Thursday, December 20, 2012

'Transformers 4' looks to shoot in Austin

Yep, that's what I revealed in today's The Austin Chronicle according to a very solid source. Apparently there's a race car driver from Texas in Michael Bay's Transformers 4 pic, which already has a web site up, a fancy logo and release date of June 2014. Oh, and Mark Wahlberg is back.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

JFK assassination pic 'Parkland' adds cast

Add Zach Efron and University of Texas grad Marcia Gay Harden to the cast of Tom Hanks-produced Parkland, which tells of the goings on at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. They join Billy Bob Thornton and Paul Giamatti in the film, which is set to shoot in mid-January in Austin.

I'll have a mention of the film--including why they choose to shoot in Austin instead of Dallas--in Thursday's The Austin Chronicle. My brief will also tell you about a "major Hollywood film" that will be shooting in Austin soon, too. Think things that move... Look for the link here shortly.

Friday, December 14, 2012

In the shadows

Walking the shadows at Austin Community College. See more of my photos on flickr here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Taylor, Texas, grows up

A friend sent me a photo of Taylor, Texas, taken at some point in the 1950s during the Christmas season. I went downtown and took my own photo of the same block. It's not such a bustling place anymore, the Howard Theater moved across the street, the parking alignment changed and the Christmas decorations are a bit more low key. Otherwise the similarity is striking.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

On the indie set of Western 'Red on Yella, Kill a Fella'

Here's my report for The Austin Chronicle from the set of Duane Graves and Justin Meeks' Western Red on Yella, Kill a Fella. You can also see a slideshow of my photos, including cult actor Michael Berryman in action.

The pair report that Boneboys, which they directed from Kim Henkel's script, is this close (see my fingers inching together?) to a sale.

'Sin City 2' continues Austin shoot

Robert Rodriguez has proven he can shoot a film more quietly with big-name stars than just about anyone (it's all that green screen time). But, yes, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, continues to shoot in Austin intermittently this month and "goes full force" in January. Last we heard much publically from a Rodriguez set he had closed downtown streets for a late-night Machete 2 shoot.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Dennis Haysbert has taken the role of Manute, portrayed by the late Michael Clarke Duncan in the original 2005 Sin City based on Frank Miller's comic books. Returning for the sequel are Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Jaime King and Rosario Dawson.

JFK assassination tale 'Parkland' coming to Austin why is a Dallas-set film about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy filming in Austin? Beats me, but that's the plan for Parkland, which is set to shoot (no pun intended--seriously) in the Capital city in January and February of 2013.

The cast includes Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti and Jacki Weaver. Tom Hanks is producing.The name comes from Parkland Memorial Hospital where JFK died after being shot in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

An extras--and speaking role--casting call is set for Sunday, Dec. 16 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Clarion Inn & Suites, 2200 S I-35. The want Secret Service agents, lookalikes for JFK, Lyndon Johnson, John Connally, the beautiful Nellie Connally, Dallas police, reporters and the general public. You can also sign up for nonspeaking roles online here.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Goodbye, J.R. Ewing

With word of the death of Larry Hagman--in Dallas with Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy reportedbly at his beside--here's a short piece I wrote for The Dallas Morning News in 2009 about Hagman's induction into the Texas Film Hall of Fame. Oh, and I took this horrible photo, too.

Hagman remembers ‘Dallas’ days

Special to the Dallas Morning News

       AUSTIN--In the winter of 1978, Larry Hagman drove the cast of the new television show “Dallas” around the city of Dallas in a converted bread truck showing them dive bars and much fancier restaurants. He was the only native Texan among them, and felt it his duty, his television wife Linda Gray said Thursday as Hagman was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame.
       “He’s’ the consummate actor,” she said of television’s J.R. Ewing. “He’s funny. He’s absolutely adorable. He’s the man you love to hate, and he’s my best friend.”
       He also apparently makes a great pitch man for efforts to expand Texas’ incentive program aimed at attracting more movies to film in Texas. As Hagman, told it, he parading around the Texas Capitol this week handing out $10,000 bills (with his own photo on them).
       “You have all these fans here and you’re going to get your money back a hundred time over,” Hagman said as he echoed the night’s clarion call. “You can’t miss.”
       Hagman, looking gaunt from a 1995 liver transplant, said younger fans today are more likely to remember him from “I Dream of Jeannie” than “Dallas,” but the latter surely left the larger cultural mark.
       Also inducted into the hall of fame were Powers Boothe, an MFA grad of SMU and Snyder native; “Twilight” director Catherine Hardwicke, a McAllen native; and Billy Bob Thornton, a native of Arkansas? No worries; his roles as Davy Crockett in “The Alamo” and as a high school football coach in the big-screen “Friday Night Lights” earned him the Tom Mix Honorary Texan Award, so named for the western star who actually hailed from Pennsylvania.
        They walked a roped-off red carpet in a tent on the tarmac of Austin’s former airport turned by the Austin Film Society into a film studio, while patrons who paid up to $500 to bask in the glow held up digital cameras trying to get a shot through the phalanx of television cameras. A bartender aptly named Estrella (star in Spanish) served up endless libations.
       The lesser-known ducked past the cameras with little notice. Among those was Don Stokes, the Dallas film pro and president of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance, a film lobby group aiming to convince the Legislature to increase spending for its financial incentives program. The  legislation passed unanimously out of House committee this week.
       “There are a couple of television series pilots (at least one eyeing Dallas) that, if they bill passes in time, we have a significant shot at getting here,” Stokes said.
       Event emcee Thomas Haden Church termed the legislation a “call to arms,” noting that a West Texas-set film he is a part of is about to shoot in Australia. “I’m a Texan and I’d really like to see the Texas film industry flourish,” he said.
       Boothe spoke of growing up on a cotton farm in Snyder and, in a fit of teenage rebellion, telling his father, “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my life, but it’s sure not going to be this. So I chose the movie business.”
       The hall of fame ceremonies unofficially open the South By Southwest Film Festival, which begins today and runs through March 21 in Austin.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

'Corpus Christi' is back in development hell

The word was Richard Kelly would shoot his next film Corpus Christi in both Corpus Christi and Austin in the summer. That would the summer of 2012. Clearly it never happened. Here's the first real mention I've seen of an obvious why--which beats the conjecture on that the film is about Jesus and his "roving band of homosexual apostles"--from Variety: "the cast never came together and the project remains in development."

Sounds simple enough. Here's betting the film pops up to ride a tasty wave again in a year or two.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Terrence Malick takes his film crew to Mexico

Terrence Malick's untitled film formerly known as Lawless that has been scurrying around Austin, Texas, for a month or so has apparently headed down south to old Mexico.

Is it just me or is that international look of disdain coming from Ryan Gosling?

At least he's smiling in this photo. And in this one he just looks like a busy actor.

Oh, and for a guy with a cult following like Malick, it certainly makes sense that this music-industry-set film would include music from the band the Cult.

Nicolas Cage invades Texas 'Hot Spot'

Nicolas Cage took a break from filming in downtown Taylor to play a game of pool with a local. Cage has been all over Central Texas small towns--Bartlett, Granger, Smithville--of late shooting David Gordon Green's Joe and is based on Larry Brown's novel of the same name.

The official description: "Joe is the story of an ex-con who becomes the unlikeliest of role models to 15-year-old Gary Jones, the oldest child of a homeless family ruled by a drunk, worthless father. Together they try to find a path to redemption and the hope for a better life in the rugged, dirty world of small town Mississippi."

Cage, who plays the title character, was in downtown Taylor near the venerable Louie Mueller's Barbecue on Monday with the street closed off. Film trivia buffs might note that he was filming on the same street that was home to the car lot in noir cult film The Hot Spot from director Dennis Hopper. The same block was recently used to film much of original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre co-writer Kim Henkel's new film Boneboys.

On Tuesday, the Joe set had moved just out of town to a rural house amid plowed-under cornfields (see the photo). The setting was a whorehouse, said Deby Lannen, head of the city of Taylor's Main Street Program and also the go-to person for film projects in the city near Austin. Taylor was recently certified as a "Film-Friendly City" by the Texas Film Commission.

Green, who earlier this year moved to Austin, home to his mentor Terrence Malick, appears poised to go back to his indie, George Washington roots with this latest film. Of course, now he wants to do a big-screen version of Little House on the Prairie.

Oh, and that little film Green was shooting in Bastrop last summer that I thought might perhaps be Suspiria? It's Prince Avalanche, his adaptation of an Icelandic road comedy. They have roads in Iceland? And Paul Rudd was in Austin but was too miniscule to be noticed? I'll give $5 and a hug to the first person who can confirm that Rudd is a tiny guy with a giant head. Takers?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Rowdy Stovall's 'Mexican Sunrise' a taut, suspenseful film

I first heard about Rowdy Stovall and his film Mexican Sunrise in 2005 from Tom Copeland, who was in the process of retiring as Texas' longtime film commissioner.  Copeland raved about Stovall’s potential as a filmmaker and about the skill he saw in Mexican Sunrise. All these years later I finally got to watch the film that Stovall is shepherding about Texas to select theaters in a newish cut. I can see what Copeland meant. Mexican Sunrise is a taut tale whose border-town night gone wrong premise grew out of Stovall’s years spent teaching and surfing in Mexico. Before that he played football at Stephen F. Austin State University.

The film brings to mind the Mexican road trip that a pair of horny teenage boys take in Larry McMurtry’s novel The Last Picture Show, only ten times more deadly. In Stovall’s version, a group of buddies take off to a border town for a bachelor party. Prostitutes, free-flowing booze and good times await. But one of the guys has a nasty secret—he’s racked up a big debt to an unforgiving Mexican drug lord and his buddies must pay the price.

The nonlinear opens with the screams of one of the men who appears to be buried alive. As the film unspools, we get the grisly truth. Shot in Austin and Mexico, Mexican Sunrise rings true and the acting is solid. It'll make you squirm in your seat. Like a first love, Stovall admits that he can’t help trying to introduce his first feature film to new audiences. The film is a keeper. Now it’s time to see what comes next from this creative force that Copeland rightly predicted is a name to keep an eye on.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Jared Leto joins New Orleans, um, 'Dallas Buyers Club'

"Is Dallas a suburb of New Orleans?"
Jared Leto has joined the cast of Dallas Buyers Club, which will, naturally, begin filming in New Orleans next week. I'm sure they'll at least wander past the actual Dallas long enough to get a skyline shot. Or maybe they can use file footage. Besides, the po boys are better in N'awlins and so are the filming incentives.

Leto plays a cross-dresser in the true story of Ron Woodruff-- to be portrayed by Matthew McConaughey--who was given six months to live from AIDS and then began  smuggling alternative drugs into the U.S. to help himself and others. Jennifer Garner is also in the cast as Dr. Eve Saks.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mira Sorvino comes to Austin for TNT's 'Trooper' pilot

If it seems like Austin is heating up as a shooting locale all of a sudden, you're right. First we've got Terrence Malick running around town with a string of big-time actors including Natalie Portman and Ryan Gosling for the music-industry-set film formerly known as Lawless, and David Gordon Green is supposed to start filming Joe with Nicolas Cage any minute now. Now add to the mix a TNT television pilot called Trooper starring Mira Sorvino and Jay Hernandez.

Extras calls are out amid talk of a quick shoot Nov. 6-13. TNT's official description of the show is: "Trooper centers on a recently divorced female state trooper who is as unconventional at work as she is at home raising her three kids. Her partner on the job is a widowed father who has a much more by-the-book approach to policing." A pilot was shot last year for CBS, but they declined, so this is actually a second series pilot. No word on whether Austin would have a chance to host the filming if it goes to series. But with ABC Family's The Lying Game just closing shop on its second season here, word is clearly getting out to the TV community about Austin.

Oh, did I mention that Robert Rodriguez is doing a little Sin City 2 shooting right now, this minute (through Nov. 8) in Austin, too? It's percolating in the Austin film/TV biz, bub.

Friday, October 26, 2012

'Evacuation Plan' is now an e-book!

First off, I'll be signing my novel-in stories Evacuation Plan during the Texas Book Festival from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday and noon to 2 p.m. Sunday outside the Texas Capitol. Stop by and say "Howdy."

Just as important, Evacuation Plan lives a new life as an e-book is all of the various formats. Thanks to Sisterhood Publications for adding me to their stable of fine writers. You can look in the column on the right for more info on this award-winning tome. The new cover includes a photo I took a million years ago. 

Want to read it for free? Here's how:

Sisterhood Publications is so excited to announce our newest release, the award-winning EVACUATION PLAN: A NOVEL FROM THE HOSPICE by Joe M. O'Connell.

We want YOU to help us spread the word, so we are making it worth your while. There's a free copy of the book, a free DVD where Joe talks about the book and a $25 gift certificate to Amazon to the first person who spreads the word in ten different places on the Web.


1. You cannot write "Buy Joe's Book 10 Times on your FB profile.
2. You cannot write "Buy Joe's Book 10 Times on your friends profiles. If you write it on your profile on Facebook, that counts for one time.
3. You must take a screen shot of your comment. For information on how to take a screen shot please visit for exact details.
4. Once you have visited 10 different Internet locations and posted about Joe's book, please send your screen shots, your name, snail mail address to
5. Example of what to post. "Make sure you check out Joe O'Connell's new book, EVACUATION PLAN. I'm in a contest to win a copy plus a $25 gift certificate" or something like that.
6. Examples of places where you can post: FB (once). Twitter (Once), Tumblr (1), Reddit (1), Google + (1), Pinterest (1), Your website (1), Your Blog (1), etc. See? Not so hard, kind of fun, and you can win a book, a CD and a $25 giftcard to buy MORE books. So let's play.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Natalie Portman hangs out with 100,000 in Austin, TX

Actually Natalie Portman has apparently arrived in Austin for her role in Terrence Malick's film formerly known as Lawless. Filming occurred during the University of Texas' 56-50 victory over the Baylor Bears at DKR-Memorial Stadium.

Over at Daily Beast they report the all-important news that Portman has gone blonde for her next film. Hint, hint--this is it.

The announcers weren't clued in that the guy standing next to Portman was her costar, Irish actor Michael Fassbender.

First Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling shoot scenes for the Malick film for the second straight year at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, now the director shoots at one of the largest football stadiums anywhere. Isn't he supposed to be a recluse?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The other Janis Joplin film revives duel

It seems like I've been writing about the Janis Joplin movie duel forever--actually about 10 years. Now word is that Lee Daniels is, perhaps, maybe, possibly, going to direct one currently untitled version as early as next year. I'll believe it when I see it. But Amy Adams is attached to star as a much-prettier-than-Joplin Joplin.

The other version has also talked about filming soon with Martha Marcy May Marlene director Sean Durkin helming and Nina Arianda starring as Joplin.

As I recall, the two films have rights to different Joplin songs.

Will either film in Texas? Probably at least in part since she was raised in Port Arthur and later lived in Austin.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Terrence Malick filming again at Austin City Limits fest

We've got confirmation that Terrence Malick's untitled film formerly known as Lawless--which has been lensing around Austin of late--has already been spotting filming at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which just kicked off. And, yes, Ryan Gosling, was in front of--and in this case behind--the camera. See more pix here.

And somewhere in this video, actress Rooney Mara is supposed to be on stage dancing as the Black Keys perform.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Night Lights' Peter Berg says, 'Quit it, Mitt'

Peter Berg, creator of the Austin-shot TV series Friday Night Lights says I know Coach Taylor,  Coach Taylor is a friend of mine. You, Mitt Romney, are no Coach Taylor.

In other words, quit using the coach's slogan: "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose" that Berg wrote.

Berg was behind both the Friday Night Lights film and TV show, but they are both based on Buzz Bissinger's book of the same name. Bissinger, who has long bashed Romney, now suddenly has come out in support of him. He's also shown himself to be a bit of a crank, if not a total nut. Bissinger and Berg are cousins, making it even more interesting.

Now word from actor Kyle Chandler, who is wisely keeping out of the fray.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Spencer's new book examines 'Secret Sex Lives'

Suzy Spencer gets her photo snapped for our Austin Chronicle interview.
Check out my interview with Suzy Spencer (it's all about sex) in today's Austin Chronicle about her new book Secret Sex Lives. (Did I mention the sex?) Here's the beginning (which is somewhat about sex):

Meeting Suzy Spencer at the IHOP to discuss her book Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality seems both appropriate and wrong. Scanning the mostly middle-aged and older crowd, I can't help but wonder if these are the very people in the book – the sometimes sad, sometimes funny folks prowling Craigslist for extramarital sex partners, swinging, swapping, and playing out new and oh-so-naughty roles.

"The first advice I got was to meet my sex sources at the IHOP," Spencer says. "It's because of all of the security cameras. I was told to sit where the camera would be pointed at them." She points up, and I see the camera staring down at me. "They're just regular everyday people," she says of her sources. "The majority of them you wouldn't think were doing this if you met them on the street. For instance, the guy I call Coyote in the book is a regular good old boy who just happens to cheat on his wife."

You can read the rest (which is full of talk about SEX!) here. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Virgin Mary image appears in college's 'weeping wall'

An image of the Virgin Mary has appeared in the residue from a wall outside Austin Community College's Rio Grande campus that appears to weep water.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Perry's new film commish marks a shift in focus

Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced Monday that Heather Page is the new Texas film commissioner. She's got an interesting mix of background: she's worked for the Texas Film Commission (which is housed in Perry's offices), she's an actual working camerawoman and she's an at-large member of the industry lobbying group the Texas Motion Picture Alliance.

Her predecessor Evan Fitzmaurice, as well as his brief temporary replacement David Morales, is an attorney from Perry's staff. His legal background was seen by many as a desire to focus on cleaning up the process of distributing film incentive payments aimed at attracting film, television and videogame projects to the state. It was also a means of keeping the commission quietly chugging along--emphasis on quietly.

To mention the obvious, Page is also a woman, which is a plus considering allegations of sexual harassment involving former film commish Bob Hudgins just prior to his stepping down in 2010.  Hudgins, who had worked actively in the film industry, was instrumental in getting the Texas Legislature to approve a film incentives program. He was dynamo who pulled the state's many different regions together.

So the latest announcement can be seen as an effort to move back to the original role of the Texas film commissioner: attracting projects to the state.

Just one question: will Page  talk to the media? Hudgins saw that as part of his job. Fitzmaurice began referring all calls to the Perry's press office where they mostly died a slow death of despair.

Here's the press release from Perry's office:

Gov. Rick Perry has named Heather Page of Austin director of the Texas Film Commission. The commission supports Texas' growing and diverse media industries, and helps increase Texas' competitive position worldwide as a production destination. Page is an accomplished motion picture camerawoman, having worked on major feature films and television shows such as Revenge, Friday Night Lights, Armageddon and The Green Mile. She is a former workforce training administrator for the Texas Film Commission, where she helped implement the Workforce Training Program created in 2007 by the Texas Legislature. She is a board member of the Society of Camera Operators, chair of the International Cinematographers Guild Scholarship Fund and co-founder and director of Beyond the Lights Celebrity Golf Classic.

Page received a bachelor's degree in cinema from Denison University, a master's degree in cinema studies from New York University, and a certificate in graduate cinematography studies from the American Film Institute.

Photos begin to surface from Terrence Malick's Austin film shoot

The first action photos are starting to surface from the Austin shoot of Terrence Malick's film formerly known as Lawless. Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara join Malick in this shot taken this week. See more photos here at

For my earlier report on the film, which is set in the Austin music scene, go here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Murder, politics and Texas State football

John & Oriter Castleberry in happier(?) times.
The story goes that John Kendrick Castleberry, a respected doctor in Nacogdoches, had a thing for his nurse Dora. They first poisoned her husband, Luther, then put a dab of the same potion in a cup of tea that John’s wife, Oriter, was drinking.

After a suitable waiting period, the doctor and nurse got married and had a child. Then the doc turned up dead, and Dora left with all their cash and the youngest child.

The good doctor’s older children grew up angry and mean. If you got in their way on the streets of Nacogdoches, you paid the price. One of those Castleberry boys was my grandfather, who became first a cop then a convicted swindler. I don’t remember him, but I’m told the last time he was in our house he had a gun in his hand. I think of this story every time Texas State plays Stephen F. Austin in football. I start to wonder how much of the East Texas voodoo the Lumberjacks football team brings with them to San Marcos.

Read the rest of the story here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

David Gorden Green's 'Joe' with Nicolas Cage gets ready

A casting call held this past weekend in Austin, Texas, for the film Joe gives a clear sign David Gordon Green is prepping to shoot his film Joe around these parts shortly, which also means Nicolas Cage sightings will soon become common.

Cage has been cast as Joe, an ex-con who “becomes the unlikeliest of role models to 15-year-old Gary Jones, the oldest child of a homeless family ruled by a drunk, worthless father.”

The film is set in Mississippi and based on Larry Brown's book Joe. Financing is from Worldwide Entertainment, which says in a press release that filming will start in mid-November in the Lone Star State.

Green moved to Austin recently, where he's closer to his mentor Terrence Malick. The move and the new film probably mark a shift back to more artful entertainment for Green, whose career took a Pineapple Express detour. Once upon a time Green moved in with then St. Stephen's Episcopal School English teacher Joe Conway as the two refined Conway's Undertow script.

Malick is a St. Stephen's alum and major supportor who put Conway and Green together for the project. And, interestingly, this latest development likely means Green and Malick will be in production on Austin-based films at the same time.

Now if only Richard Kelly would follow through on his apparently stalled  plans to shoot Corpus Christi in Austin (and, of course, Corpus Christi), Austin could truly become an independent film mecca.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Another casting call for unnamed Terrence Malick film

Act quickly, Austinites. This just in about an unidentified film that is of course Terrence Malick's project formerly known as Lawless set against the Austin music scene:


Sarah Dowling Casting and Vicky Boone Casting are conducting a search for people from the Austin music industry of all ages and styles – especially hipster types, rockers, punks, americana artists and those with a distinctive visual style - who are interested in speaking and non-speaking roles in an upcoming major Hollywood movie to be filmed in Texas.

We are looking for:
and friends of musicians!

If you fit the above list, please just show up Sunday. No appointment is necessary:

The open casting call will be held on Sunday, September 16 in Austin, TX at: Austin Studios 1901 East 51st Street. Austin TX from 2PM - 7PM.

Musicians SHOULD BRING THEIR INSTRUMENTS and may be asked to play.

Interested parties may email us at or call our Information Line at 512-505-2063. No appointment is necessary. Acting experience is also not necessary. Compensation will be on the scale of professional actors.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Swim Test

This ran in today's Williamson County Sun. Their online edition is very limited, so I present it here.

The swim test


I’ve never been sadder to close the door on summer.
            As the father of a 5-year-old boy, summer is a time of play, growth, adventure and lots and lots of trips to the swimming pool. Nicholas and I sank to the bottom of the public pool in Taylor and pretended to be watching Spongebob Squarepants episodes. I tossed him in the air and watched as he sank out of sight then sprang out of the water with a grin.
            When summer started, Nicholas hadn’t even gotten up the nerve to jump in the water from the pool’s edge. He’s worn glasses since the age of 2, and his vision has led to some timidity about physical challenges, so he stayed shyly on the pool’s edge. Instead he watched other kids do cannonballs until one day he wandered down the pool a ways and quickly leaped in. Then he did it over and over again.
Soon swim lessons began. My wife Tiffany and I watched Nicholas cling to his swim teacher Jaci’s neck in the deep water of the adult lap pool. It was a continuation of last year when he did the same thing. But Jaci made it into a game, and soon he was playing and learning.
            During the lesson, Nicholas eyed an inflatable obstacle course that filled two pool lanes. That afternoon we returned and tried to pay the $2 for him to try it out. “Has he passed the swim test?” we were asked. The test, he learned, involved swimming all the way down an adult pool lap lane without touching anything but water.
            “I’ll do that before summer is over,” Nicholas said.
            We nodded, but expected little.
            Jaci worked with Nicholas and one other boy for two weeks. They pretended to be hunting sharks and floated with her across the pool. He began to actually swim, but always his hands reached out for Jaci after a short distance.
            We returned as often as possible to the kid’s pool in the late afternoons. The water was shallow enough for Nicholas to stand. He began to realize he could swim, but he liked to hang onto a giant green noodle as his hands made ice cream scoops and his feet turned into frog legs.
            One day we met a fish-like boy in the pool. He was going to try to swim across the adult pool and pass the swim test. We went along and watched as he alternatively clung to the side and swam toward his mother. He made it at least halfway by himself.
            It took a trip to Nicholas’ 6-year-old cousin Fen’s house in Dallas to make Nicholas a true swimmer. Fen’s parents had sprung for a backyard pool, which was mostly too deep for Nicholas to stand. He, Fen and Fen’s little brother Bennett enjoyed stripping out of their bathing suits and dive-bombing naked into the water. Later in the day, Nicholas swam across the pool to me. I saw the “click” in his eyes. He could swim now.
            Summer days were running dry. We made one of those last trips to the Taylor city pool, but rain was threatening. We arrived with a sack of burgers and found the pool closed temporarily for the weather. If no thunder sounded, it would open in 30 minutes. We ate in the car and waited. Finally, 45 minutes later the pool welcomed us.
            The water in the kid pool was cool and refreshing—many public pools these days are equipped with mushroom-shaped chillers—and worth the wait. Suddenly Nicholas told us, “I’m ready.” Ready for what? “To swim across the pool.”
            My wife and I looked at each other and shrugged. We followed him to the big pool. He and Tiffany went down the lane, Nicholas stopping frequently to grab the side of the pool.
“Again,” he said.
This time he swam most of the way by himself, part underwater and part above. About halfway, he grabbed his mother for a moment. The teenage lifeguard was watching and said Nicholas would have to do it all by himself to pass.
“Want to make it official?” he asked.
“Yes,” my son said.
I followed in front of Nicholas in the water, expecting his hand to reach out for the pool’s edge or my grasp at any moment. It never did. The progress was slow, but the lifeguard and two awed parents watched as his slowly but surely reached the other side.
I thought parents were supposed to teach lessons to their children. I never expected my son to teach one to me about perseverance and believing in the possibilities inside us all. Soon his arms sported two wrist bands. The orange one was for passing the swim test. The red one was his ticket to the obstacle course.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Linklater quietly films 'Midnight' in Greece

Richard Linklater has gone back for another take on an old story. The Austin auteur's triquel Before Midnight continues the story begun with 1995's Before Sunrise and 2004's Before Sunset. The latest film were quietly shot in Greece and just wrapped, according to press release received by Variety. Apparently filming began in mid-August.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are back in front of the camera and once again get writing credit along with Linklater. The trio earned an Oscar nomination for Before Sunset. But for my money, Before Sunrise is a better film solely for Kim Krizan's script contributions that better fleshed out Delpy's character.

My big question is: does Linklater know that according to "his" Facebook page he lives in Los Angeles and goes by "Rich?"

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Malick film starts shooting in Austin

This rather vague posting says shooting began yesterday in Austin on the untitled Terrence Malick film formerly known as Lawless:

Untitled Independent Feature

Project Type: Independent Feature
Production Company: Buckeye Pictures, LLC
Shooting Location: Austin
Start Date: Tuesday, September 04, 2012
Shooting Schedule: 40 Days

Accepting résumés for assistants and interns in multiple departments.

Crew positions will be Paid & Unpaid.

Submit resumes to:

Read a whole lot more about the film here.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Terrence Malick's next film ready for Austin-Taylor shoot

Chris, a piano tuner showed up to audition in Taylor.
 It’s (probably) no longer called Lawless, but Terrence Malick’s next film has officially opened production offices in Austin, Texas, my source confirms. Earlier word had the film, which is set in the Austin music scene, to lens this fall, which looks to be on track. Two casting calls were held this weekend—one in Austin and one in nearby Taylor.
It’s not likely a coincidence that Taylor recently attained the Film-Friendly City status from the Texas Film Commission. Smithville got the same title around the time filming of Malick’s The Tree of Life took place there.
The casting calls were more intensive than the normal extras call most major films have with actual footage taken of applicants. In Austin one  applicant was asked to tell a story about love for the camera, while yours truly applied in Taylor and just plain jabbered on. The casting calls didn’t include the name of the film, but a closer look revealed that Buckeye Pictures--Malick’s joint—is behind the pic.
A piece of the film—possibly just pre-production—shot last fall with Christian Bale during the Austin City Limits music festival, then later with Ryan Gosling during Fun Fun Fun Fest.
The film’s logline is said to be: “Two intersecting love triangles. It is a story of sexual obsession and betrayal set against the music scene in Austin, Texas.”
Casting calls listed on Facebook give a hint of the extent music will play in the film. That includes a Peter Tosh look-alike, musicians, scenesters, comedians, indie bands, country club types, Latina women ages 50 and up, rappers who can freestyle, local storytellers and people from other countries.
The in-recent-years-prolific Malick has been shooting Knight of Cups this summer in Los Angeles, also with Bale and Natalie Portman, who is also said to be in the Austin project with Bale as well. Malick has been adding large casts to his recent films, with many a star ending up on the cutting room floor. Some folks conjecture that the two films are actually one and the same film. With the secrecy behind a Malick project, nothing is certain except that it will be interesting, and now that it will be shot in Central Texas.

Malick's Oklahoma-set and -shot film To the Wonder was to premiere today at the Venice Film Festival.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Young actor joins Duvall in 'Night in Old Mexico'

Jeremy Irvine (War Horse) will play the grandson to Robert Duvall's grandpa in A Night in Old Mexico, the Bill Wittliff-penned film which we told you about two weeks ago. Latest reports confirm almost all of the filming will be in Brownsville (doubling for Mexico). At one point Austin was looking likely as a shooting location. It's a reteaming of Wittliff and Duvall, who wrote and starred respectively in the TV adaption of Larry McMurty's novel Lonesome Dove.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Is Malick's 'Red Wing' actually 'Marfa Lights' retooled?

UPDATE: No, Red Wing is not in fact Marfa Lights, I am told by a source very much in the know. The film just wrapped.

I told you here two weeks ago about the film Red Wing being shot in the North Texas town of Whitewright with film auteur Terrence Malick's stepson Will Wallace directing. But it took the trades finally reporting on the movie to clue me into the screenwriter behind the project: Kathleen Orillion.

What difference does that make? Well, Orillion was also the writer of Marfa Lights,  which producers Malick and Ed Pressman were pushing as the first film from Burnt Orange Productions, a for-profit project of the University of Texas that closed down in 2008. 

When Burnt Orange was set up in 2003, Malick worked with screenwriting students in UT's Michener program to adapt for the screen six works of fiction that had entered the public domain. Orillion adapted George Sand's book Le Petite Fadette into the family saga The Marfa Lights. The novel has a twist. Red Wing's plot has been described as having a twist. Both are small town love stories.

An article in the Dennison, Texas, newspaper seems to bear this out. (Perhaps they had read my blog?)

Oh, and additions to the cast I hadn't previously reported on include Joelle Carter and Fort Worth native Bill Paxton. They join Luke Perry and Frances Fisher.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rusell Crowe to direct Bill Hicks biopic?

That's the word here, though it's pretty early in the process for the film biography which may start shooting next year. It sounds like a personal project for Russell Crowe, with his pal penning the script. Can Aussie Crowe possibly properly depict the Bill Hicks story of a Houston teen who turned into a comedy cult legend? I'd love feedback on this one. At least Crowe has apparently nixed playing the lead role himself.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Frances Fisher joins Malick-written 'Red Wing'

My sources say Frances Fisher is joining Luke Perry in the cast of Will Wallace-directed Red Wing, which begins shooting in North Texas this next week. Casting notices say it will shoot in Dennison, but there is indication the set may actually be in Whitewright.

The script is from Terrence Malick, Kathleen Orillion. Wallace is best known as an actor and has appeared in his stepfather Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line and The New World. Ed Pressman, Malick's partner in Sunflower Films is producing the film.

Fisher went to high school in Orange, Texas.

Long-awaited "Night in Old Mexico' gets greenlight

UPDATE: A major casting call in Brownsville is making it clear the bulk of filming will be in this border town. (This blog post is even mentioned in the local paper.) And it appears Todd Allen's Presidio Pictures is involved in this one.

Bill Wittliff (Lonesome Dove) has been trying to get his script for A Night in Old Mexico before the cameras for so long--dating back to at least the '80s--it's become a legend. Actor Robert Duvall has been pining to star in the film for years. It looks like it's greenlit to finally happen this month in Texas.

The story is about an older man whose ranch is being foreclosed on. He heads with his grandson to Mexico, where they end up in a whorehouse.

It's set to shoot in both Austin and Brownsville (*though at least one reputable source has it entirely in Brownsville) with Spaniard Emilio Aragon directing.

In her book on the Austin film scene, Chainsaws, Slackers and Dykes, Alison Macor talks about how Clint Eastwood was approached in the '90s to star and the late Dennis Hopper was once tapped to direct with Duvall as the lead.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

'Boneboys' set to premiere at Fantasia Fest

Montreal's Fantasia Fest bills itsel as the world's largest genre film festival, and Central Texas-shot Boneboys will make its debut there on Aug. 4.

It's a big moment for co-directors Justin Meeks and Duane Graves, whom I first met as a duo with the release of their horror film The Wild Man of the Navidad. The Boneboys script is from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre co-scribe Kim Henkel, whose other life is as a college prof (Graves and Meeks were his students). That's probably why Henkel dubs it a modern take on Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal.

I met Henkel on the Boneboys set in late 2010 and took these photos. He was easy going and seemed to very much enjoy being back living in the Austin area.

Janis Joplin biopic close to actually shooting

This just in from Deadline: Stage actress Nina Arianda will play Texas singing legend Janis Joplin in a film titles either Joplin or The Gospel According to Janis  that concentrates on the last six months of Joplin's life. Sean Durkin, director of the creepily interesting Martha Marcy May Marlene (I finally saw it this past weekend) will helm the Joplin pic, so it could be a very different approach.

It's supposed to start shooting early in 2013 at a budget of about $20 million. This is from the folks who have rights to 21 of her songs.

If I'm remembering right (I am), there were at one time dueling Joplin biopics in the works, so I will truly believe it when I see it. The producers were said to be looking at Philadelphia as a shooting location.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Altman almost ended career with a 'Hard Body' in Texas

UPDATE: Harrigan tells me they angled to have the film shot in Texas, but it still likely would have ended up filmed in California.

I'd heard the story before of how Robert Altman was set to do a fictional version of the documentary Hands on a Hard Body. The location was to be a car lot in either Hutto or Texas, just outside of Austin, Texas.

But now noted author Stephen Harrigan, who wrote the script for Altman, reveals in Slate that the cast would likely have included Meryl Steep, Hillary Swank, Billy Bob Thornton, Jack Black, Chris Rock, John C. Reilly, and Steve Buscemi. Wow!

And to think that these days the 1997 documentary Hands on a Hard Body by S.R. Bindler (a high school buddy of Matthew McConaughey who also directed MM in Surfer, Dude) is out of print. It tells of a contest to see who can be the last to have their hand on a car. The winner gets the car. Too bad we didn't get Altman's version.

'Red Wing' to shoot in North Texas

Will Wallace will direct the film Red Wing in Dennison Whitewright, Texas, starting on July 16. Why should you care? Well, if one-upon-a-time teen heartthrob Luke Perry as a star doesn't do it for you, consider the Malick factor.

Terrence Malick originally developed the story, and his Sunflower Films' mate Ed Pressman is producing the film. Wallace has had roles in Malick film's including The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line and The New World. Oh, and Wallace is Malick's stepson.

Given the Malick connection, I have no clues as the story, except for the casting notice.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Kicked out of the mall for taking photos

Yes, I was kicked out of Austin's Highland Mall yesterday for taking photos of the dying place!

The first indoor shopping mall in Austin, Texas, opened in the 1970s. Now it's mostly vacant with no major anchor department stores left. Austin Community College has bought the whole thing and will make it into classroom space, but some little stores survive. I dropped in Monday to take a look and take photos.

It turned into an interesting adventure as I was literally led out of the door by some overzealous security guards who photographed (irony!) my license plate and then followed me for a mile or so away as I drove away. I did some quick research and discovered they can kick people out for taking photos, but they can't keep you from shooting or displaying the photos. Despite private ownership, a shopping mall is a public place.

For more on the rights of photographers, read this.

Here is the full set of Highland Mall photos.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Malick's 'King of Cups' (or whatever it's called) shoots in LA

In our latest installment in "What's up with the latest Terrence Malick cloak and dagger?" we have this photo of Christian Bale and Cate Blanchette, supposedly from the King of Cups set in Los Angeles. Or it could be the Lawless set. Or they could just be trying on some new black clothing.

Then there's also this shot of Bale and Natalie Portman in a cool old car with the film called Knight of Cups. What?

Anyway, the film has something to do with Austin. Doesn't it?

I can give you this explanation of the name King of Cups from the tarot card:

"A devoted husband and father. A man fiercely protective of his loved ones. A successful and mature man employed in the creative arts. A new connection is possible. A man capable of giving and receiving love freely without the reservations of youth. Love lessons have been learned, this man is ready for deep commitment. Appreciation for creative pursuits."

Texas film commissioner steps down

Evan Fitzmaurice's brief tenure as head of the Texas Film Commission has ended. I know because I read it here in the Austin American-Statesman. The industrious reporter there found out about it a week after Fitzmaurice left. I'm sure Fitzmaurice announced this to his boss months ago.

Here's the deal: Up until I voluntarily (as in it was my idea) ended my The Dallas Morning News column in December, I'd had a column about the Texas film industry for 12 years (first in the Austin American-Statesman, then The Austin Chronicle). I never once met Fitzmaurice (pronounced Fitz-morris). I talked to him when he was hired and a few times after that by telephone. He was a nice guy, an attorney brought in, I was told, to streamline the state's film incentives program. Then the contact stopped. It wasn't his fault; Gov. Rick Perry's staff--the Texas Film Commission is a part of the governor's office--decided that all contact would henceforth come through the Guv's press office, the office that is notorious for not returning calls from the media or, if they do, offering as little information as possible. I wasn't even sure what Fitzmaurice looked like until I saw the photo above.

Compare this with his predecessors: Longtime film commish Tom Copeland is my Facebook friend.  He and his assistant director Carol Pirie (who has retired) were always helpful and honest with me as I began trying to let the public know about Texas film. Copeland's hand-picked successor Bob Hudgins left with some allegations hanging over his head, but he was helpful in getting word out about the Texas film industry and its goings-on. Fitzmaurice made it clear pretty early that he wouldn't have a lot to say to folks like me who write about the industry. I started checking with him less frequently. Finally I was told I couldn't talk to him. I mentioned this to some film commission staffers, who shall remain nameless, while waiting in line for a South By Southwest Film Festival screening this past March. They seemed very surprised I'd never met him in person.

OK, this may sound like no big deal, but it is when the Texas Film Commissioner has historically been a face for the industry, a promoter if you will. It will be interesting to see who Perry picks to fill the slot next. For now a guy named David Morales, another attorney, is in charge. He joined Perry's staff late last year and before that was a long-timer in the attorney general's office. Here's betting I never speak to him at all.

Friday, June 29, 2012

TNT's 'Dallas' gets second season

TNT announced today that it will give Dallas a second, 15-episode season to air in 2013. It's good news for the city of Dallas where the show's first season was shot. The original Dallas from way back when was mostly shot in Los Angeles, so it's a major Texas win for a Texas icon. Janis Burklund of the Dallas Film Commission confirms on Facebook that it will continue to lens in the Metroplex.

What's most interesting in TV Guide's report is that Dallas is the most viewed new series this summer on basic cable. I credit it all to the return of J.R. Ewing and the rest of the original cast. Larry Hagman steals every scene they give him.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pizza for Casey

Yesterday was my brother Casey's birthday. He died in a train accident in India on Halloween. I bought this pizza in his honor: black olives and fresh garlic on whole wheat from Conan's Pizza in Austin, Texas. It was exactly as Casey would have ordered it in the days when I moved home to study creative writing in grad school. He and I would stay up late eating pizza and watching access television. I realize it's the last period where he and I spent a lot of time together. I ordered the pizza uncut as Casey would have (a vegetarian doesn't cotton to meat-covered knives), but right before opening the box I said out loud, "it would really be appropriate if they'd forgotten and cut it." Of course, they had.

Take a look at the Dear Photograph I created in Casey's honor right after his death. It has since traveled around the world, and I think he'd get a kick out of that.