City Hall

Head of Dallas Film Commission on Why City Needs (To Pay For) Larger Production Studio

On Wednesday, the Dallas City Council will vote on whether or not to give Jack Matthews's CCH Lamar Partners that $235,000 economic development grant needed to help finish out a film and television production facility on S. Lamar. (It's Item No. 98 on the agenda.) As you'll recall, there was some back-and-forth over this topic at during an Economic Development Committee meeting a couple of weeks back, when city officials told the council that, look, if the city didn't pony up, TNT and Warner Horizon, which are behind the next-gen Dallas reboot, wouldn't shoot J.R. in Dallas. Ann Margolin especially couldn't understand why "we're paying for him to have a business," meaning Matthews.

Janis Burklund, head of the Dallas Film Commission, was out of town when that discussion took place, but she tells Unfair Park this afternoon that just this morning she met with Margolin and explained why it's important to make the investment. She also told the council member what's now detailed in Wednesday's agenda: Matthews and his partners will need to use that money to install air-conditioning, which the building currently doesn't have, and also rent it gratis for six months to "a production company for a television series or feature film" by July 21, 2012. If they don't do one of those things, deal's off.

Burklund says Dallas's lack of decent-sized production facilities has become an issue, so much so both ABC and TNT brought it up when discussing, respectively, the Park Cities-set soap formerly known as Good Christian Bitches (which will now shoot in Los Angeles) and Dallas, which hasn't yet been picked up -- though an announcement is due any day.

"The Studios at Las Colinas is nice, and there's been a lot of misinformation that we we're trying to keep [Dallas] out of there," she says. "It's just not big enough for what they want.  When FOX was there, they had Prison Break there, The Deep End there, Lone Star there. But it wasn't big enough, so they were renting warehouse facilities to help with overflow, and they don't like being spread apart. They were also shooting downtown, so it made sense to be closer to downtown. And there are price issues: It's expensive."

As you may recall, the studio's already received $100,000 from the city -- that was when The Good Guys had to decamp from Fair Park for the State Fair, which needed the buildings that had been converted into sound stages. And that right there told the city: It needs to do something to bring productions here, lest studios and producers keep being inconvenienced and decide to go to a city or state with better incentives, like Atlanta or Louisiana -- two places Warner Horizon's considering should Dallas not shoot here.

"And we'd be embarrassed if they went elsewhere," Burklund says. "The building isn't even air-conditioned. The Good Guys had to rent air conditioning and renting AC for the six months would cost $100,000. [CCH Lamar Partners] are being good city partners, because they're going to lose money. If they were to rent it, they'd get more money than what we're forcing them to do, which is free rent for six months and put in air conditioning. People want to beat up on him [Matthews] because he's a so-called 'favored nation,' but he's taking a loss because he knows it's good for the city and that area."

Burklund says TNT should announce if it's picking up Dallas any day now -- it could come as early as end of today, as a matter of fact. She also expects it will be a nine-episode order, with the promise of more to come should it do well. (Network runs are around 22 eps per season; cable productions usually run 'round half that.) But Warner Horizon isn't likely to announce if it'll shoot in Dallas till closer to the end of July or August 1, around the time the council comes back from its summer shutdown. Which is why Burklund expects council to thumbs-up the vote Wednesday.

Besides, she insists, it's a good deal for the city -- a $235,000 investment with myriad caveats that's expected to bring in more than twice that in so-called "fiscal impact" if the show shoots 11 episodes here. That's based on a formula laid out thusly in the agenda briefing:

A typical television series will spend approximately $1,000,000 per episode locally. This is only the amount spent locally, not their overall budget. Using the standard multiplier of 2.3, the total economic impact from one episode is therefore $2,300,000. A typical television series order can vary from as few as 6, but up to 22 episodes with variations between. The total economic impact from 13 episodes, a typical order, would be $29,900,000 and $50,600,000 for 22 episodes from one average sized television series. The fiscal impact to the city from television production is calculated at $2,262 per $100,000 in spending, so one 22 episode series would account for approximately $1,144,572 in fiscal impact.
Says Burklund, look, this also isn't a one-time offer intended solely to bring Dallas to Dallas. Because if that show doesn't happen -- here or elsewhere -- for whatever reason, there's always another show 'round the corner looking for a place to shoot.

"Our hope is it'll be Dallas, but if for some reason it fell through we have other studios we've been talking to about future projects, and we'll try to get one of them in there," she says. "We'll obviously help and say, 'Here's the deal we can potentially offer' if they meet the criteria. They have to offer enough money to make it worthwhile. They have to create jobs and spend money. This is an economic development deal like any other: They still have to create jobs and spend money. We're trying to do these as good business deals so the city's still coming out in the black.

"And what most people also don't realize is that Jack and his partners go above and beyond to help us. He gave free office and loft space to Dallas and GCB's pilots in the hopes of keeping them here. Not many property owners will do that. And he gave The Good Guys freebies and deep discounts. If others want to offer that, we're happy to work with them too. But Jack's the only one who stepped up."

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

Latest Stories