It’s rare to see a camera crew yelling action — or anything at all — around the streets of Dallas. There was a time, many years ago, Oliver Stone would occasionally drop into town and immortalize locals as extras in his latest film. Those days seem like memories left preserved in aged photographs collecting dust, but film producer and actor Timothy Talbott wants to change that.
Talbott references the positive impact filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios in Austin has had on the local economy, and would like to make that model work in Dallas.
“My goal and idea would be to build the same thing up here, and when people talk about Texas filmmakers, it’s Richard Linklater, it’s Robert Rodriguez, maybe Mike Judge, and even say, Timothy Talbott," Talbott says.
Talbott is coming off producing The Demon Inside, a movie released last year about a supernatural threat putting a family in danger. The Demon Inside was filmed January 2015 in Denton, using only local talent to create a feature-length film. Using what he learned from the Denton filming, Talbott went on to create more local opportunities for artists. His latest film, Trunkfish, is listed as in post-production with a 2018 release window.
There is a distinct absence of films, whether their plots are based in Texas or not, being produced within Dallas or other surrounding cities. A large part of this can be attributed to the decreased financial incentives Texas provides to lure filmmakers. Texas does offer certain benefits, such as tax exemptions for rental or purchase of items to be used directly for production, refunds on the State Occupancy Tax that applies to hotel rooms being used for more than 30 days, and a fuel tax refund for fuel used off-road. However, the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, a program created to rebate a percentage of a film production budget based upon approved criteria, has seen its own budget decrease tremendously.
It was April last year that the State House voted to remove the Incentive Program entirely, wishing to redirect the funds to programs they felt would have more of an impact — in this case the Healthy Texas Women program. It wasn’t until the Senate kicked in $22 million that the Incentive Program was able to stay afloat. That $22 million would apply for all film, television and video game productions that might be looking at Dallas, and Texas as a whole, as a landing spot. That budgetary amount is reviewed and subject to change every two years, and for film companies wanting to build a studio and stay where they are, that changing amount is thin ice upon which to build a foundation.
It was during this last round of legislative negotiations that the television show The Gifted, now in its second season on Fox, packed up from their pilot episode shooting location in Deep Ellum and surrounding Dallas areas to find greener pastures. With its exit, so went multiple jobs for Dallas crew members.
Also while $22 million might sound like a lot, it’s paltry compared with what nearby states are offering. New Mexico has an incentive program of $50 million, Louisiana has $180 million and Georgia, home to Atlanta and the filming of massive moneymakers such as Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, has a budget of $504 million. These states are lightning rods for production studios right now, and Texas with a comparatively emaciated offer, can’t compete.
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While Dallas could benefit from the work that a television series or films would bring, there are still a variety of commercials and industrial shoots that provide short-term work for local actors and crew. Grant Redmond, a Dallas-based actor and comedian, has found steady work doing Screen Actors Guild-approved commercials, but he says the majority of the work available in this region is non-union.
“It’s been fun so far,” Redmond says. “Mostly [filming] commercials, in my experience. But ever since I was a little kid, I knew I wanted to be a guy eating fast food on TV.”
It’s the spirit of the local actors, crew members and filmmakers that keep the spirit of the entertainment industry alive in Dallas when opportunities might not be as frequent. It’s that same spirit that Talbott sees himself able to harness and usher in the next golden age of Dallas cinema.
“We have all the stuff around here to make it happen,” Talbott says. “We have some very passionate people and I think it does take somebody willing to lead. The Texas film and the Dallas film area is pretty splintered. I do think competition is healthy, and I think that if somebody can show that they can succeed here, others will come.”