With very little money, William Kaufman was able to convincingly turn Dallas into a city devastated by a plague, where citizens must fend off zombie-like vampires to survive. The filmmaker lives in Los Angeles these days but says Dallas will always be home, and he thought it was the perfect site for his seventh and most recent film, Daylight's End. The film, in theaters today, was shot mostly in Dallas, with some scenes completed in Mineral Wells and Tyler.
Kaufman went to film school at the University of North Texas, where he specialized in special effects, after serving in the Army as a reconnaissance scout. A film called The Prodigy was his first feature. He says it was his best experience in film school, because it taught him how movies are really made, outside of the classroom. Since then he's worked with major studios on direct-to-rental releases that have put him alongside Cuba Gooding Jr. and Tom Berenger. For Daylight's End, Kaufman worked with Lance Henriksen, who has acted in hundreds of films including Aliens, The Terminator and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Johnny Strong, who has been in many action movies, including the original The Fast and the Furious, starred in Kaufman's second movie, Sinners and Saints. They reunited for Daylight's End, written by Chad Law. An early version of Law's script was a finalist in the third season of HBO's Project Greenlight series.
"This was my chance to get creative and have a lot more creative control," Kaufman says. "I describe it as a love letter to my youth, with all these movies that made a big impact." Movies like Assault on Precinct 13, The Road Warrior, 28 Days Later and I Am Legend were major influences.
Most of the film was shot in downtown Dallas in the Municipal Building. A couple of weeks of filming took place indoors on the third and fourth floors. On weekends the film crew was also able to close off Harwood Street between Main and Commerce streets for a number of outdoor scenes. "The city [of Dallas] was fantastic," Kaufman says. "It was super supportive."
Time and budget constraints didn't prevent the production team from making an entertaining film. "It really takes a family," Kaufman says. "[With] filmmaking, you're not a novelist in a room writing a book. It's a small army of people that are all working together. The trick is finding really talented people who can fill in your shortcomings and elevate the project."
Kaufman loved filming in Texas. He's eager to connect with Dallas as much as possible, whether that means setting a story here or giving post-production work to a Dallas-based company. "Dallas is a lot more than J.R. Ewing," he says.
However, Kaufman adds that it's sometimes a struggle to make a film in Texas when there are financial benefits to filming elsewhere. "The biggest challenge for Texas filmmakers is, we're surrounded by states with far more lucrative incentive programs," Kaufman says. "Trying to convince Hollywood to shoot in Texas is a greater challenge."
Kaufman has another feature in the works and he's also keeping busy making commercials, but for now, Daylight's End is his priority. As of Aug. 26, it's in limited release around the country, including the AMC in Garland's Firewheel Town Center. There will also be a special one-night screening on Sept. 1 at the Texas Theatre. Having a theatrical run for a movie is a big step in Kaufman's career. "That in itself is a whole new level for us," he says. "It's just about exposure and growing and getting to do bigger and better material, hopefully with each step."