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Tuesday, Feb 28, 2006
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Posted on Sun, Feb. 19, 2006

MOVIES

Question isn't who shot J.R., but where?

When it comes time to begin shooting the big-screen version of Dallas, Southfork may wind up in Florida or elsewhere.

BY CHRISTOPHER KELLY
Knight Ridder News Service

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. Paul Sirmons, film commissioner for the state of Florida, confirmed that Dallas' producers have spoken with his Jacksonville office about the possibility of shooting here -- though he says the producers approached Florida, and not the other way around.

''We are not trying to steal Dallas from Texas,'' he said.

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.

''[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 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. It could easily turn out to be the most commercially successful Texas-set film in decades.

And -- assuming it were filmed in Dallas -- it could provide the city of Dallas with a boost of civic pride the likes of which it hasn't seen since, well, we all found out who shot J.R. in the fall of 1980.

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 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 much 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 civic pride 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.