Friday, August 12, 2011

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.

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