Film and TV

City to Take Film, TV Biz Out of DCVB's Hands and Hand It Over to Economic Development

Since its inception in October 2002, the Dallas Film Commission has been charged with trying to lure filmmakers to Dallas -- no easy task, given that until recently the state of Texas offered bupkus by way of incentives, while Louisiana and New Mexico were giving movie studios and TV production companies all the tax rebates and credits they could carry across state lines. And, for the past seven years, the Dallas Film Commission has done its duty while under the auspices of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau -- because, well, that's the way everyone else done did it. (The Austin Film Commission is also an arm of the Austin CVB, as is Houston's.)

But come month's end, that will change: The Dallas City Council is set to vote on a proposal that would put the film commission under the banner of the Office of Economic Development in City Hall. Janis Burklund, head of the Dallas Film Commission, tells Unfair Park the deal's been in the works for six months -- and that it was City Manager Mary Suhm's idea.

"It came out of a conversion I had with her," Burklund says. "She threw the idea out." Shortly after that, Burklund began talking with Karl Zavitkovsky, head of Economic Development; and then, that was that. Burklund expects the council to approve the deal on October 28; shortly after that, the Dallas Film Commission will move into City Hall.

According to a memo sent Friday to the council's economic development committee from assistant city manager A.C. Gonzalez, the reason for the switcheroo is simple: Luring Hollywood to Dallas is no longer an issue of selling the city's image, but putting dollars into the city coffers. "Due to changes in the entertainment industry (i.e. film, digital image and other), and its tie into economic development," Gonzalez writes, "it is considered that the function of 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."

Much more after the jump, including the state film commissioner's suggestion that this move could help another entertainment industry even more than the film business.

Bob Hudgins, the former Illinois Film Office deputy director who became the Texas Film Commission director in Austin in 2006, says the move is a wise one that probably should have happened a long time ago.

"In my personal experience, I did all of my production history in Chicago, where the Chicago Film Office is part of the mayor's office, and they're just more effective at getting things done," he tells Unfair Park. "When you're part of city government, it gives you more capacity. When you're with convention and visitors bureaus, it's not the same thing. And historically, it's a real contradiction: CVBs are about heads and beds. They're trying to get people to come in from other places to work here. I feel very strongly that an important component is to work with indigenous filmmakers and support them and help them grow.

"In Austin, you have someone like Robert Rodriguez, and if he hadn't been supported in Austin and had he gone off somewhere else, that's tens of millions in production dollars they would have lost. It's always a contradiction with CVBs and local filmmakers, and it's not the same kind of institutional support we'd like to see. And a city's economic development office office has a great desire to create more and more jobs in Texas and, in this case, Dallas. So that's a great step in the right direction."

And the move isn't merely intended to lure part-time productions here; instead, it's part of the mayor's ongoing effort to lure businesses to Dallas. Which is why Economic Development will also be going after "entertainment related agency headquarters/regional offices," Gonzalez writes.

"We don't want to do one-offs," says Burklund. "We want people here for the long term." She also stresses that television, perhaps even more than film, will be her biggest focus for now.

"Dallas can't afford to turn its back on television," she says, referring to productions past (Walker, Texas Ranger) and present (The Deep End for ABC). "When it comes to film, our state inventive is still not nearly equal to other states, and feature films are running for the huge incentives. So television is much more likely to hire local. That's the gift that keeps on giving. If I have to choose -- and I'd rather have all of the above -- but commercials and television has been our bread and butter. And animation and gaming is a big component.

Indeed. Hudgins suggests that the city make a concerted effort to develop relationships with companies that manufacture video games; after all, Dallas-Fort Worth is home to several (among them, id Software, Robot Entertainment, Gearbox Software and MumboJumbo for starters), not to mention The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University. And they're as much the future of the entertainment industry as movies -- which is why the city would be wise to lure those companies to Dallas in coming years.

"They're more likely to work here if they live here, that's exactly it," says Hudgins. "And animation and video game companies are important for the future of Texas. Because, let's face it, film production has plateaued. They're not doing more movies than they used to, but everyone's doing video games. Those are great jobs, and that's a highly skilled work force, and that's part and parcel with our industry."

Of course, the real motivation behind the move is money: Gonzalez writes that "it is anticipated that during FY 2009-10, the activity generated by this function will assist in attracting an estimated $35 million in direct business to the Greater Dallas Metro area generating an estimated $87.5 million induced and indirect economic impact." Burklund says most of that money has come from reality shows (4th and Long, The Naughy Kitchen, two visits from Extreme Makeover, Dancing With the Stars, Dallas Divas & Daughters, even American Idol durting its local visits) and commercials.

And the city gets the Dallas Film Commission, which has but three employees, without paying anything. In fact, DCVB will give the city $100,000 annually for the new endeavor, while also forking over $80,000 annually "to cover the cost of marketing and entertainment activity related to this new function." And the Dallas Convention and Event Services Department will fork over $100,000 annually to cover various expenses.

"We're just moving -- we're becoming city employees, not bureau employees. This doesn't mean additional money to our department," Burklund says. "But our three people will be sitting at City Hall, and we'll be part of Economic Development, which puts puts in a place of better synergy and brings more tools to the table we hadn't been able to access properly. Now we can find out what tools are at our disposal and put them to work."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky