More Ewing Need to Know About "Dallas"

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OK, so the slogan "Shoot J.R. in Dallas" is growing on me (like a fungus, but whatever). Still, the city's effort to lure 20th Century Fox here, to shoot the movie Dallas, is likely to come up short; even Janis Burklund, the Dallas Film Commission director, puts the likelihood at "50-50," which she admits is optimistic. "But I'm an optimistic person," she tells Unfair Park. But Burklund--and Mayor Laura Miller and Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau president and CEO Phillip Jones, who joined Burklund in the Flag Room at City Hall moments ago—will need more than a sunny disposition to lure the production here. Try millions of bucks in incentives, which they do not have.

What they do have at the moment is the promise of some office space, according to Miller. And some bumper stickers and T-shirts and caps bearing that slogan, which are for sale at the Dallas Film Commission's Web site, proceeds from which will go to an incentive fund that'll be used to lure the production here sometime late this year or early next. To which we would add: Good luck with all that.

Fact is, until the state Legislature decides to put some bucks behind Texas Senate Bill 1142, which passed last May but was never funded in the budget, studios and production companies will go to the other 29 states out there that offer rebates and other incentives to entice filming in their backyards. Right now, though, the bill is "an empty vessel," as Burklund puts it, and will likely stay that way till the Legislature deals with school funding, which will happen, oh, sometime before Rick Perry goes bald. "Maybe they'll find a way" to fund 1142, Burklund says, but she knows it's low on the list of priorities.

So, till then, we have "fun" events like Wednesday's press conference. (The mayor and others used the word "fun" half a dozen times, as though promising cake and ice cream too.)

But Burklund's smart enough to know that even if J.R. is shot elsewhere, it ain't the end of the world. Fact is, she admits it's far more important for the city and state to go after Touchstone, ABC and The Mark Gordon Company. The threesome are about to shoot a pilot here for a show called A House Divided that, according to one Web site, is an hour-long "drama about the escalating conflict between a Midwest farming community and the U.S. government that sows the seeds of what will be the next civil war in present-day America." Burklund says the pilot will start shooting as early as next week, but that if it goes to series, ABC and Touchstone may well decide to shoot in New Mexico, one of the 29 states offering studios lucrative film incentives.

A series here would mean more jobs for more local production folks than a blockbuster-budgeted movie, "and we're talking about something that could bring in $60 to $80 million per season," Burklund says of the show, whose producer, Mark Gordon, is responsible for ABC's hit Grey's Anatomy. "But people don't want to talk about the series. What gets them interested is Dallas, and we can use this to raise the flag about A House Divided."

We'll see how interested they get in any of it: Immediately after the presentation every reporter in town swarmed the mayor to ask her about negotiations between the city, Fort Worth and Southwest and American Airlines. --Robert Wilonsky


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