Hollywood in ET scarce, while indie movies rule

Article by Glenn Evans

Bigfoot, sharks in 3-D and real-life monsters are being filmed in Northeast Texas, where Hollywood features such as "Bernie" are rare sightings amid a bubbling brew of independent films.

"Yes, there are a lot of indies," said Belinda Blalock Brunson, deputy director of the Northeast Texas Regional Film Commission. "We'd like to get some big-budget ones if we could."

The commission is a 21-county nonprofit entity and sanctioned by the governor's Texas Film Commission, charged with helping filmmakers find crews, equipment and friendly host cities. The big-budget features, if and when they look at Texas, generally don't need the commission's help — the little guys do.

"It's more the independent films that require help, because we know how to find things — equipment, locations," Brunson said. "It's slowed down quite a bit, because when Greg Abbott took over (as governor), he slashed a lot of the funds."

Those incentives mostly were rebates on certain expenses. Supporters claimed they boosted local economies when moviemakers were eating and sleeping in town. Incentives also required that a percentage of all casts and crews live in the Lone Star State.

Brunson said that last clause, still alive in Louisiana, prompted stars Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher to buy homes in Shreveport while filming "The Guardian" in that state.

Shreveport made more money from films that abandoned New Orleans than it did from its gambling boats the year that Hurricane Katrina hit, she said.

Several Northeast Texas cities — including Kilgore, Marshall, Carthage and Pittsburg — have been designated as film friendly through the Texas Film Commission.

The certification aims at luring productions and is earned by attending a Texas Film Friendly workshop, submitting photos of potential filming locations for the Texas Film Commission's database and passing guidelines approved by the commission.

Though Longview has not earned the film friendly designation, that could change. City spokesman Shawn Hara said Longview is considering going through the process.

Hara said the designation would show the community is "welcoming" to the film industry and that the city has locations suitable for filming.

East Texas Coppolas

Non-monetary incentives drew two young filmmakers to shout " action" in East Texas: it's their home.

But Micah Lyons and David Ford, from Hallsville and Harleton, respectively, said this past week that there are other advantages besides seeing old friends and putting them to work.

Lyons is back in Los Angeles after filming the anti-trafficking movie "The Runners" in this area during the spring.

"We have shot about 98 percent of the movie, which we did all in East Texas," Lyons said. "That was at over 30 locations — in Hallsville, Longview, Kilgore, White Oak, Pine Tree, Harleton, Marshall, Jefferson. We were all over East Texas."

Those locales included the closed ceramics factory on U.S. 259 in Kilgore, which became the bad guys' headquarters.

"It looks like a World War II movie inside of there," he said, recalling the week-and-a-half shoot in the old plant. "That easily could've been a $1 million location in L.A., but we got it basically for free."

Lyons has released raw footage from the PG-13 thriller on Indiegogo, where he also hopes to attract crowdfunding to pay for post-production costs.

The fundraising campaign goal is $25,000. Lyons is offering donors special perks, including props used in the filming of "The Runners," autographed scripts, acting lessons and a chance to meet members of the cast.

Donations are being accepted at tinyurl.com/jjnw5jm.

"Whenever they see the footage, there's going to be tons of local faces in there," Lyons said. "This has been a homegrown movie. I'm from Hallsville, Texas, and a proud Bobcat. So, this was a huge opportunity to make a movie that has a great cause back at home."

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