Tuesday, Feb 21, 2006
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Posted on Fri, Feb. 17, 2006

Dallas behind in race for 'Dallas'

By Christopher Kelly
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

After four years in development, it looks as if the much-anticipated big-screen version of "Dallas" could finally be ready to roll, as early as this summer.

The only catch: It might just end up rolling in Florida, or Louisiana, or, egad, Canada.

The makers of "Dallas" say as much as they would prefer to shoot entirely on location in "Big D," they are considering shooting elsewhere. Their reason: Texas just can't compete with other places when it comes to offering financial incentives to lure Hollywood productions to the state.

More than a blow to the city's ego, losing Dallas could also mean losing the multimillion-dollar windfall that a big-budget film would bring to the local economy.

"The studio (20th Century Fox) has been asking us to consider a number of states," says Michael Costigan, who is producing the film along with David Jacobs, the original show's creator. "Honestly, Dallas was never high on the list, because it didn't seem like a feasible, economic place to do the movie."

The film, which was first announced in fall 2002, already has a number of elements in place: The screenplay is written by veteran playwright Robert Harling ("Steel Magnolias") and Sacha Gervasi ("The Terminal"); Robert Luketic ("Legally Blonde," "Monster-in-Law") is attached to direct. And though casting is still being worked out, John Travolta (as J.R.) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (as Pam) have been rumored to be in negotiations.

The movie is expected to be in the spirit of such recent, slightly tongue-in-cheek TV-to-movie transfers like "Charlie's Angels" and "The Dukes of Hazzard." It could easily turn out to be the most commercially successful Texas-set film in decades.

Both Costigan and Dallas Film Commissioner Janis Burkland emphasize that they are doing everything they can to bring the production to Texas. Burkland estimates the film could ultimately pump as much as $30 million into the local Dallas economy, benefiting Texas technicians and craftspeople who would be hired to work on the project. (Pre-production and principal photography are expected to take six months.)

But both sides are stymied by the current limbo status of Texas Senate Bill 1142, legislation that would make Texas a more financially desirable location for Hollywood productions. The legislation - which could offer as much as a $750,000 rebate to productions - was passed in May 2005 but was never funded in the state budget.

The soonest the bill could be funded is January, when the Texas legislature meets for its next regular session (unless a special session is called, which all parties agree is highly unlikely.) In the interim, Texas risks losing any number of major productions.

"Right now, Texas doesn't have an incentive to give filmmakers," explains Bob Hudgins, director of the Texas Film Commission." (The "Dallas" movie) is a great example of what we're losing and what we're leaving on the table."