Mike Blizzard Tracks Local History in 'Also Starring Austin'

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Bus station in Slacker

For those of us who get our kicks seeing how many locations in locally shot films we recognize (see my Miss Congeniality review), producer/political consultant Mike Blizzard (No No: A Dockumentary) is currently working on a project along those lines entitled Also Starring Austin

Still in the works, this documentary will include clips from feature films, TV shows, shorts or music videos filmed in town to show the changes in Austin through the years. Slackerwood has already reviewed some of the movies (Don's review of Roadie is another example), but some are a bit harder to find. Also Starring Austin will also include interviews with people from the Austin film community.

In an interview we conducted by email, Blizzard, a current member of the Austin Film Society Board of Directors, explained more about the project.

Stills from Outlaw Blues and RoadieSlackerwood: How did you conceive of the idea for Also Starring Austin?

Mike Blizzard: The idea began to germinate with a series of conversations with a friend about the Top Ten movies filmed in Austin. She was thinking about including it in a class she was teaching. Then in 2012 I went to an AFS screening of Roadie (1980), which stars Meat Loaf, who was being inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame. There's a chase scene through downtown and you could just feel the audience wanting to press pause to see what was there at the time.

That clicked something in my mind and I started talking to Louis Black and Rebecca Campbell and others about the idea of stringing together scenes from locally shot films to demonstrate change in Austin over time.

Then Chale Nafus told me about a film, Los Angeles Plays Itself. That film has a very different agenda, but watching it really broadened my concept of what Also Starring Austin could be. Rather than just an examination of physical changes, it could also explore a sense of place and culture.

How long have you been working on the project? Where are you in the process?

Blizzard: We started work in December 2012 when I hired Lara Morgan, who's a programming apprentice at Austin Film Society. We compiled a list of locally shot films from a variety of sources, and then started watching and tagging them for a number of items, including exterior locations, iconic businesses, notable persons, interesting discontinuities. At this point we've identified around 200 films and watched and tagged the vast majority. We've also lined up interviews with local film industry insiders like Elizabeth Avellan, Louis Black, former Texas Film Commission director Tom Copeland, Sonny Carl Davis, Richard Linklater and others. We hope to shoot those interviews this fall.

Are you familiar with Vanishing Austin? What are your thoughts on the changing face of our town?

Blizzard: Yes, I've seen that site and their photos around town. There is also a book that came out last year by John Slate (Conspiracy-a-Go-Go guy from Slacker) called Lost Austin. I'm really into that kind of thing but also cautious not to glorify the past too much. Growth has been good and bad for Austin.

I think it's when growth becomes overheated and people are moving here for primarily economic reasons is when it can feel destructive. I'd say the late '90s tech boom felt like that, and to be honest, right now feels like that. The culture of Austin is resilient, though, and I think you definitely see that in many of these films.

What's been your favorite video find so far?

That's a tough one. I'd say Outlaw Blues (1978) starring Peter Fonda and Susan Saint James is definitely up there. There's a chase scene on the rooftops around Congress Avenue that is mind blowing. We also found the original 16mm A and B rolls of The Tomato That Ate Cleveland! (1974) and had them transferred to HD. Director Bruce Maness is now piecing it back together and I'm really looking forward to seeing that. I also like Ruta Wakening (1996), which is set at the original Ruta Maya on 4th St., because that was sort of my slacker era and I know or recognize almost everyone in that film.

Anything else you'd like to add?

There are certain things that leap out at you in watching so many of these films. One is how many early '80s films used a visual of an empty road just outside of town, often with armadillos scampering on it. Nearly the exact same image appears in Roadie (1980), Blood Simple (1984) and The Clash's "Rock the Casbah" video (1982) [embedded below]. You'd be hard pressed to even find such a visual today.

Another is how many films over the years have people arriving here by bus. Of course there's the opening scene of Slacker, where Linklater arrives by bus [pictured at top], but the Peter Gallagher character in Soderbergh's The Underneath (1995) arrives by bus, Ellen Page's character in Whip It (2009) arrives by bus, the list goes on and on.

I've also been relatively fascinated by the changes in Austin during the '90s and how Slacker and Office Space sort of bookend that decade. I'd say the traffic-clogged, office-park tech culture in Office Space would have been largely unrecognizable as Austin culture at all to the Slacker audience just nine years before, which really demonstrates how rapid the pace of change was during that decade.

Also Starring Austin is an AFS Fiscally Sponsored project.

[Still from Outlaw Blues via FilmFanatic, Roadie via MUBI]