Milam, you ought to be in movies
Those were the words Rockdale and Milam County business leaders wanted to hear from Carol Pirie, deputy director/program manager of the Texas Film Commission’s Friendly Texas program, when they gathered at Apache Pass Friday.
The occasion was a seminar to explain, and lay the groundwork for, possible use of Milam County locations in future movies and television programs.
There’s certainly a history with Milam and the movies.
And the yet-to-be-released inspirational film “Abel’s Field” was shot mostly in Thrall, but some was filmed in Thorndale.
LOCATION—Milam in the movies? It’s not as far fetched as it might seem. The county has some excellent factors going for it, according to Pirie and Texas State University instructor Tom Copeland, former longtime director of the Texas Film Commission.
It’s in Texas for starters and that means good weather year-round and a variety of landscapes which can be used to double for anything from Kansas to Transylvania to Mars.
“The movie “Michael” (in which John Travolta portrayed an angel) was set in Illinois and was filmed during a February in Texas,” Copeland said. “I don’t think you’d really want to film in February in Illinois.”
“It used to be there was about a 30-mile radius around Austin (for movie locations) but that’s getting further out,” Copeland said. “You see what’s happened to places like Hutto.”
“The sight lines are different now,” he said. “There are cell phone towers everywhere.”
And, frankly, the very “this place is dead” stereotype which all boosters of small towns avoid, can become a plus when film makers are searching for locations.
“Bartlett has gotten movies because it retains that old look,” Copeland said.
ECONOMIC CLOU T—It’s hard to overstate the potential economic impact of a movie or television program on a local economy.
Pirie noted that a big film can bring a crew of 200 to 300 to a location.
Even a smaller f ilm of ten employs a crew of 50 to 70.
TRUE GRIT—Copeland said nearby Granger, site of the recent “True Grit” remake, offered an example of the potential for econmic impact on a community.
“The mayor was really an advocate for his town,” Copeland said. “There are a lot of sets built and they use a lot of wood. He negotiated a deal that the crew would buy wood from the local lumber yard, there in Granger, and not from a Home Depot someplace.”
The “True Grit” feel called for the town’s concrete sidewalks to be replaced with wooden ones.
“ The company promised to restore the concrete sidewalks when they had finished,” Copeland said. “ They went to the mayor and asked if he wanted them to contract for the job or just pay the city and let them contract it out.”
“He told them if the city did it, he’d have to take the low bidder whoever it was,” Copeland said. “But if the movie company did it, they could contract with whoever they wanted and that way the jobs could go to local people.”
“ That’s what happened,” he said. “And then those scenes were on screen for probably 10 minutes in the final cut.”
UNIQUE— Pirie said the Milam leaders need to work in putting the area “into the eye” of the film industry.
One tow n which has done exactly that is Smithville, which has been the site for 22 recent films including last year’s wellreceived Terence Malik movie “The Tree of Life” and the new film “Natural Selection.”
Smithville has its own film commission and is the first town in Texas to be designated a “Film Friendly City” by the Texas Film Commission.
Adena Lewis, president of the Smithville Chamber of Commerce, took part in the seminar.