Filmmaking is big business in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
According to the Dallas Film Commission — taking into account commercials, feature films, television, and still photo shoots — during fiscal year 2016-17 the area logged 308 projects spending a combined $100 million and generating a more than $230 million economic impact. Filmmaking projects have already topped $60 million in economic impact over the first quarter of 2018.
“Dallas has long been a very solid choice for television production.”
The area is currently in one of its busier times for filmmaking according to Janis Burklund, film commissioner for the Dallas Film Commission in the City of Dallas Office of Economic Development. TV makes up the bulk of ongoing local productions, but the slate includes several smaller budget independent films. She said the combination of larger and smaller projects allows the area to keep an infrastructure in place to provide smaller projects with talent and equipment.
“Dallas has long been a very solid choice for television production. Having great crew, diversity of locations, and talent can be attributed to that success,” Burklund said. “Additionally, we benefit from a climate that allows filming year-round as well as easy accessibility with multiple direct flights from the coasts daily.”
The city and its amenities are an important part of the Dallas Film Commission’s sales pitch including production infrastructure, local crew talent, diverse locations across the area, and cost effectiveness along with world-class restaurants, hotels, and entertainment for visiting production crews. Burklund said the commission offers case-by-case sweetener incentives to help bring productions to the area and added Dallas is currently reviewing its permit policy and procedures to ease the production permitting process.
State incentives are facing a key upcoming 2019 legislative session where a vote to provide sufficient funds for the Texas Moving Image Incentive Program will have a critical impact on attracting larger productions to both the state and the Dallas area. Burklund said that vote will have repercussions for filmmaking in the state over the next several years.
The vote is important because other states in the region, such as Louisiana and Georgia, pull in film companies through incentives while the Texas state legislature doesn’t appear to have a strong belief in the film, TV, and media industry said Jeff Vogt, CEO of Imagination Media Studios. He added there’s no reason why filmmaking in the state isn’t stronger.
“Texas has vast lands to offer with many different types of terrain, the state has one of the best economies in the entire U.S., and we have people who have money,” he said.
Vogt believes education around investing in film, offering enticing projects, and creating investment opportunities with reduced risk would help bring in reluctant local investors.
THE FILMMAKING BOND
Even though state incentives are waiting on the 2019 vote for new funding, Justina Walford, artistic director for the Women Texas Film Festival, sees the filmmaker community in Dallas as exceptionally strong and that the bond among local filmmakers makes up for lagging incentives.
“I’m always pleasantly surprised to see how much filmmakers out here are willing to wear any hat to get a movie completed.”
“After living in Los Angeles and New York, I’m always pleasantly surprised to see how much filmmakers out here are willing to wear any hat to get a movie completed. We all find our place and get it done,” Walford said.
She added, “I’ve told a filmmaker I will produce and find all the body parts for her horror short. I don’t need to direct or write. I’m just as happy being the finder of the bloody arm and playing a dead body. And that bond goes from PAs to executive producers.”
The local filmmaking community includes film festivals, industry organizations, and education from universities, high schools, and even programs for younger filmmakers, which contribute to growing and encouraging new talent. The challenge, Burkland said, is keeping that talent in the Dallas area.
Walford sees that challenge being met.
“I am most excited by seeing so many young filmmakers come out of the universities and their films head straight to Sundance and get picked up by HBO and stay in Dallas,” she said. “Back in the day, it was a no brainer. We got a little success and we would pack our backs for Hollywood. But now you can live anywhere and be a filmmaker. That’s exciting.”
She also pointed to the large number of film festivals that celebrate diversity citing events dedicated to Asian, South Asian, women, black, and Latino filmmakers.
THE BIG PICTURE
The ongoing goal of the Dallas Film Commission is for the local community to take pride in seeing their city, neighborhoods, businesses, and homes in films and TV programs as well as understanding the benefits in jobs and economic impact the filmmaking industry brings to the area, Burklund said.
“Being able to go directly to fans is the best gift technology and culture has given us right now.”
Beyond the industry’s impact in the Dallas area, Walford described the film world as “being completely turned inside out” with more diversity, more accessible technology, easier access to fans, and what she described as most important — filmmakers who won’t put up with harassment, bullying, and bad pay for work without passion.
“A lot of filmmakers who would not have survived the slings and arrows of ’90s Hollywood don’t need to. They can just make their movies and give it to the internet. Being able to go directly to fans is the best gift technology and culture has given us right now,” Walford said.
A selection of recent production activity from the Dallas Film Commission:
- “Queen of the South” is currently filming its third season in Dallas.
- The ABC pilot “False Profits” starring Vanessa Williams, Bellamy Young, and Shelley Hennig is currently wrapping up filming in Dallas.
- Pilgrim Studios’ “Fast N’ Loud,” “Misfit Garage,” “Garage Rehab,” and “Shifting Gears” all film in the Dallas area.
- Garland native Augustine Frizzell’s directorial debut, the independent feature film “Never Goin’ Back,” was shot in and around the Dallas area and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It subsequently played at SXSW where, ahead of its screening, it was announced that A24 (the studio behind “Moonlight,” “Lady Bird,” “A Ghost Story,” and much more) picked it up for distribution. She was also recently named of one Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch 2018.
- Writer/director Yen Tan (“Pit Stop,” and “Ciao”), producer DP Hutch, and producer Ash Christian recently had the world premiere of their Dallas-shot feature film, “1985,” at SXSW (starring Cory Michael Smith, Virginia Madsen, Michael Chiklis, and Jamie Chung).
Dallas-based Reel FX “Son of Jaguar VR” was nominated for a Daytime Emmy in the Outstanding Interactive Media — Original Daytime Program or Series category.
- Dallas-based Flight School Studio’s “Manifest 99” was nominated for a Daytime Emmy in the Outstanding Interactive Media — Original Daytime Program or Series category.
- “American Ninja Warrior” returned to film in Dallas for the third time.
- Dallas-based production company Cinestate is currently in post-production on its Dallas-shot film “Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich,” (starring Thomas Lennon, Udo Kier, Charlyne Yi, Michael Paré, and Barbara Crampton) and just wrapped production on the Dallas-shot “The Incident at Sparrow Creek Lumber,” (starring Brian Geraghty, James Badge Dale, and Patrick Fischler).
- Dallas-based production company AMS Pictures currently has three shows in production and airing on Reelz: “Murder Made Me Famous,” “Scandal Made Me Famous,” “Price of Fame,” as well as “Dallas Cakes” for Food Network.
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