meet both Pee Wee Herman and Elmo!

7. I've been reporting on the Texas Film Hall of Fame festivities for The Dallas Morning News for years, but I know you'd really rather see the photos.

6. Austrian filmmaker Barbara Eder told me about how her dangerous experience as a foreign exchange student led to the film Inside America.

5. I've tended to do more book interviews than reviews, but I somehow managed to transform myself into the Austin American-Statesman's go-to reviewer of Texas fiction. At least until the bottom dropped out and the paper pretty much stopped generating its own reviews and replaced them with wire service reviews. And then the editor changed (see my note above). Ouch! My favorite book to review? Mat Johnson's Pym.

4. Actor Paul Giamatti is a cool guy, but interviewing Win Win director Tom McCarthy along with Giamatti was a double treat.

3. My wife Tiffany is a big fan of the TV show The Waltons, so I planned a surprise trip to Schuyler, Virginia, the home of the very autobiographical story’s author, Earl Hamner. The Dallas Morning News asked me to write this piece about the small town intrigue surrounding the show's local roots and also ran a lot of my photos.

2. I’ve been blogging at The Austin Chronicle about the Texas Longhorns football team for a few years now. I shared the chore this year and tried to advise my counterpart to write as if no one is reading, to play with the form, to never ever make it boring. My favorite sports piece this year actually had a point to make about coaches training their defensive players to lead with their helmets.

1. The writing I’m most proud of from this past year wasn’t officially published anywhere, and it wasn’t necessarily my best work. It was instead personal and it had to do with loss. Jacob Payne lived much of his life in a wheelchair and had many lessons to offer all of us about living fully. I have now written obituaries for both of my parents and my brother Casey, who died in an accident on Halloween. I’m still processing it all, Last night I dreamed I was dreaming about my mother and Casey. No doubt Casey enjoyed the trick of visiting me in that complicated fashion. Casey’s friend, the singer/songwriter Bob Livingston, said Casey’s death is a reminder to all of us to hold tight to this “sweet, sweet life.” I couldn’t say it better.

My top 11 photos of 2011

I rediscovered a love of photography in 2011, had a photo displayed on and in the Houston headquarters of Stage Stores, put together a small coffee shop photo show and generally had fun with it. See all eleven of my favorite images here.

My favorite photo of the year is of an older gentleman I spotted at the Dairy Queen in Karnes City, Texas. I stopped him on his way out the door, and he looked amused by the notion of posing.

I worked to get a bee in action above some Texas sunflowers that stayed hearty through at least the early stages of our Texas summer drought.

In a non-dry period in Austin, I turned off my windshield wipers on the upper deck of Interstate 35 to catch this dreamy scene.

More to come in the new year...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

SHOT IN TEXAS: TV replaces films as local moneymaker

After a 12-year run--the last six in The Dallas Morning News, but previously for both The Austin Chronicle and Austin American-Statesman--this is my final Texas film industry column. I'll still be blogging, but I want to spend more time concentrating on fiction writing and other projects.--Joe

Special to The Dallas Morning News

Janis Burklund was in full action mode last week. Khloe Kardashian had, without notice, posted online that she was organizing a toy drive for the Children’s Hospital of Dallas, and Burklund’s Dallas Film Commission office was suddenly besieged with phone calls.

It’s a clear sign of the present and likely future of the Dallas film scene: television rules and reality TV buzzes. Feature films? Not so much.

Lamar Odom’s trade from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Dallas Mavericks brought his Kardashian wife and reality show Khloe & Lamar to town. More than 2,000 people crowded Dallas City Hall to donate toys after her web shout-out.

Meanwhile TNT’s Dallas is bringing some old-school attention to the city with its 10-episode shoot—production is on hiatus until 2012 with three episodes to go.

Burklund’s three-person office can’t afford a proper media tracking service these days, but it only takes a quick web search to see interest in the show that doesn’t air until June.

“It’s been ongoing for about a year with constant news and publicity about the show,” she said. “There’s lot of interest overseas.”

The Dallas Film Commission tracks its fiscal year from September to September, and Burklund is just now getting solid numbers for the last year and slightly more of both plusses and minuses: network television series shoots came and as quickly went with the quick cancellations/non-renewals of Lone Star, The Good Guys and Chase.

The controversial Dallas-set show originally known as Good Christian Bitches, later as Good Christian Belles and most commonly as GCB produced a pilot in North Texas but then retreated to Los Angeles for the series shoot.

“When all three shows didn’t stick, we had to wait for new ones to create again,” Burklund said. “We had to go through another cycle, and luckily Dallas was already in the cycle.”

The commission tracked 292 projects in its last fiscal year, including $73.6 million in direct spends on television and film, plus another $26.3 million in videogame projects. The way that money reverberates around the economy leads to an estimated almost $230 million economic impact.

“It was a good year,” Burklund said. “It was well above the last six or seven years.”

But feature films continue to be a no-show both in North Texas and the state as a whole. Texas film incentives haven’t slowed the flow of projects to states like New Mexico and Louisiana that offer a lot more.

“Our incentives program works best for television,” Burklund said. “Television understands in a different way about having the good crew base, good talent base, diverse locations and easy access through DFW (International Airport). They may be here for years, so they have to think, ‘If all incentives went away today, where would we want to be?’ ”

Feature filmmaking in Texas has thus turned into a mix of low-budget independents and higher-profile projects by primarily Austin-based Texas auteurs like Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater and to a lesser extent Mike Judge and Tim McCanlies.

Perhaps add to that list reclusive Austin resident Terrence Malick, who is quickly losing his rep for waiting a decade or more between projects. He shot likely Oscar nominee The Tree of Life largely in Smithville (and partly in Dallas) in 2008 and took three years to release it, but actually shot another as-yet-untitled film starring Ben Affleck in Oklahoma in 2010.

Now Malick has publicly announced two more upcoming projects: Lawless and Knight of Cups. In September he shot scenes with Christian Bale during the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and followed that in November filming Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara at Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest. The shots have been reported to be for Lawless, but Malick never releases plot details or future filming plans if he can help it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Can the Texas Longhorns beat the Baylor Fire Bolt?

I've been blogging the University of Texas football seasons for The Austin Chronicle for about four years now. This Saturday is the last game of this season. Here's my latest blog post (which doesn't mention unsubstantiated rumors that Mack Brown will retire as Texas coach after Saturday's game):

Texas fans nibbled on Thanksgiving turkey and expected the worst. The Aggies could taste this win. They wanted to end the rivalry with forever bragging rights as they shuffled off to the SEC and leave the Longhorns with the beer-soaked, early-morning regret that is the Big 12.

My die-hard UT fanatic brother-in-law feared a blowout. “It’ll be close,” I said. He shook his head with a grin that spoke of my naiveté. You know what happened next.

Aggies complained of a bad call, of the injury that kept Cyrus Gray out of the game. But the truth is the Texas defense finally rose to the level necessary to offset the befuddled Burnt Orange offense. Special teams did, too. We’re talking points off of turnovers. Quandre Diggs’ 81-yard punt return. A defense that battered the Aggies and their seasoned quarterback Ryan Tannehill, capped by a Kenny Vaccaro interception that led to a rare touchdown.

The rag doll named Case McCoy did the rest with a gutsy gallop into the Texas A&M defenders, who smacked him this way and that as he struggled for any yards they’d cede. Enough to get Texas in field-goal position. It worked. Justin Tucker made up for a night of horrendous punts by finessing the ball through the uprights from 40 yards out as time ran out.

In College Station you can find billboards still up in summer heralding the last win over the t-sips. In Austin, we marvel at the strange traditions: the overalled cheerleaders with their odd gang signs, the incessant “howdy,” the constant standing and swaying at Kyle Field. That cute little dog they worship. We’ll miss every bit of it.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Walking into the night

I took this photo last night as we were leaving a Dallas nightclub in the wee small hours.

My favorite recent street photo by far.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Saying goodbye to my brother Casey

I created the photo above by taking an older photo of my brother Casey and shooting it in the same spot in what was my late father's house this past week. In a sense it allows Casey to come home one last time. Casey died this past week in India when he fell from a train platform. The photo is featured on the web site

My sister Clare and I wrote the following obituary for Casey, which appeared in the Austin American-Statesman.

Casey John O'Connell died in an accident at a train station in Kerala, India, on Oct. 31.

He was born in Austin on June 11, 1956, to William Robert O'Connell and Wylma Louise “Cassie” O'Connell Ruelke, who both preceded him in death.

Casey graduated from Austin High School where his great joy was acting in plays as part of the Red Dragons. He later appeared in local productions, including at Zachary Scott Theatre, and was an occasional movie extra. He taught himself to juggle and ride a unicycle, and he rode his bicycle everywhere, including a cross-country trip with his oldest brother Wroc.

He received his LVN degree from Austin Community College and took great joy in working with newborn babies at Seton Hospital. He went back to school to earn a degree in chemistry and physics from Southwest Texas State University where he worked in the chemistry lab. Early on he commuted to campus by bicycle from Austin and liked to tell of his collision with a house (it was on wheels and being transported down I-35).

He had lived for many years in India, where he taught math and science and met his wife Magali.

Casey could fall asleep sitting up while doing a crossword puzzle and still have a semi-coherent conversation with you (though he wouldn't remember it later). He liked to play card games into the night or until he started winning. He was a vegetarian who could eat endless amounts of food and never gain weight. He remained as limber as a teenager. He liked to talk and talk and talk. He was a kind and gentle soul who truly cared about people and always had a smile. He was mischievous, funny and could tell a great joke, but only a mathematician would get the punch line. He somehow managed to keep alive the joy in life that fades for most of us with our first gray hairs, and what was left of Casey's hair was solid white. Most of all he was a great brother to five siblings who will forever feel his absence.

He is survived by his wife, Magali O'Connell; sisters, Mary Ann O'Connell and Clare O'Connell of Austin; brothers, William Robert “Wroc” and Lorie O'Connell of North Carolina, Daniel Pius O'Connell and wife Tarla, and Joseph Matthew O'Connell and wife Tiffany of Taylor; a niece, Shanthi O'Connell; and nephews, Russell Harvey, Will Harvey and Nicholas O'Connell.

Memorials can be made to the Zachary Scott Theatre at

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shot in Texas: '12 Mighty Orphans' first up for new film company

By Joe O'Connell Special Contributor
The Dallas Morning News
@joemoconnell on Twitter

Todd Allen hopes Fort Worth’s Mighty Mites are the start of something big for the Texas film scene.

Allen, an Austin native who has worked for decades as an actor, has formed Presidio Pictures. The company plans to first shoot 12 Mighty Orphans, an adaptation of Jim Dent’s true story of the Masonic Home of Fort Worth’s Depression-era Mighty Mites football team.

Preproduction for a spring Fort Worth shoot would start a string of Texas-made Presidio features with budgets ranging from $8 million to $30 million.

“The financing for most independent films is cobbled together with duct tape,” said Allen, who is raising funds in Texas for not just the cost of film production but also much of the distribution. “I think [Presidio] will have a substantial impact on the industry here. If it works, it’ll put a lot of people to work.”

Robert Duvall , Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis, Aaron Eckhart and Andy Garcia are already attached to a planned second Presidio feature, The Last Full Measure, a true story of a father’s efforts to honor his son killed during the Vietnam War.

Presidio — with former Sundance Institute chairman, Orion Pictures director and Imagine Entertainment chairman Jack Crosby on its board — could prove a shot in the arm for the Texas film industry as major films choose locations offering larger financial incentives. Jerry Bruckheimer told The Hollywood Reporter this week that his revived The Lone Ranger movie starring Johnny Depp will shoot in New Mexico and possibly Louisiana because of those states’ heftier incentives. Texas had been looked at as the movie’s shooting location.

“My fear is it’s going to be a hokey cartoon,” Allen said of The Lone Ranger. “It’s going to cost $200 million and, if it doesn’t make its money back, it’s going to be another nail in the coffin of the genre.” (Bruckheimer says it will cost $215 million to be exact, trimmed back from $260 million.)

Allen knows the Western genre well, having acted in such films as Wyatt Earp and Silverado. “I can’t think of a single actor I’ve met who didn’t want to do a Western,” he said. “I think that’s where my mojo is at.”

Thus he’s also planning Rio Grande, a feature adaptation of Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson’s memoir co-written by David Marion Wilkinson; a television miniseries of Wilkinson’s early-Texas novel Not Between Brothers made in partnership with Kevin Costner; and the big-screen film noir Western The Deserters based on Luke Short’s novel.

Allen got his start when he happened upon the ranch set of Honeysuckle Rose (1980) in Johnson City and was mistaken for the ranch owner’s son. Director Jerry Schatzberg asked if he wanted to be an extra, and Allen caught the acting bug.

Throughout his career, Allen said he tried to stay out of his trailer and on the set figuring out the film business.

He moved back to Austin from L.A. with the expectation that acting would take a back seat to producing. But Quentin Tarantino, whom he met in a Los Angeles acting class 25 years ago, tapped him for a role in Django Unchained, a Western about slave traders featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell.
“When I first talked to Quentin he said he wanted to shoot in Texas,” Allen said.
But his acting gig starts in February in Louisiana, the land of attractive film incentives.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

'Lone Ranger' lives, but not in Texas

Jerry Bruckheimer has managed to revive Johnny Depp-starrer The Lone Ranger with its budget tightened, ahem, from $260 million to $215 million.

There were rumblings earlier of a joint New Mexico-Texas shoot for this tale of a TEXAS Ranger, then talk of Utah, but the final words is New Mexico and possibly Louisiana. Why? Do you even need to ask?

Here's what Bruckheimer told The Hollywood Reporter:

"We found that Louisiana gave us a better tax incentive than New Mexico -- that was another $8 million. We're still shooting in New Mexico, and we might [also] go to Louisiana. We're asking New Mexico to come closer to the Louisiana incentive.
We dropped our California location not because they didn't offer a tax break but because it was another production office that we had to open. Every time you have a new location, you have to use crew time setting it up for you. There are a lot of expenses."

Early rumblings had the film shooting some in the Alpine-Marfa area, which goes completely unmentioned here. Granger was also scouted for train scenes, probably because they were shot there for True Grit.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When the hippies and the rednecks met in Austin

This review ran a week or so ago in the San Antonio Express-News, but never showed up on their web site, so I'm posting it here for folks to read.--JO

Comic Cowboys and New Hicks
By Travis Stimeling
Oxford University Press, $35


Who has the right to wear the cowboy hat?

That symbol of all that is Texas is at the core of Travis Stimeling’s Cosmic Cowboys and News Hicks, which examines the Progressive Country music phenomena that first put on its Stetson in 1970s Austin.

Stimeling focuses on that moment when old-school country butted heads and commingled with long-haired rock ‘n’ roll via a convergence that was all about being at the right place at the right time: The drinking age was lowered to 18, marijuana possession became a misdemeanor instead of a felony, the University of Texas student population was growing and the ragtag Armadillo World Headquarters opened in an old armory near downtown.

But, perhaps most important, musicians like Willie Nelson, Michael Murphey and B.W. Stephenson, had burned out on the music industries in Los Angeles and Nashville and hightailed it to Texas.

“Many of the people I spoke with made a point of telling me that rent in Austin was so cheap that it made perfect sense to move there,” said Stimeling, a West Virginia-born professor of music at Milliken University in Decatur, Illinois, who grew up listening to Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker.

The book covers ground well trod already in Jan Reid’s 1974 The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock (a new version came out in 2004), but Stimeling takes a different, more academic approach in his book that began as a dissertation in musicology.

“My book has the benefit of nearly four decades of hindsight, so I could be more objective in my approach to the scene,” Stimeling said.

The book’s strength is in its examination of the push and pull of the cosmic cowboys and a musical culture they rejected, embraced and transformed.

Stimeling goes in depth into how Alvin Crow and the band Asleep and the Wheel reached back to honor and revive Texas swing music that once had been a staple in dance halls across the state. And he gives props to Joe Gracey, who took over KOKE-FM and turned it into a progressive country haven. The station’s goat roper bumpersticker quickly became every bit as iconic then as a Lone Star longneck beer bottle.

Stimeling also shines when exploring how individual songs like Murphey’s “Cosmic Cowboy” cemented this new cultural identity. The song was born from Murphey’s playful nickname “Cosmic Bob” for Lost Gonzo Band member Bob Livingston, but resonated at a larger scale with fans.

“The cosmic cowboy sprang forth, therefore, from a bundle of cultural conflicts, including not only those resulting from the merger of the drug culture and the cowboy symbolism but also from the intersection of communal music making and the national music industry, the ongoing debate about civil rights and the invocation of rural romanticism in an American metropolis,” Stimeling writes.

If that sounds a bit highfaluting for a discussion of music, it perhaps is. And Austin wasn’t really the first locale for this musical debate. Country rock had already been cooking in Los Angeles and Capricorn Records was promoting acts like The Marshall Tucker Band in the true South.

But Austin seemingly produced a musical movement from the ground up without a corporate control that left it often messy, but ever interesting. Its mystique led us to the city’s modern-day, perhaps over-the-top slogan “Live Music Capital of the World.”

“What's really striking to me about Austin during the progressive country era is that the musicians who were involved in the scene explored so many different musical approaches, yet they all seemed to be genuinely concerned about how music might be used as a tool to understand the roots of Texan culture," Stimeling said.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Remember the Alamo (is on fire)!

Yes, as I type this there are reports that the set of the movie The Alamo near Dripping Springs, Texas (on the outskirts of Austin) is engulfed by a major brush fire is super dry Central Texas. This report says six structures have burned to the ground. In my memory there aren't more than six. Frankly it's a surprise that the buildings still exist this many years since the 2003 shoot. There was talk at one point of making it a tourist attraction. I know the set has been used for television commercials since.

Here's my report from the set during filming.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Note Bob Stoops’ Brother Should Have Sent, but Didn’t Dare*

My latest Austin Chronicle sports blog begins thus:

Dear Bob,

I love you like a brother, man. In fact we are brothers, aren’t we? That’s why it pains me to write this note. I’m proud of you, Bob. You do our Stoops family name proud. Your Oklahoma Sooners are No. 1 and we’re not, dammit.

Just kidding, bro, but I harbor no ill will for your 23-13 win over my boys at Florida State this past Saturday. You did it with pounding defense, the kind Dad taught us in his 30 years at Cardinal Moody High back in dear old Youngstown, Ohio (round on the ends and high in the middle!). Dad was all about the D. You’re all about the D. Heck, after growing up sharing a bedroom with you as an older brother, I had to be all about the D. Same with Mike. You two were terrors and taught me a lot. I was proud to bear the bruises of brotherhood. I’m proud to be the Seminoles’ defensive coordinator. I’m proud to be a Stoops.

That’s why it pains me to say this, Bob. My team would have taken the lead in the first half if Kenny Shaw could have held onto that ball. Heck, at this point I’m glad he can hold onto anything. Your boys Javon Harris and Tom Wort rammed their helmets into Shaw’s helmet and soon Kenny was looking like roadkill shaking on his back there in the end zone with his paws curled toward the heavens. He was back on the sidelines by the third quarter, thank the Lord above.

Read the rest here.

Oh,and it's worth noting that Stoops at his weekly post-game press conference honored Harris and Wort for their play against FSU. Nuf said.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Friday Night Lights: Book, movie, TV series, movie based on TV series?

Yes, there is still serious talk about a movie based on the Austin-shot TV series Friday Night Lights, which is based on the big-screen Friday Night Lights, which is based on the book Friday Night Lights, which is based on a real-life high school football team.

Read more about this latest development here, with details on the cast's reunion at the Emmy's after party celebrating the series' writing Emmy and Kyle Chandler's nod--held at a place fittingly called Dillon's.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The coach wins an Emmy!

Big congrats to Kyle Chandler for his upset win of an Emmy for his role as Coach Eric Taylor on television's Friday Night Lights. The show also got yet another writing Emmy. Alas, Connie Britton did not win best actress (but you can read more about her here). All the same, a fitting end for the beloved Austin-shot series.

What Chandler said:

"Let me thank the people of Austin, Texas, who welcomed us into their homes ... and brought the show to life."

I first met him on the set the first FNL season. You can read that piece from The Dallas Morning News here.

Our trip to Walton's Mountain aka Schuyler, VA

I wrote this travel piece after our trip this past summer to Schuyler, Virginia, to celebrate my wife's birthday. It ran Sunday in The Dallas Morning News. It's behind a pay wall, so here it is in full. The DMN web site also has about 15 of my photos; see them here. Enjoy.

By JOE O’CONNELL Special Contributor
Published: 16 September 2011 06:32 PM

SCHUYLER, Va. — Fiction collides with fact for fans of television’s The Waltons amid a gentle feud in this tiny community deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains foothills.

An escaped sheep bleats from the middle of rural Rockfish River Road as we pull up to the Walton’s Mountain Country Store in search of the holy grail: series creator Earl Hamner’s childhood home, a two-story restored testament to the enduring power of John-Boy, Mary Ellen, Mama and Daddy, Grandpa and Grandma and all the kids.

The show is a nostalgic touchstone of an iconic and dirt-poor Depression-era Southern family of fantasy that was very much based on the true-life Hamner clan.

For $10 cash a person or $8 each for two or more, store owner Dave Pounds hands over a key so we can tour the boyhood home next door, which a local owner refurbished and opened to the public in 2010. Six steps lead up to the white wooden home, which is smaller than in the show but of the same austere style. The long kitchen table topped with a fake Bundt cake awaits a family supper, while upstairs in Hamner’s/John-Boy’s room a pair of spectacles rests next to a quill pen on a desk by the window.

Hamner’s novel Spencer’s Mountain was published in 1961 and spawned a film of the same name. The Homecoming, his 1970 novel also loosely based on Hamner’s family, was made into a television movie and spawned The Waltons, which ran on television from 1972-81.

“The average Waltons fan walking through the door has a very personal relationship to either the program or a cast member,” Pounds says.

Entering the door are Junior and Suzi Wiant of West Virginia. She’s a homemaker, and he’s a coal miner. A coal mine depicted in the television show was inspired by the Alberene soapstone quarry that was once the heart of Schuyler. The Wiants count the cantankerous grandmother as their favorite Walton.

“I just love that old woman,” Suzi Wiant says with a wide grin. “She’s so outspoken.”
The Wiants have already been down the road to the Walton’s Mountain Museum, which was once the town’s school. Hamner graduated from high school there in 1940. It was later an elementary and opened as a museum and community center in 1992 with the full support of Hamner.

Inside is a more elaborate re-creation of John-Boy’s room, the family kitchen, Ike Godsey’s store and the still used to make the Baldwin sisters’ “recipe” (moonshine). The Baldwins were inspired by real-life mother-and-daughter moonshiners in a nearby town.

“You’re a little bit late for the free samples,” museum director Leona Roberts jokes in a deep Virginia drawl. “You believed that story, didn’t you?”

The $7 admission fee buys access to a brief video about the making of the show, a look at town photos and Waltons collectibles, including miniature reproductions of the Waltons home and fan-painted pictures of the cast.

But Hamner’s early support for the museum has waned. In his 2006 memoir Generous Women, Hamner writes, “Unfortunately, because of an injury done to a member of my family, I no longer support the museum and am in no way associated with it.”

When actress Mary McDonough — Erin Walton on the show — tub-thumped her memoir Lessons From the Mountain in May, she did it at the store, which also sells signed copies of Hamner’s books.

Pounds five years ago took over operation of the store in what was once a shed where a teenage Hamner wrote. But he says of the museum, “They hate me. They absolutely hate me.”

Roberts puts the museum’s attitude toward the store bluntly: “We were here first. They were supposed to be a bed-and-breakfast, and they’re not from here.”

Indeed, the Walton’s Mountain Country Store lists itself as a bed-and-breakfast perfect for the ultimate Waltons fan, but my repeated calls and emails seeking a reservation for my wife’s birthday were unanswered.

Instead, we stayed two miles away at the White Pig, a B&B and animal sanctuary that takes its name from the first of the owner’s assortment of rescued potbellied pigs, which join a former racehorse and a gentle pony on a beautiful 170-acre spread. The breakfast is vegan, and guests are asked not to eat meat on the premises during their stays.

Confession: We drove into Schuyler from Richmond without having eaten dinner, and our only option was Ike’s, a combo convenience store and fast-food joint on the spot that once housed the inspiration for the television show’s Ike Godsey’s General Store. The grill was closed, but they gifted me with a few delicious last pieces of fried chicken. I guiltily stowed the bones in our rental car’s trunk rather than sully the White Pig with my carnivorous ways.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

SHOT IN TEXAS: Texan Nick Krause gets breakout role in film with Oscar buzz


Special to The Dallas Morning News
Twitter: @joemoconnell

It was a surreal moment for young Texan Nick Krause as he stepped on the red carpet for The Descendants during the Toronto International Film Festival last week.

Krause, 19, portrays Sid, a goofy beach bum friend to George Clooney’s on-screen daughter in the film. The Hawaii-set and -filmed tale of a father in crisis, directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways), is already getting Oscar buzz.

He was 17 when the film began a four-month Oahu shoot, so he brought along his agent, Denton native and University of North Texas grad Liz Lyons Atherton. She also happens to be his mother.

Atherton woke him at 5 a.m. to make an audition tape that led to a meeting with Payne. Krause figured the laid-back character Sid would be a Cheetos fan and gifted Payne with a small bag of them. He got the part.

“The audition process had taken months, and we weren’t sure if Nick was still even in the running,” Atherton said. “We set up a Hawaiian shrine by the phones, hoping the call would come. When it did, not only did we celebrate, I’m sure the neighbors are still talking about the screams.”

He’s not the only actor in the family. His sister, Kate Krause, played Tabby Garrity for three seasons on Austin-shot Friday Night Lights, and two older brothers dabbled in acting when they were young.

It marks a major leap for Nick Krause from small roles in films such as How to Eat Fried Worms. Atherton believes it was his involvement in Richard Linklater’s ongoing 12-year independent project, Boyhood, that piqued Payne’s interest.

On the set of The Descendants, Krause said, Clooney lived up to his jokester reputation, amusing film extras by using his cellphone to play the sound of gas being passed.

“He’s a very cool guy,” Krause said. “He’s super professional but down-to-earth. One minute he’s joking around with extras and hanging out with crew. Five minutes later, he’s in character and on time.”

Krause also scored a role in the Dallas-shot Good Christian Belles television pilot but was written out of the series when it moved to Los Angeles, where he is now living and riding this wave wherever it takes him.

“It’s really about sticking with it,” he said. “When you get turned down at your first audition, you just have to forget it and keep going.”

Atherton, who 15 years ago bought an existing Central Texas talent agency that counted her other sons as clients, worries that Krause will have a hard time furthering his career in Texas.

“I think we are at risk of losing film and TV as an integral part of our economic fabric: Plain and simple, our incentive program is not competitive enough,” she said. “I recently spoke at length with a high-profile producer friend of mine who is presently packaging his next film — a film centered on a Texas theme — and he will likely film in Louisiana. Why? Because it just makes more business sense.”

Film studios get haunted

Filming wrapped this month in North Texas on The Ghost of Goodnight Lane . The horror tale starring Billy Zane (Titanic) claims to be based on reality, in the tradition of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The kicker is this new film is about ghosts purported to haunt Alin Bijan’s Media World Studios; most of the film was shot in the studios themselves. The studio’s ghosts have been said to move heavy equipment and once slapped someone’s face. Also in the cast are Lacey Chabert ( Mean Girls), Danielle Harris (Halloween), Matt Dallas (Kyle XY) and Richard Tyson (Black Hawk Down). J.D. Sanders’ FTG Media Group served as executive producer on the film. Check out a production blog at

Joe O’Connell is an Austin-based freelance writer.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Disney kills 'Lone Ranger'

Apparently disagreements with producer Jerry Bruckheimer over the budget led Disney to pull the plug on the Johnny Depp-starrer Lone Ranger that may or may not have been about to film partially in Texas (or New Mexico? or Utah?). Shades of The Alamo and Pearl Harbor, both Disney projects where the studio sought and got major budget cuts that many have blamed for turning those films into boring messes.

Lone Ranger was set to film this fall and had scouted West Texas in the Alpine/Marfa area. Word also filtered out of studio shoots in New Mexico, and at one time there was serious talk of shooting in Utah.

Shot in Texas: Mike Norris moves into spotlight

Mike and Valerie Norris.

Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

As a maker of independent faith-based films including the upcoming I am Gabriel, Mike Norris has moved out of his iconic father’s shadow.

“I’m proud that Chuck Norris is my father,” he said. “I’m proud of his accomplishments. I just happen to make films that are a little different.”

Gabriel starts production next week in North Texas. It’s the story of a dying town awakened by miracles when a mysterious 10-year-old boy arrives. The cast includes a couple of “super” names: John Schneider (Clark Kent’s dad in TV’s Smallville) and Dean Cain (Superman in the ’90s TV series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman).

“It’s a very simple story, but it’s a good story,” Norris said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what we can make out of it.”

It’s the third faith-based film for Norris and his wife Valerie’s 2nd Fiddle Entertainment, which has also produced Maggie’s Passage and Birdie and Bogie. Despite the company name, the filmmaker is no second fiddle to his father, most famous for Walker, Texas Ranger.

Mike Norris grew up in Los Angeles as his father’s career turned from martial artist to action film star.

His father is in on the joke of “Chuck Norris facts” that have spawned T-shirts with messages like “Chuck Norris turned water into whiskey” — and even spotted one such message in a latrine while visiting troops in Iraq, Mike Norris said.

“I learned a lot from him: a work ethic, how to treat people,” Mike Norris said. “It’s only been a blessing to me to be his son.”

Mike moved to Flower Mound 15 years ago when he was directing episodes of Walker after a successful career in action films. He recently did stunts on the Dallas-shot series Chase for which his brother Eric Norris served as a second-unit director and stunt coordinator.

Gabriel came about after a chance encounter with Janis Thompson, who with her husband, Steve, owns Mom’s Café in tiny Justin. They had a general idea for a film. Norris caught the bug and wrote it out as a script. The 15-day shoot will take place entirely in Justin with Norris directing.

Norris works with MPS Studios in Dallas during production and post-production, then counts on Pure Flix Entertainment to get his films out to the Christian market. He has higher hopes for Gabriel.

“What I want to do is cut a nice trailer and send it out there,” he said. “You never quite know what is going to happen.”

Next up for Norris is Blind Faith, a film about a piano prodigy who loses his sight. And he’s in development on a faith-based horror film that may stretch the boundaries of both genres.

“I will do them all right here in North Texas,” he said.

‘Breakfast Club’

Barry “Bazza” Wernick was once the student body president at St. Mark’s School, which makes him the perfect choice to write and produce an adaptation of his and Matt Spradlin’s graphic novel Bad Kids Go to Hell, which recently wrapped production both in North Texas and at Spiderwood Studios outside Austin in time to make a splash at San Diego’s Comic-Con.

The horror-comedy focuses on a group of prep schoolers stuck in detention who get killed off one by one. Appropriately, Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club) stars as the headmaster. Also in the cast is Ben Browder (Starscape).

Bonus footage

Mission Park, which stars Jeremy Ray Valdez and Vivica A. Fox, is being touted as the first major feature to shoot in San Antonio in a decade. The drama, directed and written by Bryan Ramirez, has just started filming. … Look for Austin-shot series The Lying Game to premiere on ABC Family on Aug. 15. The series pilot was shot in New Mexico.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Lifetime says no to 'Meet Jane' is finally confirming what we have long suspected: Lifetime will not pick up the series Meet Jane, for which a pilot was filmed in Austin with Molly Parker and Rick Schroder starring. This despite reshoots for the pilot done in the spring.

So count this as the last cute Ricky photo on this blog...

Monday, July 25, 2011

'The Lying Game' comes to Austin

I've been remiss in reporting the arrival of an ABC Family series to Austin. What's even more interesting is the pilot shot in New Mexico, but they chose not to stay there for the series shoot. The show titled The Lying Game premieres Aug. 15. It's based on on the novel by Sara Shepard (Pretty Little Liars)!

And, yes, there is an open call for extras (or better yet go straight to the Third Coast Extras Facebook page). Here are the details:

The Lying Game follows Emma, a kind-hearted foster kid who learns she has an identical twin sister, Sutton. Sutton, unlike Emma, was adopted by wealthy parents and is seemingly living an ideal life. After their initial meeting, Sutton talks Emma into stepping into her life for a few days while she pursues a lead on the mysterious identity of their birth mother. After Sutton inexplicably fails to return to the girls’ designated meeting place, Emma must decide whether to come clean about her identity and risk her own safety in the hope of uncovering her twin sister's whereabouts, along with the truth about why they were separated in the first place.

Adrian Pasdar
of Heroes has just joined the cast, I'm sure as "The Old Guy."

The Lying Game also stars Alexandra Chando (As The World Turns) as Emma/Sutton; Andy Buckley (The Office) as Ted; Helen Slater (Supergirl) as Kristin; Blair Redford (90210) as Ethan; Sharon Pierre-Louis (Lincoln Heights) as Nisha; Kirsten Prout (Kyle XY) as Char; Alice Greczyn (Lincoln Heights) as Mads; and Allie Gonino (10 Things I Hate About You) as Laurel. Charles Pratt, Jr. (Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives, All My Children, Melrose Place) serves as executive producer and writer; Leslie Morgenstein (Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries) and Gina Girolamo will serve as executive producers. Produced by Alloy Entertainment in association with Warner Horizon Television.

Monday, July 11, 2011

'Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D' shooting in Louisiana

In the category of horror film sacrilege, the latest remake/sequel/re-imagining of the seminal horror film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is being shot in Shreveport, Louisiana. If we can say anything about the various versions that have come before, most of them (I can't think of an exception but I'm sure it's out there) have shot in Texas.

The latest is titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D. And, yes, they are looking for extras--rednecks and hillbillies to be exact. I'm sure they've found plenty in Shreveport.

TNT will indeed shoot the series 'Dallas' in Dallas

Yes, TNT's Dallas will indeed shoot in Dallas. Read more about it in my Dallas Morning News column from last Friday.

Here's the official press release from the Dallas Film Commission:

Warner Horizon Television has selected Dallas, Texas as the location for TNT’s Dallas, an all-new series based upon one of the most popular television dramas of all time. TNT announced Friday that it has ordered a full season of 10 episodes and will give viewers their first look at the new Dallas tonight, Monday, July 11, with a sneak peek during the season premieres of the network’s blockbuster hits The Closer, which starts at 8 p.m. Central, and Rizzoli & Isles, which airs at 9 p.m. Central. The new series will show off the vibrant city that Dallas is today.

TNT’s new Dallas brings a new generation of stars together with cast members from the original drama series. The new Dallas stars Josh Henderson (90210), Jesse Metcalfe (John Tucker Must Die), Jordana Brewster (Fast & Furious), Julie Gonzalo (Veronica Mars) and Brenda Strong (Desperate Housewives), and they will be joined by iconic stars Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray and Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing.

Executive producer Cynthia Cidre, who wrote the acclaimed film The Mambo Kings and executive produced the television series Cane, wrote the pilot for the new Dallas. TNT’s series is based on the original series created by David Jacobs. Michael M. Robin (The Closer) directed and executive produced the pilot.

The original Dallas aired from 1978 to 1991 and centered on the Ewing family, a cattle and oil dynasty occupying the expansive Southfork Ranch in Texas. A long and bitter rivalry between brothers J.R. Ewing (Hagman) and Bobby Ewing (Duffy) eventually led to J.R. losing control of most of the Ewing industries. In the new Dallas, this explosive rivalry now lives on through another generation, with the future of the family fortune in the hands of the Ewing offspring: cousins John Ross Ewing (Henderson), the son of J.R. and ex-wife Sue Ellen (Gray), and Christopher Ewing (Metcalfe), the adopted son of Bobby. Brewster stars as Elena, who is involved in a love triangle with Christopher and John Ross. Gonzalo stars as Christopher’s fiancée, Rebecca. And Strong stars as Ann, Bobby’s wife.

The series is expected to have a significant financial impact on the city; create many jobs for crew, actors, extras and vendors; and increase tourism.

"The City of Dallas is very excited to once again have an iconic television series named after our City and pleased that we could assist in making Dallas not only the obvious location choice, but a good choice for the bottom line too," said Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano. Now that TNT has officially placed the series order, Warner Horizon Television can move forward with contracts to finalize the Dallas shoot. Pre-production and production on the series are expected to begin later this year.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tobe Hooper plays himself in new novel featuring a swarm of zombies in Austin

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre's Tobe Hooper has a new novel out called Midnight Movie starring a guy named Tobe Hooper and a bunch of zombies swarming the South by Southwest Film Festival. An Austin Chronicle film writer helps our host battle the baddies.

Read my Austin American-Statesman review here.

TNT picks up 'Dallas'; to give sneak peek Monday

As predicted, TNT has picked up Dallas to series for a 10-episode shoot to premiere in summer 2012. No confirmation yet of a Dallas shoot in Dallas, but after the city of Dallas' grant to upgrade a warehouse for the show, it looks more than probable.

TNT will give viewers a sneak peek of the show Monday during the season premieres of The Closer at 8 p.m. and Rizzoli & Isles at 9 p.m.

Also a web site is up with more info on the show.

Here's what they said in a press release:

TNT has given the greenlight to Dallas, an all-new series based upon one of the most popular television dramas of all time, about the bitter rivalries and family power struggles within a Texas oil and cattle-ranching dynasty. Famous for its ratings-grabbing cliffhangers, the original series was known for its wealth, seduction, scandal and intrigues. Set in the big state of Texas, TNT’s new Dallas — from Warner Horizon Television — also lives life large and in the fast lane and brings a new generation of stars together with cast members from the original drama series.

The new Dallas stars Josh Henderson (90210), Jesse Metcalfe (John Tucker Must Die), Jordana Brewster (Fast & Furious), Julie Gonzalo (Veronica Mars) and Brenda Strong (Desperate Housewives), and they will be joined by iconic stars Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray and Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing.

TNT has ordered 10 episodes of DALLAS, which is slated to premiere in summer 2012.

Friday, July 8, 2011

SHOT IN TEXAS: Decision on 'Dallas' series looms

Larry Hagman and Linda Gray at the Texas Film Hall of Fame (crappy photo by me).


My SHOT IN TEXAS column from today's Dallas Morning News

Verdict on ‘Dallas’ TV series should come soon

Special to the Dallas Morning News
@joemoconnell on Twitter

When will TNT decide the fate of the new Dallas television series? The standard reply is “any day now,” and that day is looming.

A North Texas shoot is looking more than probable given a $235,000 economic development grant from the city of Dallas to add air conditioning to a property at 2901 S. Lamar in exchange for six months of free rent for a television or film project. Developer Jack Matthews owns the property.

The agreement asks TNT and Warner Horizon to let the city know about a North Texas shoot by July 15 and sets an Aug. 1 deadline, says Janis Burklund of the Dallas Film Commission.

“They’ve always said the show wouldn’t air until July 2012,” Burklund said. “People shouldn’t get too excited that there’s not an official announcement yet.”

The city agreement requires a TV or film project to go in by July 2012 or the grant will not be paid.

“It’s difficult to find a warehouse in the right part of town that has air conditioning and is not too loud,” Burklund said. “We wrote [the grant] obviously with Dallas in mind, but it could work for other television or film projects.”

The Dallas Film Commission estimates that each TV episode shot on location brings in $1 million in direct local spending. TNT has not said how many episodes of Dallas will be ordered.

The grant agreement rankled the Studios at Las Colinas management, particularly comments that their facility in Irving doesn’t have the space to accommodate Dallas. Burklund said she heard the size complaint from producers of both Dallas and Good Christian Belles. Pilots for both shot in North Texas, but the latter series will lens in Los Angeles.

“That is exactly what we are: a soundstage development,” said Jennifer Loeb King, vice president of business affairs for the studios. “Secondly, we are a private studio facility with no city dollars given ever to us in 30 years. With the economy the way it is, it just seems that the owner of South Lamar should foot the bill privately or get a loan or whatever but not use city tax dollars to put in air conditioning on a building he owns and can benefit from into the future even if the series is cancelled.”

The Studios at Las Colinas previously has rented space for production of Prison Break, The Deep End and Lone Star.

“We recognize that all projects will not utilize the Studios at Las Colinas,” Loeb King said. “We believe in fair competition and would have preferred an opportunity to show all that we have to offer.”

“The more we build the business in general, the more that will be here for everyone,” Burklund said of an additional studio facility. She added that additional projects continue to seriously consider North Texas as a location for shoots as early as fall.

Bonus footage

Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse’s annual Rolling Road Show brings the inflatable screen poolside to the Day’s Inn on I-35 East in Hillsboro for a showing tomorrow of Bottle Rocket , the 1996 Wes Anderson film that shot at the location. It’s also part of efforts to keep the location from closing. More information is at … One project that appears unlikely to shoot in Texas is Lone Ranger , a Disney film that scouted primarily in West Texas. The reinvention of the classic tale focusing on Tonto as portrayed by Johnny Depp is likely bound for Utah, sources say. More generous filming incentives appeared to tip the deal. … Carol Pirie steps down this summer as deputy director of the Texas Film Commission after 23 years — including multiple stints as acting film commish. She notes that Lonesome Dove was in production when she started, and she leaves just after rooting for Texas-shot The Tree of Life as it won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Saying goodbye to 'Friday Night Lights'

The final episode of Friday Night Lights airs on NBC on July 15. I was in the neighborhood of the football stadium set today in Austin, Texas, and stopped to see what was left of it (filming ended long ago). You can see the full set of photos here.

Oh, and for old time's sake, here are some pieces I wrote from the set in season one and season two of the show.

The dividing line between the Dillon (blue) and East Dillon (red) football fieldhouses.

The front of the Panther Fieldhouse.

Monday, June 27, 2011

'Lone Ranger' now looking to Utah shoot


UPDATE: These decisions are still forming apparently, with a lot of studio work in New Mexico looking likely (along with the Utah shoot?) and some train shots in Texas.

Despite early casting reports that Disney's Lone Ranger starring Johnny Depp as Tonto would land in Texas and New Mexico, extremely reliable sources in the know say it will go to Utah. And it's a decision based entirely on the incentives that state will offer. Texas just plain doesn't offer enough.

Jerry Bruckheimer
tweeted this past week that he was heavy into preproduction meetings on the project, and apparently this location decision was the result.

Of course, this means the film's Texas may better approximate the television series that ran from 1949-56 and filmed in Kanab, Utah, and California, thus keeping the myth of that particular Lone Star State alive.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

TNT to decide on 'Dallas' pickup this month

That's the word from Patrick Duffy, who says the Dallas series would start shooting in October if picked up. He doesn't say whether the series, like the pilot, would lens in Dallas.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

'Lone Ranger' another Texas-New Mexico project?


I've got confirmation of scouts both in Texas and New Mexico for Disney's Lone Ranger starring Johnny Depp as Tonto. This casting call actually says both states are in the mix.

Are we looking at a repeat of True Grit, which split filming between the two states with a slight edge to Texas to qualify for Lone Star State filming incentives? Looks that way. The casting call also indicates an October start to filming. Armie Hammer of The Social Network will portray the Masked Man.

For more on the project and recent scouts, read here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Johnny Depp plays Tonto; world ends

The Mayan calendar ends on Dec. 21, 2012. That's also the date Disney has schedule the release of Lone Ranger, the film starring Johnny Depp as Tonto (the story is about him, not the masked man this go around). Oh, and as I told you before, they're scouting Texas locations...


UPDATE: Our source Carla confirms filmmakers recently scouted White Sands, New Mexico, as well.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Texas film incentives survive; 'Lone Ranger' lurks


My column from today's Dallas Morning News.

SHOT IN TEXAS: Legislature approves $30 million in film incentives

By JOE O’CONNELL Special Contributor

Published 09 June 2011 04:48 PM

The Texas film-incentives program appears to have survived the
legislative session, but with a lot less cash to throw at potential
projects like Johnny Depp’s Lone Ranger.

The incentive program, which is aimed at attracting film, television
commercial and video-game projects to the state, will have $30 million
to spend in the next two years. That’s exactly half of what the
Legislature approved two years ago. Another $2 million will fund program
administration and a state film archives program.

“It’s a big victory and something that we’ll have to build back up on in
the future,” said Don Stokes, president of industry lobbying group the
Texas Motion Picture Alliance. “At least it keeps the program alive at
this point.”

Most film-industry leaders are keeping their lips tight about the
allocation, perhaps concerned about unlikely changes to it during the
Legislature’s special session. But it could have been worse: An original
plan had two-year funding at $10 million and at one point the Senate
considering cutting all film-incentive funding.

The funding uncertainty kept at least one unnamed network television
series pilot from filming in Texas, Stokes said. North Texas did land
two pilots — Dallas-set Good Christian Belles , which will shoot as an
ABC series primarily in Los Angeles, and TNT’s version of Dallas, which
the network has yet to pick up as a full series.

The incentives program has been less successful competing for feature
films with other more incentive-rich states such as Louisiana and New
Mexico. The next big-name film in Texas may be a remake of The Lone
Ranger , with emphasis on the character Tonto to be portrayed by Johnny
Depp. The Disney film is expected to have a fall shoot and has been
scouting locations in West Texas, Austin and the small town of Granger
where much of True Grit was shot in 2010, Gary Bond of the Austin Film
Office confirmed.

The alliance group estimates the incentive program has generated more
than $600 million in new in-state spending and 56,000 jobs since it was
first funded in 2007.

“These incentives will keep our crew and talent working in Texas and
economically impacting our entire state,” said Waxahachie-based talent
agent Linda McAlister. “Talent live and work all over Texas, not just in
the metropolitan areas. The money is filtered throughout the communities
through production as well as individual spending.”

The Legislature clearly wants to see bottom-line results. The Texas Film
Commission has until November 2012 to come up with a 10-year plan for
the film industry to “grow beyond its traditional funding.” That
includes asking cities to get involved financially and asking colleges
and universities to bolster crew training.

“Our goal is to leverage the assets we have in the state — our talented
crews, infrastructure and location variety,” Stokes said. “We can do it
all in Texas.”

Last year the incentive program was instrumental in attracting a lot of
television series to the state — The Good Guys, Chase and Lone Star in
North Texas and My Generation and Friday Night Lights in Austin, but all
of those shows have since closed shop.

To keep either television or films from gobbling up much of the
incentives allocation, the legislation requires no more than 40 percent
of funds go to either TV, film, video games or commercials and
industrial films.

“We want to make sure all segments of the industry have a chance to grow
and prosper under the program,” Stokes said.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Texas motel breakfast

Our air conditioner conked out last night so we fled to a nearby motel. As far as I know, the Texas-shaped waffle is only available at Texas motels. It's a make-it-yourself thing.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Yes, your day could be worse

Spotted on Burnet Road in Austin, Texas at 5 p.m. today.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Alex Jones inspires zombies to action!

First radio conspiracy theorist Alex Jones took on the Robert Rodriguez film Machete leading the Texas Film Commission to deny film incentives for it, then he helped kill TV's Two and a Half Men (or at least the Charlie Sheen version), now comes word that his radio rants actually led to the creation of a Zombie movie from fine musician Jesse Dayton. Here's what Jesse says about his film Zombex, which wraps filming today in Austin and features appearances by both Corey Feldman and Malcolm McDowell:

While on a 40-city arena tour opening for horror director/rock star Rob Zombie (a close friend who cast me as Capt. Clegg in his Harvey Weinstein-produced film Halloween 2 for which I also wrote and recorded an original soundtrack which Rob was the executive producer), I was listening to a radio show by libertarian conspiracy theorist host Alex Jones. This was purely for entertainment on the tour bus. On the third of the tour, Alex shouted “Don’t people understand that big pharmaceutical companies are in bed with the health insurance companies and the government and this Xanax is turning our country into zombies”!

Boom! Light bulb! I immediately wrote the outline for Zombex. A film that would be mostly set in New Orleans, LA but ending in Austin, TX about a greedy pharmaceutical company CEO who sells a Xanax-type pill to post Hurricane Katrina stress victims which turns them into zombies. An hour and twenty minutes fun ride with a big idea behind it. A down and out local Zydeco music star, lead character Charlie Thibideaux, brings down this Gordon Gekko-type greed head and his whole empire while zombies are simultaneously destroying everything around them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

'Good Christian Belles' goes to LA; 'Dallas' awaits verdict

This just in: Dallas-set Good Christian Belles (formerly Good Christian Bitches and also GCB) will shoot in Los Angeles, according to Janis Burklund of the Dallas Film Commission. The pilot shot in Dallas, and the show was picked up this week by ABC. "We always knew this one would be more difficult to keep here given it’s large cast and that it will be heavily shot on interior sets," Burklund said.

An ABC spokesperson said an official announcement of the filming location could come next week.

TNT did not mention the modern-day Dallas pilot at its upfront today. Burklund says no need to worry, but there are some rumblings it too may film in LA.

"The Dallas pilot just finished shooting and was produced for next season," she said. "They didn’t intend to have it in time for this season, so I wouldn’t have expected it to have been mentioned in TNT’s upfronts today. Believe we’ll know before too long about a series pickup, but can’t say exactly when. Can assure you Dallas isn’t out of it, and we are still working hard to ensure it stays here.

Sneak peek at 'Good Chrisitan Belles' pilot

Thanks to Scott who steered me to this look at the Dallas-shot pilot formerly known as Good Christian Bitches and GCB and now under the assumed name of Good Christian Belles. Annie Potts' hair is truly frightening!

Still no official word that the series will shoot in Dallas, but there are rumblings it will instead land in Los Angeles. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

'Good Christian Bitches,' er 'Belles' picked up by ABC

What I failed to tell you while my internet was down: Good Christian Bitches--now Good Christian Belles--was picked up by ABC to series.

Read more about the show here.

NOTE: We do not have confirmation yet of a Dallas shoot for the series. The pilot was shot in Dallas and the show is set there, so one can hope. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cannes can: 'Dallas Buyers Club' comes back to life

This just in from the Cannes International Film Festival: Matthew McConaughey and Hilary Swank are looking set to star in the long-planned The Dallas Buyers Club.

Here's what sez: "Content Film has acquired The Dallas Buyers Club for international sales. That puts the picture on track to finally happen ... McConaughey will play a Texas electrician named Ron Woodroof. Given six months to live by his doctors in 1986 after contracting AIDS, he hung on and lived another six years by illegally smuggling medicine into the US. He made sure a lot of other sufferers got them. The spirit of the drama paints a picture at the time of powerful and unyielding bureaucrats at the Food and Drug Administration."