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Sunday, February 19, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Will Dallas lose big-screen "Dallas"?

Knight Ridder Newspapers

FORT WORTH, Texas — 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 that 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. " ... 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 significant 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."

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.

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.

"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. And 'Dallas' is just one picture. I hate to tell you how many films we're not getting that we'd like to get here, things that are going to be shooting in Massachusetts and Georgia, both of which just passed amazing incentives."

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Competition among states and other countries for film productions has been heating up over the course of the past decade, especially after — in the early 1990s — Canada began offering lucrative deals to lure filmmakers there. (Costigan was an executive producer on "Brokeback Mountain," another recent movie partly set in Texas; it was shot in Alberta.) With the average cost of producing and marketing a studio production now topping $100 million, producers are eager to save every buck they can. That's especially the case with a movie like "Dallas," where the budget for the stars' salaries could exceed $40 million.

In the meantime, the question of whether Dallas will lose "Dallas" should be answered within the next few weeks, as casting details on the film are completed and the production is green-lighted by Fox.

Costigan insists he would prefer to shoot the film in Texas. "Creatively, we absolutely want to be in Dallas. But what's hard for us is that we have to make our arguments to the studio about why it's worth spending a lot more money — potentially millions of dollars — to shoot the film in Dallas."

Burkland worries that what might have been a major boon for Dallas has the potential to turn into a public joke.

"It's a black eye to all of us if it's shot somewhere else," she says.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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