Film and TV

Rob Allyn Used to Run Local Politics. Now He's Making Movies in Indonesia.

Longtime observers of the local political landscape probably hear the name Rob Allyn and think of the Trinity River Corridor Project (Schutze insists it was Allyn who came up with those solar-powered water taxis), myriad mayoral campaigns, those Dubya ads attacking John McCain's environmental record and the Dallas Cowboys adding Arlington to their never-ending tour of North Texas cities. Then came Vicente Fox (who Allyn helped secure the Mexican presidency) and political campaigns far, far away. And before long, the political adviser and friend to Dallas's most connected moved overseas.

By his guesstimate, Allyn now spends nine months of each year in Southeast Asia, and his rare trips to the States involve trips to see his youngest son play collegiate football back east or stays at his home in Santa Barbara, California. He keeps his home here but seldom sees it -- except, say, during weeks like this one, when the Dallas International Film Festival is in full swing. Allyn is in Dallas at this very moment for a Tuesday night screening of Blood of Eagles, the second in a trilogy of films about the Indonesian National Revolution that took place shortly after the end of World War II.

The film -- which has the overwrought look and feel of the kinds of war epics Hollywood made in the '50s and '60s, which Allyn says is very much the point -- was directed by Allyn's son Conor, a Jesuit graduate. Allyn says Blood of Eagles, like its predecessor, has been enormously successful -- among the most profitable films ever made and shown in Indonesia, with distribution secured from the U.K. to Germany to Iran. The final installment, the latest from Allyn's Margate House production company, will be screened abroad later this year.

But after that, Allyn says, he will begin making English-language films in Asia -- with, he insists, recognizable Hollywood stars above the title. And he will do so using local money from the likes of Blockbuster CEO (for now, anyway) Jim Keyes, mayoral candidate Mike Rawlings (whose campaign is being run by Allyn's namesake company, which he sold to Omnicom in 2002), state Sen. John Carona and oil and gas man Albert Huddleston.

"We're in the movie business," Allyn tells Unfair Park this afternoon. "The fact is, there's more and more demand for films delivered at a lower price, whether it's downloaded to your iPad or sent from Netflix or shown on a big screen. Hollywood is making fewer and fewer films. The studios only made 93 films last year. And the average price of the films is over $50 million. They're going one way, and in our opinion the market's going the other way. Audiences want more films made at a more reasonable cost."

I asked Allyn exactly how he got into the movie business. At which point he proceeded to tell a very long story about selling the company, turning it over to Mari Woodlief, working with Fox, then plying his trade in Japan and Indonesia and Vietnam and the Middle East and Haiti. A very long story short -- "I need an editor," he acknowledges -- Allyn discovered you could shoot 35mm films in Southeast Asia for "10 cents on the dollar." That, combined with his ex-novelist's need to keep telling stories, spurred his interest to move into film.

Didn't hurt that his son Conor was a history major wrapping up his film studies at Georgetown. And so he made a doc about global hunger called Hungry is the Tiger, which played some fests. And then they made Red & White in 2009, the first of their three films about the Indonesian National Revolution -- a subject to which Rob was introduced by an Indonesian businessman with whom he'd had a meeting. Allyn would spend the next year screening the film to distributors at festivals, among then Cannes and Berlin and Mumbai. Which is how he wound up telling me a story about meeting a drunken Lindsay Lohan on a yacht -- though Allyn didn't know who she was because, look, he's been out of the U.S. a long while at this point.

"And now we are about to make English-language films in Southeast Asia with Hollywood stars in the lead roles and then surround them with Asian actors and Asian crews," he says. I tell him that sounds very Sergio Leone.

"That's exactly right," he says. "It's nothing new. Hollywood's been outsourcing the cost of production since forever. After the spaghetti Westerns there were were the macaroni combat films, and that's what we were after. For our first film we've got an urban crime thriller set in Indonesia that involves an American dealing with Muslims and culture clashes and terrorism and jewel thieves. And we've got another that's a big swashbuckling biographical epic. They're all elevated genre films, all smart action-adventure films. We teamed up with William Morris Endeavor and put together a film fund and have raised a little over $6 million that will finance $20 to $25 million worth of films in the next two years."

The titles are the best part: The former film is called Java Heat, which Conor will direct; the latter, White Rajah. Allyn, of course, won't say who will star -- only that they're talking to "big, global names" who'd otherwise be unavailable were there high-paying gigs in Hollywood.

"These are tough times in the industry, and the good news for producers is that there are some attractive people we would not normally be able to afford we can get. So it's a good time to be making these movies."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky