Editors note: This is the debut of a periodic column about the goings-on in the state's movie, television and commercial business from Cynthia Neely, a veteran of the Texas motion picture industry who helped found the Texas Motion Picture Alliance.
Big ‘ol Texas is known for a lot of things -— some grand, some nefarious — but probably the best kept secret, to locals anyway, is its history of motion picture-making. (By motion pictures, I mean anything that moves on a screen; big, little, or cyberspace.)
For a 100 years this state has had a manufacturing industry whose “product” is what you see on those screens, as well as the people in front and behind the camera.
Houston’s own John Lee Hancock (a former Baylor Bear-turned- lawyer-turned-screenwriter-turned-director and producer), who is still riding high from directing The Blind Side starring Sandra Bullock, is reportedly about to produce a drama for cable’s AMC.
The Wreck sounds like the kind of movie we really like here in Texas. It’s about a college football team (say Amen) and a coach who was once riding high, but after a losing season is given one “last chance” to turn his team around or his legendary career is kaput. With Hancock’s sensibilities, this TV movie should be a win-win if AMC picks it up for development. Hope so.
Hancock is a really nice guy and has generously shared his advice from the trenches with fledgling screenwriters and filmmakers at conferences like — including some I’ve attended through Rice University and the Austin Film Festival.
Red Carpet in the Lone Star State
Robert Rodriguez, the Austin-based producer/director/writer who brought us Spy Kids, Sin City, and From Dusk Till Dawn, is premiering his latest film, Predators, Wednesday night in Texas’ capital city.
This is too cool for a number of reasons: He shot the film at his Troublemaker Studios in Austin and put a lot of Texans to work; he chose to premiere it in Texas, with red carpet arrivals; the venue is Austin’s historic Paramount Theatre, which is akin to Houston’s beloved River Oaks Theatre but not endangered like ours; the proceeds will benefit the Texas Filmmakers’ Production Fund and the Texas Motion Picture Alliance, the group I’m part of that lobbies to bring more productions to the state.
Predators opens nationwide Friday and stars Adrien Brody as a reluctant mercenary leader of a group of elite warriors who come to the chilling realization that they are, in fact, prey on an alien planet. The squirm factor is sky high. It also stars Topher Grace (Spiderman 3), Alice Braga (I Am Legend) and Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix).
Another film, Open Gate, is shooting now in Texas in the northeast town of Atlanta in the Piney Woods. I didn’t know there was an Atlanta in Texas (only the one in Georgia where every plane in the world has a layover), but I have learned a lot about this Atlanta since the “indie film noir” started production there.
Tyler Hoechlin (Road to Perdition) and Agnes Bruckner (Private Practice) star in a story about a rodeo clown and bullfighter in a small Texas town who finds out the bulls are being used to traffic drugs. I’m not sure I want to hear how.
On the other hand, I was fascinated to hear that our Atlanta has bragging rights to some notable film and broadcast talent. Talk show icon Ellen DeGeneres graduated from Atlanta High School in 1976 and actor Kevin Rahm (Desperate Housewives) graduated in 1989. That makes them both “Atlanta Rabbits” (a rather memorable high school mascot).
The man considered a pioneer of American commercial broadcasting, the late Texan Gordon McLendon, attributed his career beginnings to Atlanta. No slouch, McLendon went from being a radio announcer to owning a string of radio stations, a television station, to founding the Liberty Radio Network (noted for its daily broadcasts of Major League Baseball) and was once the largest shareholder in Columbia Pictures.
He developed off shore “pirate radio” (unregulated radio transmissions broadcast from a ship). Would’ve made Johnny Depp proud.
Here’s my favorite part about McLendon though; he co-produced two 1959 sci-fi monster flicks, The Killer Shrews, and The Giant Gila Monster, considered cult classic B-films, which were featured on the show Mystery Science Theatre 3000 in the '90s.
A comic superhero's Little Bro
Back to the future, there’s always new Texas talent on the rise. Keep an eye out for A & M student and actor Christian Haile who’s holding his breath after having a “call back” for a part in Green Lantern to portray the youngest brother of Mr. Lantern himself (actor Ryan Reynolds). Haile is studying acting this summer in Houston with my bud, Deke Anderson, owner of Next Level Acting Studios, and who says Haile is “freakin’ awesome” and a natural.
Coming from Anderson, that’s something.
Voted LA’s No. 1 acting coach in 2001, Anderson shuttered his Los Angeles acting studio to focus on his Texas school and family here. His career includes being a regular on Days of Our Lives, co-starring or guest-starring on numerous TV shows, and in films such as Army of Darkness. He just finished shooting three days on Green Lantern with Tim Robbins where he plays four-star General Craven.
The film and broadcast talent from the Lone Star State is stunning — and sneaks up to surprise most Texans. I, for one, just love surprises.