The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Dallas houses opportunities for filmmakers

Stone Core Films
A view of Norry Niven's studio, Stone Core Films.

Paula Goldberg sat down at her workstation and pulled out her computer, and began working on the screenplay for the 2011 feature film “The Perfect Family.” She was in constant communication with the director but wasn’t in the same city or state as her. Goldberg’s correspondence with the directors and producers occurred via the Internet as she worked through the final drafts of the screenplay because after living in Los Angeles for 16 years, Goldberg moved to Dallas.

“You can have a creative career in Dallas,” Goldberg said. “You may not be Angelina Jolie, but it’s how you define success and how you define what career you want to have.”

Goldberg said that she moved to Dallas about five years ago when her son was 12 months old. Attracted to the city by the lower cost and higher quality of living, she didn’t want to raise her son in Los Angeles and wanted a more balanced life. According to Goldberg and the growing number of film industry professionals moving here, Dallas is a very healthy place to live for filmmakers.

Dallas doesn’t house a large filming industry like Los Angeles or New York, but it has a lot to offer filmmakers. Directors, producers, and screenwriters are moving to Dallas to avoid becoming completely consumed by their work. Those within the film community have noticed an increase of activity around Dallas as more filmmakers make the move. Some of the reasons Dallas attracts filmmakers is because of the mild weather, varied locations, and tax exemptions. There can be some slight downsides to living in Dallas as opposed to a large filming city like Los Angeles, but Dallas filmmakers have found ways to make the best of living in Dallas and to excel in their careers.

“You are not exclusively surrounded by industry people – which I think can give you a limited perspective. My friends here range from people of faith to social workers to actors and everything in between. It’s the mix that feeds my creativity,” Goldberg said.

In the past year, Goldberg, who is a film professor at SMU, has written and directed a short film, wrote a song with a local band, and finished an original screenplay. According to Goldberg, her productivity has actually increased since her move from Los Angeles.

Filmmakers all have different reasons they chose to live in Dallas and work on films here. Norry Niven opened a production company in Dallas in 1992, Stone Core Films. As his company began taking off, he decided to move back to Dallas from Los Angeles.

“As a director, the best benefit to being away from New York and Los Angeles is that I’ve been able to evolve in so many different directions” Niven said.

According to Niven, the larger markets want to place directors in specific categories: comedies, children, horror, etc.

“In Dallas I was allowed to be great in many directions, so that now I’m capable of working, competing as a commercial filmmaker who possesses many strengths,” Niven said.

Thaddeus Matula, an SMU alum who directed the ESPN ‘30 for 30’ documentary “Pony Excess,” also believes that living outside large filming cities like Los Angeles and New York allow him to have more creative freedom.

“When it comes to monetizing what you do, it’s very easy to change your tune…In Los Angeles you have to give away part of yourself to sell that idea,” Matula said.

Matula also believes that by being located outside of Los Angeles, filmmakers can avoid some of the soul-crushing experiences – rejections, dead-end jobs, and the frustration of intense competition.

“You can easily get ground up in Los Angeles…by locating yourself elsewhere, you don’t get yourself in the meat grinder. You can get stuck in a rut of the job you begin with [in Los Angeles]” Matula said.

One of the aspects of Dallas that Matula finds so appealing to filmmakers is that there is lots of infrastructure for corporate filmmaking. He said that people in Dallas are good at financially backing projects that are sold well.

“Dallas is an idea. If you can get yourself in a position where you are selling ideas to people who want to buy them, then you are in a great place,” Matula said.

Sally Helppie, a SMU professor and film producer, believes that the people of Dallas offer another attractive feature for filmmakers.

“The people of Dallas are not jaded about film crews working in their area. In fact, they are happy to provide locations and other ‘stuff’ needed in films,” Helppie said.

Additionally, one of the reasons Helppie decided to move to Dallas is because it is outside the typical entertainment cities.

“I believe we Texans are willing to think outside the box more and are more genuine…we are not bound by studios and long-standing customs. We are more adaptable to new technology and new media,” Helppie said.

There are a few downsides to living in Dallas versus a large film city like Los Angeles. For one, according to Goldberg, people in Los Angeles are always looking for work, no matter what the pay. There are thousands of aspiring actors, cameramen, screenwriters and directors, making it easy to find people who will work for free on what the industry calls passion projects, projects that are made by filmmakers mostly for non-monetary reasons. Goldberg said that because many people get paid for commercial film work in Dallas, they don’t want to work for free.

According to Matula, a downside to living in Dallas as a filmmaker instead of Los Angeles or New York, is that the film community is much smaller. Matula said that in Los Angeles, there is a lot of opportunity to learn from your peers. However, he also said that it shouldn’t matter where a filmmaker is located as long as they have passion for making films.

Dallas has become a place where filmmakers can come and grow in their work, and is continuing to draw in new producers, directors, and screenwriters.

Goldberg said, “We can’t pretend that Dallas is equal to Los Angeles or New York. But Dallas is outside those two a viable option to making your dreams and projects happen.”

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