Seven filmmakers from Dallas are headed to this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which kicked-off January 17, in support a number of locally- produced movies that are featured in this year’s festival. We caught up with them, and over the next week, we’ll share their thoughts on their movies, filmmaking, and Dallas. Click here for all the profiles in the series.
This year, writer/director/actor/producer Eric Steele, one of the four co-owners of Aviation Cinemas which operates the Texas Theater, is playing a supporting role in the films he is involved with at Sundnace. He has a part in David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and he produced Yen Tan’s Pit Stop. Steele’s role in role in the production of Pit Stop is indicative of what the Texas Theater means to local filmmaking. Fundraising events for Tan’s film were held at the Oak Cliff haunt, as were early screenings of rough cuts. For his part, Steele just finished a trilogy of plays and films called The Midwest Trilogy, and his next project was announced Friday when Variety carried the news that Aviation Cinemas, the group that operates the Texas Theater, had acquired rights to Dominic Orlando’s play Danny Casolaro Died For You, with Steele set to direct.
Film(s): Pit Stop (producer); Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (actor, “Miles”)
How did you get involved in the production of Pit Stop?
I have worked with Yen Tan on several projects, including Clay Liford’s film Wuss that I produced in 2011. I was a great admirer of Yen’s work as a director and also genuinely believed in him as a person and friend. I wanted to see him make his next movie. So, he asked if I would produce, alongside James Johnston, and we began sitting down and putting a plan together. Jonathan Duffy and Kelly Williams came on board by the time we officially launched our Kickstarter for the film at the Texas Theatre last year.
There are a lot of Dallas filmmakers at Sundance this year. What does this say (if anything) about the state of filmmaking in Dallas?
I think it says that we have a legitimate independent film movement happening here. What excites me the most is that these films (Pit Stop, Upstream Color, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) are all so different … each with a completely unique voice.
Are there any advantages to being a Dallas-based filmmaker?
Yes, absolutely. We have access to exceptional gear and crews here and have support from the Texas Film Commission and its representatives in Dallas. Also, locations are exponentially easier to come by here and at lower costs than on the East/West coast. Finally, because this is a city driven by business, we have a great opportunity to find funding for films. Bala Shagrithaya, our Executive Producer on Wuss and Pit Stop, is a great example of that. Bala is a successful businessman who is also passionate about the arts and wants to make some great films here in Dallas. My hunch is that there are other great potential EP’s out there in Dallas like Bala.
What are the biggest challenges facing filmmakers working in Dallas?
Well, I have a weird answer for that. A few years ago, I would have said, “the biggest challenge is that the scene is disparate – there isn’t a central place for filmmakers to get together… without a space to gather, its hard to start a movement” But we now have that here in Dallas with the Texas Theatre. I can’t tell you how much of an impact its had on me as a filmmaker.
Where do you see Dallas filmmaking in ten years? Do you think there is a progressive nature to the growth of a film scene? In other words, is Dallas becoming a stronger city for filmmaking, or is this just a singular moment when a number of people from here happen to making good films?
That’s a great question. From what I understand about scenes of any kind, they come to an end. Just like NY had its run in the 1970s and Austin in the 1990s. Perhaps we are entering into the Golden Age of Texas Cinema. I hope so. If that’s the case, then I think we have about seven more years to make some killer films and hope people remember that moment in time.
Is there a filmmaking community in Dallas, and do you consider yourself a part of it?
Yes and yes. As I mentioned before, I’ve seen the film community come together at the Texas Theatre these past two years. On any given day, we have a screenwriter working on his laptop near the bar, a cast doing a script read through in the upstairs lounge, an acting class in the safe room, and a bunch of directors sitting around the bar arguing over why Deer Hunter is or isn’t the greatest film ever made (I mention that last one because it happened.. again… last night and I was involved).
Be honest, do you see yourself continuing to stay in Dallas working on films, or do the coasts still have too strong a pull?
I am digging in and staying here. This is home for me and I’d rather build something here than leave and join whatever is going on somewhere else.