The way Adena Lewis tells it, all the cowboys in Smithville look just like Harry Connick, Jr. That’s her story, and the Smithville Area Chamber of Commerce President is sticking to it.
Eleven years ago, the historic community of 5,000 southeast of Bastrop was selected as the location for the 1998 film “Hope Floats,” starring Connick and Sandra Bullock.
The movie put the tiny town on the map, boosting its tourism industry with a megadose of silver screen advertising. And for many Smithville residents, the experience was unforgettable.
“It was so exciting,” Lewis said. “Our town was very receptive. You had to get used to streets being blocked and a little bit of change, but everybody enjoyed meeting the wonderful people who came through town.”
Nine years later, Smithville leaders passed an ordinance designating their town as a “Film Friendly” community, a program designed by the Texas Film Commission to hook up movie, commercial and video production teams with rural set locations.
“When you set up this ordinance and become film friendly, you’re basically saying to the industry that you encourage them to come and do business in your town,” Lewis said.
Like Smithville and other rural Texas communities who have joined the program, the city of Buda is hoping to throw itself into the path of a feature film – or barring that, commercials and video game productions that could help swell the city’s tax coffers in the midst of a tough economy.
“When they do come calling you have a template ready to go,” said Buda Economic Development Director Warren Ketteman.
To receive the Film Friendly designation, at least one city representative must attend a one-day training course, and the city must collect at least 10 photos of sites throughout the area. The city council then must approve an ordinance establishing logistical information such as fee schedules and regulations.
Last week, Buda councilmembers voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance making Buda a Film Friendly community, pending final review of the fee schedule.
For Smithville, that move paid off again. Soon after passing the ordinance, Smithville landed “Tree of Life,” a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn scheduled for release late this year.
“It’s important to have a program in place so you can give rapid fire answers,” Lewis said. “I think we would have been out of the hunt if we hadn’t been organized.”
The “Tree of Life” production company spent $779,000 in Smithville, and off-duty crew members, media watchers and other associated visitors also pulled out their wallets in local shops, restaurants and motels. All told, that translated to a 17 percent increase in sales tax the first month they were there.
“It was a terrific boon to our economy,” Lewis said of the production.