There is no other place in the country, outside of New York and L.A., with the same quality and quantity of filmmaking and filmmakers as Austin
Still, between July and October 2003, five films made in Austin or by Austin based-filmmakers opened at either No. 1 or No. 2 at the American box-office. Robert Rodriguez scored twice with Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and Once Upon a Time in Mexico (both produced by Elizabeth Avellán, who just produced the latest Rodriguez child we send her all our love and best wishes). Tim McCanlies' Secondhand Lions, Richard Linklater's The School of Rock, and Marcus Nispel's 2003 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre round out the list. Spy Kids 3-D, Secondhand Lions, and Chainsaw all used Austin Studios. Currently Rodriguez, Mike Judge, and Linklater are in various stages of production planning on new films. As is Drop Dead Sexy, a locally based, independent project from executive producers Tim McClure and Richard Kooris that will help define the next generation of Austin filmmaking. The remarkable Tim McCanlies is in development (buy or rent the Secondhand Lions DVD just to watch the original ending). Breaking out next are Ain't It Cool News guru and newly baptized producer Harry Knowles (naysayers be damned on this one Harry's going to blow your minds) and the UT Feature Film Initiative and Burnt Orange Productions, UT's innovative and exciting new theatrical film production program.
A crucial part of this mix is Austin's documentary community, which more than holds its own. Paul Stekler's Last Man Standing, on the 2002 Texas elections, is having its world premiere at SXSW Film Sunday at the Paramount, as is Don Howard's Nuclear Family Saturday at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown (a fine documentary filmmaker, Howard is a brilliant editor, easily one of the finest in the doc field). Ellen Spiro just received a Guggenheim; her last film, Atomic Ed & the Black Hole (an early version won best documentary short at SXSW Film 01, among many awards), produced by Karen Bernstein, was presented on HBO in 2002. Austin's documentary godfather, Hector Galán, and the gang are working on Visiones, a television series about Latino art and culture in the United States that involves Latino producers from across the country. Diane Zander's Girl Wrestler (which showed at SXSW Film 03) was just picked up by PBS, and Austin Film Society board President Marcy Garriott's Split Decision, on boxer Jesus Chavez, was just released on DVD. And I certain I'm leaving out more than I'm including.
Considering the budgets of studio projects that have been shot in Austin over just the last three years, the economic impact on our town is more than $200 million. But that number is woefully inadequate; there is so much more to take into account: the documentary community, the indie filmmakers, and that both film casts and crews from out of town are heavy spenders when they visit here. There is the impact of the five major and many minor film festivals and their visitors and the ongoing economic contribution of major releases, as many in the community continue to receive residual checks for years after those productions have left town. This just states the obvious; there is so much more beyond that as much as anything else, the incredible promotion many of these films provide for Austin, serving tourism and business recruitment.
OK, so the last few paragraphs are the awards, achievements, and economic scoreboard. The truth is that passion and vision drive the film community, and the prizes and money are just a happy, almost coincidental, reward.
"They did it for the love but they were not above the money," to paraphrase Kris Kristofferson on Willie Nelson in Bud Shrake's brilliantly written Songwriter.
What is going on in Austin is unique. There is no other place in the country, outside of New York and L.A., with the same quality and quantity of filmmaking and filmmakers. Not just because so many successful, innovative, and recognized filmmakers established and emerging talents work here, but because they all talk to each other. There are five major film festivals; many important media arts groups; the Austin Studios project; the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund; so many commercial screens dedicated to independent, foreign, cult, and art films; and the Ain't It Cool News Web site. There's the University of Texas Radio-Television-Film Department, as well as its Burnt Orange Productions project. Austin Community College is also in on the action, working with the Austin Film Society to create a training program for film. This place is ripping.
Rather than tell you about it, we decided to show you at least some of it. The cover story simply offers many lists of films, filmmakers, crew members, and resources that still, all taken together, barely scratch the surface. Selective rather than complete filmographies, radically abbreviated credits for films, and an arbitrary, barely introductory representation of local film talents are more about providing a direction sign than a detailed map. John Melanson of Cirrus Logic, for example, was just awarded a Scientific and Technical Oscar for pioneering developments in digital sound-editing technology, while sound mixer John Pritchett was nominated for an Oscar last year.
So take this for what it is, knowing there is so much more. (A lot of this is AFS-centric because the organization is so involved; I am an AFS board member and along with Nick Barbaro and Roland Swenson a director of SXSW, which are conflicts of interest that I just want to make clear.)
SXSW week kicks off Friday. Films, music, and new media pioneers will flood our town. SXSW is of Austin; it represents what is going on here all the time, only with a serious multiplier. Check the next two issues of the Chronicle, our three dailies (March 18, 19, and 20), and our Web site, austinchronicle.com, as well as SXSW's Web site, www.sxsw.com, for a look at what's going on.
The Austin Music Awards on Wednesday, March 17, officially kick off this year's SXSW Music Festival (though there's music at more than 40 other clubs that night as well). The emcee is Paul Ray, of course. The lineup includes a St. Patrick's Day throwdown with the Greencards and Cluan; the hot young band Tia Carrera; Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez; a Raul's tribute featuring Larry Seaman, Stephen Marsh, Randy "Biscuit" Turner, Jesse Sublett, Jon Dee Graham, Randy Franklin, Terri Lord, and Ty Gavin, among others; and Los Lonely Boys.
Not only are Los Lonely Boys playing the Awards Show, but they'll also be playing free at SXSW's Town Lake stage on Saturday. Check out the three-day lineup on that stage, featuring Kris Kristofferson, Joss Stone, Junior Brown, El Tri, Toots & the Maytals, Joe McDermott, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, among others. Wristbands and Film passes are now available. Check this issue's SXSW supplement for the full range of events being offered and how to gain access to them.
Writing about Bud Shrake above brought up that Friday, March 12, is not only the kickoff evening for SXSW Film, but also the Austin Film Society's Texas Film Hall of Fame celebration (not a SXSW event). This year, Bud Shrake will be inducted by Dennis Hopper, Judith Ivey by Treat Williams, Ethan Hawke by Richard Linklater, Forest Whitaker by Jonathan Demme, and Robert Duvall by New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell. Ali MacGraw will be accepting an award for The Getaway, while Ann Richards emcees and Ray Benson serves as auctioneer. There may still be some tickets; try the Film Society (322-0145).