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No. 1 Austin does the Sundance

Ponder these two facts: MovieMaker magazine has proclaimed Austin the best place to "live, work and make movies," but the city – and the state of Texas as a whole – amassed a paltry $300,000 from Hollywood studio film production in 2007. For the record, it was a brief shoot for A Mighty Heart, and, yes, NBC's Friday Night Lights that picked up much of the slack pre-Writers Guild strike by spending about five times that on each episode shot in Austin. MovieMaker ranked Austin No. 1 for the first time since 2004, citing statewide cooperation that resulted in the new film-incentives program, a strong crew base, great film-education opportunities, hot film festivals, and plain old enthusiasm. The latest fallout from the Sundance Film Festival emphasizes the latter. Austin's hottest cinematographer, P.J. Raval, saw his camerawork honored as Hurricane Katrina doc Trouble the Water was feted as best documentary by the grand jury. Meanwhile, former Austinites and brothers Jay and Mark Duplass' comedy/slasher feature, Baghead, was snapped up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics. Jonathan Levine's not from Austin, but he made his directorial debut, the still-unreleased (and quite entertaining) All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, here. His follow-up, The Wackness, got the Sundance dramatic feature audience award.

Shauna Cross' dreams: a book, a Page, a Barrymore

The last time I saw Shauna Cross was at the Landing Strip, where she cast a slew of extras (including me) for a topless-bar scene in Varsity Blues. Back then, she was a recent University of Texas film grad with dreams of writing and directing. Now, she's a seasoned L.A.-based scribe with gold dust on her keyboard. Cross sold her young-adult novel, Derby Girl, on the basis of a few chapters; then she sold Drew Barrymore's production company on a film adaptation called Whip It! that is expected to film hereabouts this summer with Juno's Ellen Page in the cast and Barrymore directing. Austin native Cross ended up writing the book and the script simultaneously, and both are love letters to her hometown and Roller Derby, something she took up – as Maggie Mayhem – after moving to Los Angeles. "It's taken on a life of its own," she says of the project that writing pal Kirsten Smith (Legally Blonde) urged her to pursue. "It's the most uncalculated thing I've ever done. When I sold the book, I thought it would be this little tiny thing, this weird personal thing." She hints that a very exciting cast will join Page in the film, which is set in both Austin and a semifictional small town whose claim to fame is ice cream.

Villa Muse out of Austin's ETJ?

On the Austin City Council agenda for Thursday, Jan. 31, is a considered proposal to direct the city manager to enter discussion with Villa Muse folks about removing from the city's extraterritorial jurisdiction the proposed 1,900-acre facility (800 acres of which will be a construction staging crew). Villa Muse, a multimedia and entertainment production and postproduction facility for film, television, video games, animation, advertising, and video and magnetic media restoration, hopes to start construction this year near FM 969 and Highway 130, with the first phase completed in 2009. Villa Muse cites a study from the Perryman Group that predicts the project could bring $20 billion in annual spending to the Austin area and up to 110,000 jobs, 1,000 directly at the studio. If the council approves, the project would avoid city building regulations and taxes, and oversight would instead come from Travis County. Villa Muse is asking the city to move quickly but hasn't set a deadline, says Paul Alvarado-Dykstra, the project's vice president of strategic development. "The creative industries in Texas are at a crossroads, and our creative talent pool is in jeopardy," he says of need for the project. "Each year, Texas is losing hundreds of millions of dollars in economic opportunity and thousands of jobs – just ask the Texas Film Commission – in the digital and creative world because we lack the incentives, training, and professional facilities necessary to attract, nurture, and retain our best and brightest."

More SXSW Film Titles ...

Stop-Loss lives! Look for the Austin-shot Iraq war film starring Ryan Phillippe at the upcoming South by Southwest Film Festival. A few other titles to tease you: Mister Foe, a Scottish coming-of-age story with Jamie Bell; Love Songs from French director Christophe Honoré; Genghis Khan biopic and recent foreign-film Oscar nom Mongol; and Super High Me, comic Doug Benson's stoned version of Super Size Me.

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MovieMaker magazine, Sundance, P.J. Raval, Jonathan Levine, Trouble the Water, Baghead, Shauna Cross, Whip It!, Drew Barrymore, Ellen Page, Villa Muse

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