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While major productions play tax-incentive hopscotch across the South and Southwest, Austin tries to figure out how to reignite its winning streak

By Joe O'Connell, Fri., Oct. 29, 2004

What's Wrong With This Picture?: The major Texas film project of the moment, Tommy Lee Jones-directed The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, is shooting primarily in West Texas. Richard Linklater has signed on for Los Angeles project The Bad News Bears, which goes before the cameras in a couple of weeks, with Billy Bob Thornton and Greg Kinnear starring. In nearby San Francisco, a company called Wild Brain is at work computer-animating Opus, the feature from former Daily Texan and Bloom County cartoonist Berkeley Breathed. And after a strong streak attracting major studio projects, a currently lonely Austin Studios turns 4 years old on Nov. 1, with few immediate prospects.

If Americans needed a wobbly-legged Castro to replace the Soviet Union as their "other," then the Texas film industry has replaced its Canadian bogeyman (the hosers are hurting, thanks to a healthier Canadian dollar) with Cajun rice and Sante Fe beans, heavy on the tax incentives that have Austin crews living out of suitcases as they work projects that were once Texas locks. The lure of New Mexico incentives proved irresistible for The Longest Yard remake, originally headed for Texas; and despite its Texas setting, Glory Road – about the 1966 NCAA national basketball championship and Texas Western's shocking victory under coach Don Haskins – will be shot in New Orleans, also due to incentives.

It remains to be seen if the Texas Legislature will follow our neighbors' leads when it comes to incentives, but the city of Austin has taken action under Jim Butler, its manager of creative industries development. "Our number one priority is to make the city quicker and less expensive for filmmakers," said Butler, who also promotes music and technology industries. That means creating a response team for quick permit action for filming on city-owned property. Look for the city to also work with the Austin Film Society on grant applications to upgrade Austin Studios.

George the Shark: Austin Studios is getting a little action from homeboy Robert Rodriguez, who has used facilities there for the largest Austin project of late, The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl, which has added TV funnyman George Lopez to the cast. He's joined by newcomers Taylor Dooley, Taylor Lautner, and Cayden Boyd in the reportedly 3-D story of a 10-year-old outcast whose imaginary friends come to life.

War Men: Warriors, the tale of two ad men hired to create a new slogan for the Army, is looking at a March shoot in Austin with Will Patton (Gone in Sixty Seconds). Recent Austin transplant Nick Keene adapted the French Canadian play for New York City theatre audiences after 9/11 and sees the film as a dark, funny, and very timely take on men who "sell war the same way they would a video game or a Twinkie or a tampon."

Burnt Sequel: Burnt Orange Productions, the University of Texas' film arm, has wrapped its first project, Dot. What's next? Country musical Austin Angel is a contender to start shooting by winter, but it comes down to actor availability.

Semper Broyles: Jarhead, Anthony Swofford's Gulf War novel adapted for the screen by former Austinite Bill Broyles, shoots in December in Mexico and California, with Jake Gyllenhaal starring and Sam Mendes helming.

Cheer of the House: Tommy Lee Jones' Austin-shot Cheer Up is now titled Man of the House and set for a March release.

Legally Dallas: Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) will direct a big-screen adaptation of the TV hit Dallas.

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