By Kelley Collopy-Hankins
Why Texas? Once you get here you’ll know.
I was transplanted in 1994 due to a shortage of scenics and signwriters after finishing Jason’s Lyric.
A surprising number of arrivals from L.A. now consider Texas home having discovered how different and laid back it is.
Mike Leonard is a leadman who lives both in L.A. and Dallas. For him it was the diverse scenery of forest, desert, mountains, rivers and cities.
“When it’s time to settle, Texas is a great place to work and live. California has Hollywood but it’s all about making movies – all the time. So what’s a smart boy or girl to do? Cities begin looking the same. Civilized accoutrements of modern trashurbia. There is an illuminating beauty in the miles and miles of Texas. It has inspired many because it can transform your spirit.”
Overall the work is steady. Having a scene shop to crank out backdrops and sets works for me and my husband Archie. Just for a change of pace, Archie will go to the East or West Coast and build sets while I maintain the studio and the kids.
There are major metros – Austin, Dallas, Houston or San Antonio with nearby small towns where you’ll find working ranches, farms, incredible food, and terrific folks. And the music is world-renowned.
You get the big city and little town within a 30-mile radius. Location managers find the ability to achieve many different looks within a short period of time. We get a lot of repeat business; just ask Billy Bob Thornton.
Dwayne Grady, prop master on All the Pretty Horses kept getting shows in Texas, living here off and on for the last 5 years before relocating. Austin caught his eye.
“The city has a positive quality of life for raising my three kids, and an expanding film community. There are superb neighborhoods, schools, parks, a low crime rate and a great cost of living. Traffic seldom jams. It’s a dream for any parent. Austin has become the major hub for post production,” said Grady.
The shortage of property masters was Grady’s sign that Texas would be lucrative. Most important, fall in love with Texas, and fall in love – Dwayne met wonderful and talented Stephanie Barnett.
After any show wraps, someone from L.A. is always moving here or buying property. Crew members that live in Texas migrated here from all over the world. Aside from former Californians, there are East Coasters, Midwesterners, Europeans, Mexicans, you name it. There are studio mechanics born and raised in Texas that run crews and work on shows. There are enough productions to offer stable support for existing crews and the new arrivals. Those who settle — freshly burned out from big city life — relish the moral fiber that makes it so Americana.
Now you’ve read some good things about Texas. Consider a back up plan if you move here. Work is usually steady, but when it gets slow, either hit the road, collect unemployment, or do something related to your craft that is not film. Wages are lower, at least $6 – $10 per hour less than L.A. But there is no state tax taken from your check if you are a Texas resident. It’s the lower cost of living that makes it possible. Gas prices, for example, are the cheapest around at a buck forty-eight for regular.
When working on a project, Texas locals usually have to provide their own housing. We have a union, how can we put up with that? Negotiate your own deal. A lot of shows are in major cities, namely Austin. You’re much better off if you live near a production city. Production companies will put you up if everyone goes to distant location but after ten years experience of renting every kind of place under the sun (and writing it off on taxes) it was time to cut the bill. For construction of The Alamo, my husband Archie invested in an RV which has proven to be cost effective.
During the “Mo” hiatus, he hitched up and it was off to L.A. for Kill Bill. Returning to Texas, I took it 100 miles from home to work in Austin on Secondhand Lions then to the Hill Country on The Alamo.
Ready for a change and an adventure? Texas might be the place for you.
By Kelley Collopy-Hankins