We took advantage of the Dallas International Film Festival to pull together three filmmakers with Dallas ties to discuss the state of Dallas filmmaking. Eric Steele is a producer, actor, director, and a partner in Aviation Cinemas, which operates the Texas Theater. Yen Tan is the award-winning writer and director Pit Stop, which debuted at this year’s Sundance film festival and just took home the top prize in the Dallas Film Festival’s Texas competition. And Steven Walters is a member of the Dallas Theater Center’s Brierley acting company, a co-founder of Second Thought Theatre, and the writer of The Bounceback, a comedy that debuted at South By Southwest.
We asked these three filmmakers if the sudden rush of Texas films – and specifically Dallas films – hitting the festival circuit and winning acclaim, films like Pit Stop, as well as David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, indicates a new day for local filmmaking. (Also, for more on the state of Texas film, check out Christopher Kelly’s article in the New York Times.)
You can listen to or download the podcast below. Also, you can scroll down to listen to the conversation broken up by topic.
EXCERPTS: The podcast subdivided by topics and with some quote highlights:
Is Regionalism Even Important?
With so many collaborations between Dallas and Austin filmmakers, does it really matter which city movie makers call home?
Eric Steele: “It’s more about the community than the locale“
Yen Tan: “Scenes are important. Otherwise people think that nothing is happening. And then there is a tendency that press in general won’t take note.”
Steven Walters: “Each city and the communities within those cities should search for their own voice. We seem to have a build it and they will come mentality. And what we are left with is a beautiful, gorgeous facility with no art to go in it.”
Why Did Yen Tan Move From Dallas to Austin?
Yen: “Austin felt like moving somewhere without actually moving somewhere.”
Why have Steven Walters and Eric Steele Decided to stay in Dallas?
Steven Walters: “I lived in LA for a long period of time. What I like about making films in Texas is that there are fewer barriers between you and the tools that you need to deliver the film to the audience.”
Eric Steele: “We’ve planted a lot of seeds here, and I want to see it through. . . . The walls are down here.”
“We couldn’t shoot in Texas because the tax credits weren’t there.”
Steven Walters: “It is almost the casino argument, we are surrounded by states that are taking our revenue. . . . Arts patrons in Dallas think of film as a separate conversation.”
Independent film financiers need to approach movies like art collectors approach art
Eric Steele: “The films we have done recently are basically funded by one patron. The most relevant comparison to investing in films is art collection.”
Yen Tan: “It also has to do with quantity. If we are talking from a business sense, if one person wants to put in $1 million, it shouldn’t go into one project. That is always a bad idea. That $1 million should be funneled into ten projects. Because chances are one of them is going to do well.”
How two very different movies, Pit Stop and The Bounceback, were funded
Eric Steele: It takes a village to make these films, and this is textbook case. But it started with an Austin Film Society grant.
Yen Tan: “Most of our money was soft money, meaning grants. So the private investment portion is smaller, which means more than likely we can pay them back after we sell the film. So we’re in a pretty good spot.”
Steven Walters: “There are not too many organizations out there who want to support and fund air sex. . . .
The Best thing that ever happened to The Bounceback is that it came back to Texas. But it was so hard to justify doing that at our budget level. If we had shot it in Shreveport or New Orleans it would have been so much cheaper.”
Does Dallas need a “great Dallas filmmaker” in order to brand its filmmaking community and earn respect?
Steven Walters: “Didn’t that happen in a way with Bottle Rocket, and then it didn’t happen with Bottle Rocket at the same time?”
Eric Steele: “Dallas will launch something and then that team goes elsewhere. I understand why. I know it is a tough scenario. I know there are certain opportunities that LA or New York afford you, and I get it. But I don’t know how to change it.”
Yen Tan: “What has changed, when we started going to festivals in the early years there was certainly a sense that having to come out of the closet in terms of, ‘I make my film in Texas.’ You kind of don’t want to talk about that. So now it is less embarrassing. You can boast about it.”
Eric Steele: “If there is a face, it would have to be Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and David Lowery, and I’ve heard him talking about wanting to stay here.”
Who is in a position to step-up and change the way this city supports local filmmakers, and what would it take?
Yen Ten: “It comes down to, is the $3,000 that going into Charlize Theron’s hotel room, or is $3,000 going into a film. And option A ends when Charlize Theron leaves DFW.”
Steven Walters: “If they keep funding the filmmakers that make the movies, those films will get bigger, their reach will get wider, and people like Charlize Theron will come more often.”