Interactive Exhibit Reveals Colorful Legacy of Dallas Filmmaking

From Texas Standard:

Long before Dallas had an eponymous hit television show, it was a hub for commercial and industrial film production. A new exhibit from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image, or TAMI, shows how the city’s role as a home base for many large corporations has contributed to its emergence as a major player in entertainment production.

Katharine Austin of TAMI curated the exhibition “Mavericks and (M)ad Men: The Industrial Film Legacy of Dallas”. The interactive collection is made up of examples taken from the TAMI files.

Hear snippets of some of Austin’s favorite examples from the interview in the audio player above, or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Texas Standard: What’s distinct here is that these short-lived films, for lack of a more concise description, are often made for certain large corporations, right? You found many Texas-based companies that were pioneers in some of these industrial films made in Dallas.

Katherine Austin: You do. And so the type of commercial film production can encompass so many things: so it can be in or newsreels and government films and industrial films at first, but then it becomes television commercials and marketing and promotional films, even television programs.

And there’s the synergy of having so many companies based in Texas where you have Dr. Pepper or Frito-Lay or Lone Star Beer. Dallas’ cinematic roots really go back to the beginning of cinema. There’s the Wheelan-Loper Film Company of Dallas and San Antonio which was established in 1908, movies were made there throughout the 1940s, but it turned out to be operating in Dallas.

You’re not just talking about ads then; you’re talking about films that would be shown to employees, educational films, that sort of thing?

You have Marine Corps recruiting films, marketing films that would be given to product distributors to introduce them to the new product marketing campaign, industry films that show how to use this new technology to companies that might want to buy it . One of the films in the exhibit is called “The Computer Tutor” from 1966, and you showcase this new computer technology that will revolutionize the office.

Personally, I think this is one of our best content in the collection. Our website has over 5,000 videos. It was hard to narrow down some of my favorites for this, but my favorite is probably a Dr. Pepper commercial from the 1960s.

And there’s also a great marketing movie for Pearl Beer called “Pearl’s a Poppin”. There’s this whole legacy of industrial films that are also musicals, and this one is one of them. And so it is this quartet of artists who present Pearl Beer’s new marketing campaign.

How did this turn into a bigger movie industry in Dallas? Were you able to connect the dots there?

A lot of these production houses are full studio concepts: you have directors, you have producers, you have writers, you have animator editors. And so everyone comes to Dallas. And so you have the talent here to do that kind of work. And then these people train and go to different parts of the industry and other parts of the country, or they form their own production houses. It’s just kind of a multi-generational laying of the foundation.

Tell us a bit about how you organized this so people could experience this exhibit.

This exhibit is one of many programs we run in partnership with the Office of the Governor Texas Film Commission. This is also how we run our Texas Film Roundup program, where we digitize people’s film collections and educational resources for free.

Thus, the Texas Moving Image Archive exists largely only online, and we have curated several exhibits on various topics using images from our online collection. Probably the easiest way to find it is to go to the Texas Archive website, which is texasarchive.org. The San Antonio Express-News recently published an article online showing videos from our collection, many of which are our Dallas commercial film productions. And they call them, like, creaky vintage ads, and it’s like, no, but they’re cringe good! They are so much fun!

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