- Film News
BY JOE O'CONNELL
Altman at the end
A fictional take on S.R. Bindler's 1997 documentary Hands on a Hard Body
was on the fast track when Robert Altman died, with an early 2007 start
to filming planned. Now, the project is in limbo. "All I know at this
point about the future of Hands on a Hard Body is that Robert Altman
will not be directing it," says Stephen Harrigan, who had penned the
screenplay. "But I'm grateful I had the chance to work with him and
happy that he was so excited about the movie. The last time I talked to
him, about a week and a half before he died, he was brimming over with
enthusiasm and energy about the casting and the shooting schedule. It's
nice to know that, until the last day of his life, he was looking
forward to his next project." As you read here back in October, Hard
Body was to be Altman's fictionalization of the Longview contest in
which contestants vied for a free vehicle as the last one to take a hand
off of it. Variety quotes Picturehouse head Bob Berney as saying no
final decision has been made. No matter the outcome, Harrigan counts
himself lucky to have worked with the famed director. "He had no
tolerance for anything that struck him as cliched or conventional or
predigested," Harrigan says. "He had no apparent interest in character
or plot. He just wanted to create, with every movie, something authentic
Shots fired in film incentives war
Is Angelou Economics of Austin working to pump up Alabama's film
industry? That's the gist of an editorial in The Anniston Star that
eagle-eyed Angela Lee sent my way. Seems the effort aims to turn a
former military installation into an economic hub, including a one-stop
film-production shop. They've already hired a main player behind
Louisiana's surge onto the film scene. Of course, Alabama's plan depends
on its Lege approving filming incentives. The firm, headed by Angelos
Angelou, former honcho with the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, also
prepared an economic development plan for the city of Santa Fe in 2004
that advised using the Austin Film Commission as a model to take
advantage of New Mexico's filming-incentives program. We can only hope
he's also putting in a good word for filming incentives at the Texas
Capitol. More to come when our Lege arrives in town early next year.
Now showing (and Netflixing)
Two films from Austin creators are finding a wider audience. Turk
Pipkin's Nobelity, a doc featuring Nobel Prize winners talking about how
to save the world, is now in national release, but just as important,
you can find previously unseen footage of Nobel winners including
Desmond Tutu and Rick Smalley at Nobelity.org for your perusal free of
charge. Also, Pipkin and crew have formed the Nobelity in Schools
program aimed at putting the film in eighth- and ninth-grade classrooms
across the nation. Meanwhile, film shooter P.J. Raval says you can now
find Kyle Henry's Room available on Netflix for your viewing pleasure.
If you missed the film at the Sundance or Cannes film fests – or during
its Austin screenings – you now officially have no excuse.
And the rest ...
As we went to press, there was word of the Austin-produced Chalk's
nomination for the Independent Spirit Awards' John Cassavetes prize,
given to the director, writers, and producers of "best feature made for
under $500,000." In Chalk's case, those would be, respectively, Mike
Akel; Chris Mass and Akel; Akel, Angela Alvarez, Graham Davidson, and
Mass. Past Cassavetes nominees with Austin ties include The Puffy Chair
and Room. The ceremony will take place on Feb. 24, 2007... Bennie
Klain's short film "Share the Wealth" premiered this week on the opening
night of the Native American Film + Video Festival in New York City. The
short follows the travails of a homeless, middle-aged Native American
woman on a busy city street... Eight new programs of East Austin Stories
from a class at the University of Texas will be shown at 7pm, Dec. 12,
at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and at 9pm the same night at Cafe Mundi.
Plus, many of the short docs can be seen at EastAustinStories.org or can
be downloaded as podcasts for you iPod-enabled types... Local filmmaker
Arnie Reyes has teamed with writer/director Yehudi Mercado to shoot the
short "Monster Job Hunter" at Austin Studios early this month. Robert
Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios is helping out by donating set
materials... Mark your calendar: A holiday party presented by Reel Women
and the Alliance is Monday from 7 to 10pm at Hi-Lo, with tickets a
measly $5. On Sunday from 6 to 10:30pm at Trophy's Bar and Grill, the
oft-postponed benefit for John McLean's Z: A Zombie Musical, which came
back from faulty hard-drive hell but still must pay the bills, is
expected to finally happen. Really. I mean it this time.
Send tips to filmnews@....
- Film News
BY JOE O'CONNELL
TV saved the 2006 film star
The boob tube saved the Texas film industry in 2006. Behind seasonlong
shoots for Friday Night Lights in Austin and Prison Break in Dallas
(both tape through March), television projects were in the range of $70
million for the year. The state saw numbers rise from the mere $140
million in combined film/television budgets for 2005, says Bob Hudgins,
head of the Texas Film Commission. Exact state numbers weren't released
by press time, but Austin saw direct film/TV spending of $63.4 million,
with more than $130 million in combined budgets. Not bad, but the
ominous news is that inquiries to the TFC dropped from 490 in 2003 to
392 in 2005 to about 300 in 2006. Those sucking sounds you hear are from
our neighboring incentivized states of Louisiana and New Mexico. Also
sounding the alarm, Hudgins says, is that 20% of Texas members of the
International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees are now working out
of state. The bright side comes from the Texas Motion Picture Alliance,
which is loading up with weapons for the 2007 Legislature. Chief among
them is the hiring of influential lobbying firm HillCo Partners, which
was founded in 1998 by former state Rep. Neal T. "Buddy" Jones and
insider Bill Miller, who was once on House Speaker Tom Craddick's
transition team and counts first lady Anita Perry as a former employee.
The firm is also allied with state Rep. Diane White Delisi's son Ted
Delisi, a thirtysomething GOP player who bought out Karl Rove's old
lobbying firm when Rove moved on to his White House digs. Expect Gov.
Rick Perry to announce a film incentives proposal in January, and it's a
safe bet it will be a lot more ambitious than the $20 million proposal
approved but left unfunded in 2005.
A "Madman' dream come true
It's no secret that Robert Rodriguez has longed for years to bring the
comic Madman to the big screen. Look for Dimension to finally make it
happen in 2007 while Rodriguez directs one or two Sin City sequels. Mr.
R. will join Elizabeth Avellán in producing Madman to be shot entirely
at their Austin-based Troublemaker Studios. Longtime pal George Huang
(Swimming With Sharks) will direct and co-write the script with comic
creator Michale Allred, who, it was revealed in a press release,
designed props for "Planet Terror," Rodriguez's half of the Grind House
double bill. Quentin Tarantino's half, "Death Proof," is expected to
finish production in January. Madman is described as a reimagining of
the Frankenstein story jazzed up with a superhero costume.
And the rest...
Start brewing the coffee and baking the pie. David Lynch is expected
here Jan. 24 for an Austin Film Society screening of his latest
enigmatic film Inland Empire... Big congrats to Cyndi Williams, whose
acting in Kyle Henry's Room took the Karen Morley Award for "best
exemplifying a woman's place in history or society, and a courageous
search for identity" from the Women Film Critics Circle... Add Shirley
MacLaine to the list of inductees to the Texas Film Hall of Fame on
March 9. And expect to see Ellen Burstyn, Lily Tomlin, and Anna Deavere
Smith as presenters/special guests... Look for two films shot at Glen
Stephens' ranch in Menard to have limited Texas theatrical runs in
January, followed quickly by DVD releases. Stephens wrote and directed
the horror flick Hoboken Hollow, which features C. Thomas Howell, Mike
Madsen, Dennis Hopper, and Greg Evigan. He also wrote the family film
River's End, which was directed by William Katt and features Barry
Corbin, Clint Howard, Charles Durning, Evigan, and Katt.
Send tips to filmnews@....
- Austin Studios looks to the future
Expect a new and improved Austin Studios by next summer. Much of the $5
million that voters approved for upgrades to soundproofing, air
conditioning, and digital infrastructure will be spent on the Austin
Film Society facility that since 2000 has been host to more than 40
feature films collectively worth about $800 million to the local
economy. "Seven years ago we had this idea, and the city took a leap of
faith with us," said director and AFS founder Richard Linklater of the
former Mueller Airport site last week. "We realized it was needed as we
competed with film industries around the country. The partnership is
unique to Austin, and many of the films being made here are unique to
Austin." Improvements will focus on two hangars and will add 100 tons of
air-conditioning equipment to each. Austin Studios also will take over a
Texas National Guard facility that AFS Executive Director Rebecca
Campbell envisions as a "hive of activity" with space for low-budget
editing and script-writing. "To invest in this will truly pay off for
the city in economic repercussions," said film producer Elizabeth
Avellán, who, along with Robert Rodriguez, also was key to Austin
Studios' creation. "This is not happening anywhere else, no matter how
many incentives they put down." Speaking of incentives, the Texas Motion
Picture Alliance is having a film incentives party Wednesday from 7 to
10pm at Scholz Beer Garden. It's free, so come join Campbell, actress
Dana Wheeler-Nicholson and SXSW Film producer Matt Dentler in support of
Swinging, baby, like a firefly with new chompers
Yes, the Weinstein Co. and Lions Gate jointly bit into Austin-shot
horror flick Teeth following its Sundance Film Festival premiere to the
tune of either $1 million or $2.5 million, depending on who's talking.
Soon the world will embrace the term vagina dentate. Will CBS pilot
Swing Town also get down and dirty in Austin? The television show about
three swinging Seventies married couples living in the Chicago suburbs
examines different views of open marriage and apparently has the hots
for the Texas capital. Also likely to shoot here is Fireflies in the
Garden, an independent film from 2003 Student Academy Award winner
Dennis Lee. The title comes from the Robert Frost poem of the same name:
"Here come real stars to fill the upper skies/And here on earth come
And the rest ...
Malas Frontera (aka Harvest of Redemption), a film shot on the Texas
border, has been chosen for the 12th annual International Family Film
Festival at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. Among its producers are Laura
Perez and director Javier Chapa; Ryan Brooks is an executive producer...
While watching a sneak screening of John McLean's fun and funny Z: A
Zombie Musical (it includes a cameo by yours truly as a scary zombie
casting director), I thumbed through the premiere issue of Caught in the
Act, a new magazine that will highlight the film scene. Look for it in
the usual spots... No, Shoot Out of Luck hasn't shot yet. The Willie
Nelson starrer has been pushed to the spring.
Send tips to filmnews@....
- Incentives push gets a bill (or two)
The Texas film-incentives push finally has a bill. Well, two of them,
actually. State Rep. Dawnna Dukes of Austin is the sponsor of the Texas
Motion Picture Alliance-backed House Bill 1634, which offers up to $10
million a year in incentives for two years. Eligible projects must spend
more than $10 million in Texas and can receive up to $1.5 million back
based on 20% of the wages they pay to Texans. Episodic television series
(Austin-shot Friday Night Lights and Metroplex-lensed Prison Break, for
instance) that spend at least $10 million locally could get up to $2
million each. In its current form, the proposal leaves smaller indie
films out in the cold. But expect much wrangling in coming weeks to
increase the total amount of incentives offered and perhaps lower that
cap. Bob Deuell of Greenville is the Senate sponsor. Oh, that second
House bill was filed by Rep. Jim Pitts (you'll remember him as the
pretender to the House speaker throne). It's a duplicate minus some late
provisions added to the Dukes bill, including exempting pornographic
films from the mix. Meanwhile, the Texas Motion Picture Alliance is
gearing up for its lobby day at the Capitol this coming Tuesday, when
there will be a House hearing. You can find more details at
www.txmpa.org. The group's formal legislative agenda includes supporting
projects with a budget of at least $1 million in the incentives plan.
Extra! Extra! Mid-March is swingin'
So, you've already gone to Waterloo Video and secured your $65 Southwest
by Southwest Film Festival pass. Perhaps you've polished your boots for
the rodeo. What's left? Get groovy with CBS pilot Swingtown, which is
interviewing male and female extras from ages 18-40 for high school
scenes as well as adult scenes this Friday and Saturday for filming from
March 12 to 19 (the high school scenes during spring break, natch). Come
by 501 N. I-35 between 10am and 5pm on March 2 or 3 dressed as a
Seventies hipster, and expect to get your photo taken. More info at
And the rest ...
It looks likely that independent film Kings of the Evening will alight
hereabouts soon after Los Angeles-based Picture Palace films flirted
with a Georgia shoot last year. Said to be based on actual events, the
story is set in an urban Deep South ghetto during the Great Depression
"where despairing men fight for dignity and self-respect by competing in
an underground contest like no other"… TV Junkie, the gripping
documentary of addiction that premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film
Festival and played to strong reviews at SXSW last March, shows up on
HBO later this month… Speaking of the boob tube, the TV Guide Channel is
shooting a reality show in Odessa about the behind-the-scenes world of
TV news at the local CBS affiliate.
Send tips to filmnews@...
- Film News
BY JOE O'CONNELL
Kotowski seeks 'Forgiveness' in Austin
It wasn't a good day for writer/director Mariusz "Mark" Kotowski. One of
his lead actresses was home sick, and the Austin rains wouldn't end. But
the shooting went on. Kotowski is an interesting newish face in the
Austin film scene, shooting his first fiction feature, Forgiveness,
around Austin. The story follows two women, one Jewish and the other
Christian, who discover their families' histories are intertwined
through events of World War II. Kotowski, a native of Poland, was a
choreographer in London before studying directing at New York
University. Why the move to Austin? "New York is too busy, and I needed
a change," he says. "Austin is the same as Poland." Kotowski's first
film, a documentary titled Life Is a Dream in Cinema: Pola Negri, tells
the story of Polish actress Pola Negri, who grew up in a small town and
went on to a Hollywood career and torrid personal relationships with
Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino. She spent her last days in San
Antonio. Kotowski hopes Forgiveness will be the first of a slate of
features shot in Austin.
'Mandy Lane' welcomes release delay
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
Facing a very limited release by the Weinstein Co. this month, the
Bastrop-shot horror flick All the Boys Love Mandy Lane received instead
a stay of execution and promises of a wide release early next year by
its new U.S. distributor, German-based Senator Entertainment. The
company is also behind the star-studded independent film Fireflies in
the Garden, which recently lensed in Austin with Julia Roberts among the
leads. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Weinsteins, who
purchased the low-budget film right after its premiere at the Toronto
International Film Festival, saw danger signs in a downturn in the
teen-horror-film market. Chatting after the film's showing to strong
buzz at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March, director Jonathan
Levine told this columnist that the filmmakers looked for inspiration
from two very Texas efforts, the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
and NBC's series Friday Night Lights, as well as John Hughes' teen films
from the 1980s. "We thought it was interesting to take that [teen film]
model and graft a horror film onto it," Levine said.
The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival fetes its 20th
year with a trailer competition themed We Speak Film that promises the
winner free entrance to the fest, which runs Sept. 28 to Oct. 6. The
deadline is Aug. 15. More at www.agliff.org. Meanwhile, the Austin Film
Festival trailer contest deadline is Aug. 10! Snap to it! Plus discount
badges for the October fest are now on sale. More at
www.austinfilmfestival.com. And, yes, the SXSW Film Festival 08's
website is now active at www.sxsw.com/film.
And the rest ...
Look for comedy The Sno Cone Stand, Inc. to shoot here in September with
Tony Sirico of The Sopranos and Morgan Fairchild starring. The budget is
reportedly around $1.5 million and marks the debut of
writer/director/producer Travis Knapp... John Singleton has signed on to
direct the true-life Tulia, starring Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton
in the adaptation of Nate Blakeslee's book Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and
Corruption in a Small Texas Town about an incident in 1999 when 10% of
the Texas town's black population was dubiously arrested. Look for it to
likely shoot, ouch, in Louisiana in the late fall... Austin resident
(and instructor at the school that shall forever be known as Southwest
Texas State) Tim O'Brien's masterful tale of the war in Vietnam, "The
Things They Carried," will be adapted by AMC as a television miniseries,
with James Sadwith writing the script.
Send tips to filmnews@....
“Good Christian Belles” won’t shoot in Dallas
By JOE O’CONNELL Special Contributor to the Dallas Morning News
Little of the Dallas-set ABC series Good Christian Belles will be shot in North Texas.
“I have been told the Good Christian Belles series will shoot in Los Angeles,” said Janis Burklund of the Dallas Film Commission. “We always knew this one would be more difficult to keep here given its large cast and that it will be heavily shot on interior sets.”
The show’s pilot shot recently in North Texas. Thirteen episodes of the series, based on Kim Gatlin’s book Good Christian Bitches , will be made as a midseason replacement for ABC. Complaints from groups including the Parents Television Council and One Million Moms led ABC to change the show’s name to the acronym GCB before settling on Good Christian Belles.
“There has been some discussion that they might possibly return to Dallas on occasion for some exteriors since it is set here, but nothing is firm yet and likely it’s very dependent on their budget,” Burklund said.
In the series from Darren Star ( Sex and the City ), the “high school mean girl” (Leslie Bibb) returns to Dallas after her divorce and runs into the old gang. That gang includes Kristin Chenoweth ( Glee ), Annie Potts (Designing Women), Miriam Shor (Damages ) and Marisol Nichols (24).
It’s not the only Texas-set television series ready to shoot in Los Angeles. Austin-set Little in Common from Texan Rob Thomas ( Veronica Mars) shot its pilot in Los Angeles and the series will be made there as well if it is picked up by Fox, producer Patricia Fass Palmer confirmed.
TNT’s modern-day tale of Dallas’ Ewing family shot its pilot in North Texas, and officials are awaiting word of a series pickup and a decision on shooting location. “I can assure you Dallas isn’t out of it, and we are still working hard to ensure it stays here,” Burklund said.
The Texas Legislature’s probable cuts to funding for the state’s filming incentives program are also worrying film pros. Burklund previously said at least one series had backed away from a North Texas shoot until the funding issue is settled. The Legislature may cut funding from the current two-year $60 million total to as little as $10 million.
In 2010, television series Lone Star, The Good Guys and Chase shot in North Texas, while My Generation and Friday Night Lights shot in Austin. All of the shows were canceled.
Joe O’Connell is an Austin-based freelance writer.