Whenever you watch a commercial, TV show or movie, there’s a possibility that some of it was shot in McKinney – and that local businesses and the city earned revenue from that filmmaking.
An ad currently running nationwide for the firm Fast Signs was made here, as was a commercial for Grapevine’s Great Wolf Lodge. The recent Selena Gomez movie “Monte Carlo” features McKinney in its opening sequences. And, the critically acclaimed movie “True Stories” by musician David Byrne is set in a fictional North Texas town named Virgil, but its downtown parade scene doesn’t look fictional at all: It’s McKinney.
It’s fun to spot your hometown in movie scenes, of course, but there’s more to it than that. Filmmaking is a serious business, both in terms of the jobs provided and the money spent locally when filming takes place.
McKinney offers a beautiful downtown, convenient transportation, photo-ready locations throughout the city, and a wellconnected infrastructure of people and services to quickly cater to filmmakers’ needs.
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship: The city and its residents reap enormous rewards by providing these services to those who film here.
“Although most people think about television and film production in a community in terms of the power of the images that end up on the screen or the opportunity for a local citizen to grab a role in a major production, the real impact is economic,” says Evan Fitzmaurice, Director of the Texas Film Commission.
“The typical network or cable television show often spends upwards of $1 million per episode, and a typical reality show upward of hundreds of thousands” of dollars, Fitzmaurice says. “Those dollars end up in the pockets of local vendors for lumber, hotels, rental cars, wages to crew and cast, location fees, and the list goes on.
“Given the environmentally friendly nature of film and television production, these productions arrive, they spend money, and then they leave a neighborhood untouched – but with the benefit of the expenditures left behind,” Fitzmaurice says.
Janis Burklund, Director of the Dallas Film Commission, said that from October 2010 to September 2011, her office tracked 292 productions with an accumulated 3,555 shoot days in the North Texas region.
“Those projects accounted for approximately $100 million in direct spending, and an economic impact of approximately $230 million,” she says. “Economic impact is calculated at 2.3 times the direct spend for this region. Some areas receive more or less economic impact depending on their infrastructure (i.e. crews, camera and lighting equipment, trucks, studios, etc.).”
When communities such as McKinney already have that infrastructure in place, the economic benefit remains local.
Burklund notes that while the Dallas Film Commission is part of the City of Dallas, the movie-making industry does not see city borders – which benefits the entire area.
“To (filmmakers), this is all one big sandbox, and we help them find what they need regardless of where they need to be in the region,” Burlund says. “What’s good for Dallas is good for the region, and vice versa.”
It’s impossible to discuss filmmaking in McKinney without mentioning the granddaddy of all movies made here, “Benji,” the heartwarming 1974 film by Joe Camp. The film is nearly 40 years old yet remains influential and remarkably popular. Last year, in fact, Oprah Winfrey announced that “Benji” was her all-time favorite onscreen animal. Its long-reaching effects have continued in McKinney, too. Younger filmmakers have fond memories of the movie, and it directly leads some to occasionally seek out McKinney’s tree-lined streets and historic downtown for their own projects.
Molly Brewer, who owns B Innovative Creative and manages production services for companies that come to work in McKinney, says it’s no coincidence that filmmakers seek out the community.
“McKinney is a great backdrop, but it’s better than most locations because it’s very people-friendly and welcoming in addition to its excellent looks,” Brewer says.
Brewer explains that the permitting process is simple and the city’s internal communication and infrastructure are outstanding, making it easy to get people where they need to go and, just as important, linking filmmakers and their crews with people who can provide what is needed.
She says city officials, downtown merchants, police and other groups needed for smooth execution of filming are wellversed in what is needed – and communicate well together.
“I’ve worked on projects in a lot of places, and McKinney makes it easy to work here. It’s a guided, helpful process, and it’s very friendly,” Brewer says.
Other movies filmed partially in McKinney – just to name a few – include “A Promise to Carolyn,” a true-life crime drama featuring Delta Burke that garnered critical praise, and “An American Story,” a popular post-WWII drama.
Another movie filmed here was “A Killing in a Small Town,” for which actress Barbara Hershey won Emmy and Golden Globe awards. In a fascinating case of fact-meets-fiction, the real-life story was based on the infamous Candace Montgomery murder of Betty Gore in 1980, and some filming was done at the location of the actual trial, the former Collin County Courthouse (now the McKinney Performing Arts Center).
The city is no stranger to filming for TV, as well. Perhaps the most famous TV show was “Walker, Texas Ranger,” for which McKinney played host numerous times, but there are literally dozens of shows – not to mention countless TV commercials and documentaries – that have benefited from the city’s scenic locations and professional infrastructure.
One of the more popular TV series in recent years was “Prison Break,” a drama about a man framed in a conspiracy who later escapes death row and goes on the run with his brother.
An episode of “Prison Break” was filmed in McKinney for the 2006 season and a number of residents were hired to work on the set and act as extras. One extra, Rikki Foster, was a McKinney High School student at the time. He saw the crew filming a scene in Pecan Grove Cemetery and, out of curiosity, asked if he could assist with the work or appear on the show.
Foster reports, “I was surprised when they said, ‘Sure! We’ll need people tomorrow when we film on the Square, and if you can come back then, we’d love to have you.’”
He went downtown the next day and joined a scene featuring several of the show’s characters walking along busy streets. “They said we could wear anything that didn’t have brand names on it,” Foster says. “There was a wardrobe truck for people to change into other clothes if necessary.”
He says his few seconds on television amounted to seven hours of work, and when the day was over, he was thanked for his assistance and given a check on the spot.
“It came out to about $10 an hour,” laughs Foster. “I thought that was pretty cool just for walking up and down the street and enjoying the fun of seeing how a TV show is filmed.”
So, if you happen to come across a film set when you’re in one of McKinney’s scenic spots or beautiful neighborhoods, don’t be too surprised: Movie-makers quite frequently make unique local art with dividends that benefit the entire community.
About the author: Christopher Foster is a writer and photographer living in McKinney. It suits him just fine to be behind a camera rather than in front of it.