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.


Jette said...

Best of luck with the fiction projects, but I will miss your coverage of Texas film, which has always been informative and helpful to me.

Joe M. O'Connell said...

Thanks, Jette! You're doing a great job yourself with the hottest Austin film site around (and, yes, I know that other one...).