Bright Lights Big D
Dallas plays supporting role alongside Janine Turner and Peri Gilpin in Occupy, Texas
We all benefit from Dallas’ being the third coast when it comes to restaurants, retail and real estate. Johnathan Brownlee, the executive producer of Occupy, Texas, would like to add film to that list.
He is currently in the midst of a 20-day shoot for the independent film, which stars Peri Gilpin (CSI, Frasier), Janine Turner (Northern Exposure, Friday Night Lights) and Lorelei Linklater (daughter of filmmaker Richard). Through his two companies, Ubiquimedia (production) and Anubis Pictures (finance), Brownlee helped gather a crew of about 50 and more than half of the project’s funding — $200,000 total — from local investors.
His connections give the Dallas-based producer a particular advantage when it comes to wrangling what’s required. Brownlee’s name came up (twice in fact) when writer/producer Gene Gallerano (who is originally from Dallas) and producer/director Jeff Barry were looking for someone who knew the city well enough to get in touch with local industries and key Dallasites to support the project.
“I’m really excited for people to see this movie and says, ‘Hey, that was the movie shot in my backyard,’” says executive producer Johnathan Brownlee.
“A lot of these people want the film industry to succeed here,” says Brownlee, who moved to the area in 2010. “I really love the people here. I love the ease of living here, the affordability. The door is always open for business.”
But, according to Brownlee, something Dallas hasn’t been able to do is build a formidable film and television industry.
Unlike the East or West coasts, Dallas doesn’t typically secure a great deal of financing. And it doesn’t have the facilities or infrastructure that would entice filmmakers. When big productions like the TV show Dallas are shooting in town, all of South Side Studios is occupied.
However, Brownlee has made it his mission to pull together his own crew and find the space they need to make this movie, working around Lake Highlands, Oak Cliff and Dallas Love Field airport. Occupy, Texas is bringing work to Dallas, acting as something of an “economic stimulus” for an otherwise anemic industry.
What’s more, all locations have been donated (houses, hotels, the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park), and local businesses such as Panavision Dallas have given the production team great rates to stay within budget. Occupy has even hired five interns from Booker T. Washington, where Gallerano attended high school.
The movie itself is a coming-of-age comedy for adults. (Think Little Miss Sunshine, with an emphasis on the darker laughs.) The protagonist is a guy in his 30s, the golden child in his family who is about to become a lawyer. But instead of taking the expected route of securing a reliable job at a firm, he finds himself joining the Occupy Wall Street movement. When he suddenly hears that his parents were killed in a car crash, leaving behind his two younger sisters, he returns home to Dallas.
“It’s an indigenous project, a Dallas project, so you don’t have to fake a lot of things,” Brownlee says. “I’m really excited for people to see this movie say, ‘Hey, that was the movie shot in my backyard.’”
The crew filmed a single day at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan earlier this spring and will wrap here on August 2. The plan is to do a festival run (SXSW, Tribeca, etc.) and then have a Texas premiere before a wider theatrical release.
Occupy, Texas is just one project in a much grander vision. “We are hoping that as we bring more projects here, we can form these formal partnerships and make a major economic impact in jobs and money into the local economy,” Brownlee says.