Film News

Terrence Malick drops a 60,000 pound Tree in Smithville

'Tree' comes to Smithville

The other day the tree arrived in Smithville. It weighed 65,000 pounds and had to be hauled about seven miles through the middle of town. Gawkers greeted it every step of the way. "We didn't publicize it," says Adena Lewis, executive director of the Smithville Area Chamber of Commerce. "But when something happens in a small town, it doesn't take people long to catch on." That something is Terrence Malick's film Tree of Life, which is the biggest thing to hit Smithville since Hope Floats landed here a decade ago. Malick's filming plans look to be much more ambitious – with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn expected for the March start of filming – and have been top secret for more than a year, as casting agents crisscrossed the state for an unnamed "Hollywood family film" in search of the perfect young star for the Fifties period piece. The plot itself remains unclear. "We know the tree is an important part of it," Lewis says. "It's all pretty closely held. We're respectful of what they want to release." Smithville is outside Austin's 30-mile radius, which means union rules require cast and crew to be housed locally, and locals are also being cast as extras. Seven hundred people showed up for the first human casting call, and 300 dogs made it to another. Lewis says the film project is expected to stay until June. On Saturday, the Smithville chamber celebrates its certification by the Texas Film Commission as the first official film-friendly community in the state, and banners around Downtown alert everyone that Hollywood has indeed arrived.

'Lights' flickers post-strike

The official writers' strike toll in Texas is $30 million. That's the lost revenue from the Friday Night Lights episodes not shot in Austin and the Prison Break episodes not lensed in Dallas. The worse news is that the cameras are still not rolling on either project, and neither has been picked up for another season. "In the big scheme of things, we got off light," says Bob Hudgins, head of the Texas Film Commission, on the strike, "but it did hurt." Because of the strike's length, much of the current television season is dead in the water, with any filming aimed at the following season. But, ominously, FNL, which has suffered from weak ratings but remains one of the top shows recorded to DVRs, was not on NBC's list of shows returning. Internet fan sites, including www.savefridaynightlights.com, have been deluging NBC with letters, e-mails, lightbulbs (keep the lights on), and minifootballs in support of the show. "If NBC does indeed drop it, it will be a sad thing," Hudgins says.

Stars align for SXSW, Hall of Fame

Add director Mike Judge (Office Space, King of the Hill) and glamorous actress Morgan Fairchild (Falcon Crest, Flamingo Road) to the list of Texas Film Hall of Fame inductees at the March 7 ceremony emceed by newsman Dan Rather and benefiting Austin Film Society programs. They will join previously announced inductees Thomas Haden Church, the late Jayne Mansfield (daughter Mariska Hargitay will accept on her behalf), and the film Urban Cowboy (star Debra Winger will accept the honors). Meanwhile, the South by Southwest Film Festival has announced its list of panels, which includes conversations with Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Helen Hunt, and singer/film composer Moby. See the full list at www.sxsw.com/film.


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