Film News Top 10 of 2006

The top Texas stories of 2006

1) Save our film industry

The biggest news for the Texas film industry in 2006 will likely make or break 2007 when the Legislature convenes and considers a filming incentives package aimed at stopping the hemorrhaging to our neighbors in New Mexico and Louisiana. A ragtag band of film pros, the Texas Motion Picture Alliance sprang from a Dallas Producers Association idea and culminated with meetings around the state led by new Texas film commish Bob Hudgins. Now the group has hired high-powered lobbyists aimed at keeping our Texas crews at home. A whopping 20% are estimated to be working out of state now.

2) Opiate of the masses

In a down year for major Hollywood productions, the Texas film biz's savior broke out of prison and scored on the gridiron. Fox's series Prison Break chose Dallas as a locale for its second season, while Friday Night Lights likes Austin. Despite lackluster ratings, NBC stuck with the critically acclaimed high school football tale for at least a full season. Both series are filming through March. Texas saw about $70 million from television projects in 2006.

3) Studio city

Austin Studios celebrated its sixth anniversary and saw voters approve a city of Austin bond proposal that will provide $5 million for full soundproofing and air conditioning for two of its five stages, improved security and safety, and state-of-the-art digital infrastructure. Meanwhile, David Cuddy's Ranch Studios in Kyle shot its first film, The Lights, a horror movie with comedic elements and a script from Bonnie Orr. Then there's Villa Muse Studios, a major project that announced plans early in 2006 to construct a space for big-budget features and includes Tom Copeland, former head of the Texas Film Commission, and Paul Alvarado-Dykstra on its team.

4) Tarantino does Austin

Quentin Tarantino has had a long love affair with Austin as his semiregular film festivals attest. But 2006 was the year he bought a house here and really took to the streets filming "Death Proof," his half of a double feature with Robert Rodriguez known together as Grind House. Tarantino's half is a stunt fan's dream, anchored by Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike. Real-life stunt legend (and Austin resident) Gary Kent ran into Tarantino at Jo's on South Congress and learned that his name had made it into the script.

5) They won't stay dead

Overheard from a hungry Austin actor: "Yeah, I could work, but all that's shooting around here is zombie movies." Leading the pack, of course, was Rodriguez's half of Grind House, "Planet Terror," with its machine-gun-legged hottie. But how can you not love Z: A Zombie Musical? John McLean transports the mythical living dead to Zomburbia, modeled after Pflugerville, and there's plenty of dancing and surprise cameos by Austinites, including yours truly. But the best-titled indie shot here in 2006 is Ninja Pirate Supermodels vs. the Zombies From Space.

6) Linklater's twofer

The Cannes Film Festival likes Richard Linklater – they really like him. Enough to show both his rotoscoped adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly (now out on DVD) and fictionalized muckraker Fast Food Nation. The double bill was nothing new to Linklater, whose Waking Life and Tape both screened at Sundance in 2001.

7) Indie is as indie does

Austin independents were bold in 2006, led by former Travis High School film teacher Mike Akel, whose high school teacher comedy Chalk garnered a nomination for the John Cassavetes Award for best feature made for less than $500,000. The winner will be announced during Film Independent's Spirit Awards on Feb. 24. Kat Candler and crew at Storie Productions could (and do) give lessons in guerilla marketing after partnering with suicide-awareness groups for a nationwide tour of jumping off bridges. Also leading the Austin indie charge into theatres were Andrew Shapter with his music insider doc Before the Music Dies and Turk Pipkin with his Nobelity and its ambitious look at how Nobel Prize winners would solve the globe's biggest ills.

8) Meet the new boss

Hudgins may have wondered what he'd stepped into when he took the Texas Film Commission reins in 2006 and got a call about a potential kiddie porn shooting locally. He arrived on the set of horror film Teeth (featuring the mythical medical condition vagina dentata) to assure neighbors and local television viewers that "It's in incredibly bad taste, but it's not pornography." Teeth was recently selected to show at the Sundance Film Festival, and Hudgins has gotten uniformly high praise for a first year in which he was rightfully credited as a driving force in uniting the Texas film industry.

9) What would Willie shoot?

When we weren't looking, the Red Headed Stranger became a movie star. This year he was in two Austin-shot films: martial-arts flick Fighting With Anger and the comic Western Shoot Out of Luck. Now, word is he'll reteam with Jessica Simpson for Blonde Ambition, a semiremake of 1988's Working Girl to be shot in Louisiana.

10) Marfa, film capital of Texas

The tiny West Texas town of Marfa will forever be known in film circles as where Giant was shot. But in 2006 the town added two more notches to its belt when Bakersfield, Calif., circa the 1890s was constructed there for oil-industry story There Will Be Blood. He's no James Dean, but star Daniel Day-Lewis was known to jog around Marfa in a full sweatsuit despite the molten temperatures. Also filming partially in Marfa was No Country for Old Men, an adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel with Joel and Ethan Coen at the helm. Most of that one was filmed in New Mexico (are you spotting a trend yet?). Marfa has noted producer Scott Rudin to thank for its twofer. He was also behind the untitled war in Iraq film directed by Kimberly Peirce, which shot primarily in Austin.

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top stories in Texas film 2006, film incentives, No Country for Old Men, Marfa, Willie Nelson, Teeth, Bob Hudgins

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