Texas' state motto is "friendship." With a saying like that, was there ever any doubt that "My Generation," the new, fall ABC drama about a reuniting group of friends, would be filmed here?
If that seems a little touchy-feely, there's our experienced crew base and the attractive incentives Texas offers to film and television producers who set up shop here (since the production would be spending well over $5 million in Texas — Texas Film Commission director Bob Hudgins puts the revenue "My Generation" will be pumping into the local economy at an educated guess of about $2 million per episode — it qualifies for incentives equaling a 15 percent cash rebate on expenditures). Noah Hawley, the show's creator, specifically set the faux-documentary checking up on a group of Austin high school students 10 years later here, and his wife hails from the area, too.
It was in the bag, right?
"They were going to North Carolina," says Bob Hudgins, director of the Texas Film Commission.
"I set the pilot in Austin," says Noah Hawley, the show's creator. "ABC wanted me to look at North Carolina ... but creatively it just didn't work."
It seems that North Carolina could "seem" to be Texas, but only Texas can "be" Texas. Take that, Tar Heel state!
The way Hawley poeticizes Austin, it's no surprise that the creative types won out over the bean counters.
"I wanted to choose a place that was not L.A. or New York, that felt like it had a real cultural life to it," Hawley told me in March while he was here shooting the series' pilot episode. "It needed to be someplace ... that you're going to want to come back to after college. And someplace where if you have smart, creative, ambitious people and they want to make their mark on the world, you know, you have to believe that it's a place that they would go, and Austin certainly feels like that place to me."
When it seemed as if creative vision might not seal the deal, Hudgins, whose job is to extol the virtues of Texas to film and television production companies, pulled out the big, Texas-sized guns. He hooked up Bob Simon, "My Generation's" line producer (read: bean counter) with Nan Bernstein, producer of "Friday Night Lights."
"She's got an episodic TV series that she's been doing here going onto her fifth year, and she can talk about real costs of what she's able to realize here versus somewhere else. She's worked all over the place," Hudgins says. "Forty-eight hours later, they were here."
For her part, Bernstein rifles off a dizzying flurry of statistics about mobility, Panavision trucks, trailers, campers and costs to transport equipment. "It's not just incentives," she says. "A lot of studios look at budgets and just compare line items, but things like a great crew don't show up on a budget, and our ‘Friday Night Lights' crew is savvy beyond belief."
Hudgins credits Bernstein's practical experience with selling the production on filming in Austin, but adds that the local film community backed her up by delivering the goods.
"They did come and do the pilot here, and Bob Simon had a great experience," Hudgins explains.
Production on the series will create more than 200 crew jobs in Austin, according to Hudgins, roughly the same number that will vanish when "Friday Night Lights" closes up this summer (that show is currently filming its fifth and presumably final — pending only an official announcement — season here). A 100,000-plus square foot converted cold storage warehouse near the airport will serve as a production base for the show. "We're converting that into stages and offices, and we're very excited about it," Hawley says. "They just got the air conditioning working again which, as you can tell, is pretty critical."
Beginning July 15, episodes currently being scripted will shoot there and at other locations throughout the city. Though parts of the Driskill Hotel and the Capitol make stellar stand-ins for Washington, D.C., in the premiere episode, precious little else of Austin is recognizable.
"In the pilot, I sort of wrote to the characters more than writing to the place," Hawley says. "But certainly, in the series, I'm already sort of thinking about how to really capture the flavor, the culture of the city.
"There are some things you have to get," he adds. "I mean, you sort of have to communicate what Barton Springs is, you know?"
Hawley's efforts to have the characters interact with the city in a realistic way mean that the production will also be taking advantage of local events.
"When ACL comes to town, or the film festival or UT games or whatever, we want to try to be out there shooting the real world as opposed to some fictionalized place where these fake people live," he explains, "to really try to blur the line between fiction and reality."
If Hawley's goal is to blur fantasy and reality, ABC made the right call.