Movies and Shakers

The production companies behind – and ahead of – the boom, and how they might be able to help you

Film is booming in Austin. That's hardly news: It's always booming, it seems, even when it's not, when studio productions are heading up to Vancouver or off to Romania, where the incentives, labor costs, and dodgy unionization often make it financially easier on even the most low-budget of films. What is news, though, is this: In one year's time, the number of Austin-based production companies listed in the Texas Film Commission's indispensable 2006 Texas Production Manual has more than doubled. That's a massive increase by anyone's standards, and the 38 Austin companies now listed under the "Production Company" heading (up from 18 in the 2005 edition) are only icing on the state's cinematic cake: Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, and San Antonio are all sporting record numbers, as well. Like we said, there's a boom going on, and what better way to gauge it than by the number of production outfits that have blossomed in the past year (and some that have been around for years now) like those wild mushrooms after a particularly drenching Bastrop rainfall.

But what makes a production company? What is a production company? For the purpose of this article, it's a company dedicated to helping produce a film or video or commercial venture via virtually any means you can think of. That's a broad definition, sure, but no two production companies are totally alike; the only real narrative through-line, so to speak, is that they're all involved in getting a specific film or video product made, be they the work of Richard Linklater and Detour Filmproduction or Robert Rodriguez's totally in-house Troublemaker Studios (both of which have been covered extensively in the Chronicle, and, frankly, are doing just fine without any help from us).

That said, in Austin alone, production companies run the gamut from those that are strictly commercial ventures catering to high-end advertising with staffs of a dozen or more people ranging in talent and trade from editors to graphic designers to those wholly miraculous folks who somehow always seem to be able to connect a filmmaker with an investor to those who are digital- or film-specific, and from there to a handful staffed by one or two or three people with fire and skill and a whole lot of talent who might be just starting out, often working on their own productions during the off hours when they're not creating, finessing, or releasing works by other local filmmakers.

The companies profiled below (and in the accompanying sidebar) are all, by definition, production companies, but they're also each as unique in their aim and approach as the films and filmmakers they seek out or who seek out them. In a very real sense, they're the backbone of Austin's burgeoning film community, as essential – and as essentially varied – as the medium itself.

Not all Austin production companies are actively seeking outside material to produce, but for this article, we've focused on five who are, from Burnt Orange Productions to relatively recent start-ups like the women-run Marmalade Sky Motion Pictures and the hyper-tech-savvy gang over at Advanced Film Mechanix. Think of it as a cut-away shot of what's going on in the trenches, behind the scenes, and off (and sometimes on) the set. Ready? Action:

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