Film and TV

With One TV Series and Two More Pilots Filming Here, Dallas Has Never Been Busier

Seems not so long ago that then-Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and Dallas Film Commission director Janis Burklund were staging a press conference in the Dallas City Hall Flag Room begging the producers of the (ill-fated) big-screen Dallas to "Shoot JR Here." They brought with them T-shirts and bumper stickers, and despite the gimmicks they were serious and not a little desperate to re-energize local film and TV production, which had grown fallow in the absence of state tax incentives that could lure cameras and crews to Dallas.

Some four years later, Burklund cannot recall Dallas ever having been this loaded with productions. Of course, FOX's Code 58 is here till at least July, and, as we mentioned two weeks ago, Jerry Bruckheimer is set to shoot an NBC pilot, Chase, in March. So far, only Desperate Housewives' Jesse Metcalfe has been cast as a U.S. Marshal on the lookout for fugitives in the American Southwest.

At the same time Bruckheimer's set to set up shop here, FOX Studios will begin filming another pilot in Dallas: Midland, about "a polygamist man in the oil business who lives a double life." Written by Kyle Killen (whose The Beaver opens later this year) it will be directed by (500) Days of Summer's Marc Webb, only recently announced as the man behind the Spider-Man reboot. At this very moment, the network's accepting crew applications using the Dallas Film Commission's Web site, where you'll also find info concerning a Bridezillas casting call.

"I don't know if we've ever had two pilots and a series going on at the same time, so it's right up there," Burklund tells Unfair Park. "We've also got a lot of commercial and reality series, including America's Got Talent and Undercover Boss and The Biggest Loser, so when you roll it all together, yeah, this may be the busiest Dallas has ever been."

Midland and Chase have yet to set up offices; both are in the middle of location scouting. Chase, Burklund says, has been "quiet" about its doings; recall, there's still been no official announcement concerning its filming here. Midland's location scouting was postponed a few days by last week's snowstorm. "They're trying to get things cranking," Burklund says. No word on where either will ultimately set up shop; Code 58, of course, is calling Fair Park home.

But the question is: Why Dallas, and why now?

"To be quite honest, this almost happened last year during pilot season," Burklund says. "We had a whole bunch of shows circling around, but it was during that weird period post-strike, and the studios and networks got their pilot orders in very, very late. We had virtually every network looking at us very strongly, and we were juggling to get everyone what they needed. But most ended up in L.A., where they could get straight to work, or in places where other shows had offices set up, and some ended up not going at all. But I thought last year we'd have the same situation we have now, but it crumbled apart because of timing.

"But why here and why now? Well, I think it's a combination of things, not any one thing.  Prison Break was a good example of getting a diverse look on a show and still keeping a reasonable bottom line, so that helped. It's just also we've been working on 'em for a while. I have a relationship with an executive on Code 58 [Bob Lemchen]. I've known the guy since the '80s. Bob and I worked on a movie together. So it was a combination of things, and all the networks are looking at ways to do things cheaper. The places with big incentives are taxed right now because they don't have the crew and infrastructure. Our incentives get us in the game, which is crucial, but we can also say: 'We're going to be supportive. We're here for you.'"

Which is precisely what Code 58 creator Matt Nix told Unfair Park last week, when he said he could kiss Mayor Tom Leppert for making Fair Park available.

It also helps that the Dallas Film Commission is no longer under the auspices of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, but a part of the Office of Economic Development in City Hall. As you may recall, that was City Manager Mary Suhm's idea, and as Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez wrote in a memo to the council in October, "marketing and promoting Dallas as an attractive and desirable location for the industry will find a natural synergy with the City's multifaceted economic development strategy." So when Burklund needs an incentive to lure a production to town, all she has to do is walk over to Karl Zavikovsky's office and ask for it.

Which is why, Burklund says, "This is just the beginning. There's a lot more to come."

Such as?

"There's some stuff poking around, but nothing firm. Right now, we're trying to handle what we've got on our plate."