Fair Park is making quite a scene—or two—these days.
Things are getting tense in the courtroom. Suddenly a major brawl erupts and spills into the plaza outside. Whoosh---the bad guy is knocked into the reflecting pool! For the recent shoot of the Walker, Texas Ranger: Trial by Fire reunion movie for CBS, no ordinary set would do. The dramatic buildings of Fair Park were chosen by Chuck Norris and Paramount Network Television Company for their uniqueness and relevance to the plot, as we’ll explain later.
Fair Park is rapidly attaining celebrity status as a hot spot for film, commercial and print shoots. Billy Dean, Special Events Manager for Fair Park, has witnessed more than 100 shoots at Fair Park in the 28 years he’s been in his position. “We’ve filmed in almost every area—from the Cotton Bowl to the Texas Star Ferris wheel. Fair Park is a very flexible place. It can accommodate a photo spread shoot to a full movie. The buildings themselves are stars with their art deco design and tremendous flexibility.”
Says Janis Burkland, Director of the Dallas Film Commission, “This year we can account for 234 various shoots in Dallas. That’s a minimum of $57,000,000 in direct spending, 4,393 hotel room nights and that’s not nearly all the revenue. A typical shoot—say for Walker, Texas Ranger—ran about $10,000 per hour when I was location manager for the series, which ended filming in 2000. If a show shoots for 12 hours, the economic impact for Dallas really add up. We’re talking $54,000,000 from Walker over the course of the 2000, and an estimate of nearly half a billion dollars spent over the course of the show’s run. We show Fair Park regularly for potential films, television shows, commercials and still photo shoots. We definitely consider it one of our crown jewel locations.”
Fair Park Landmarks share in the spotlight.
For example, the Walker production company leased the Automobile Building, Centennial Building, Esplanade and Hall of State because all were close together and perfect for the flow of action. “By constructing an entire courtroom in the Hall of State,” says Billy, “the story went smoothly from reading the verdict to the outside Esplanade fight scene and reflecting pool.” The Automobile Building works well for many shoots because it can house tons of production equipment with room to spare, along with a spacious area for feeding cast and crew.
You might recognize the State Fair Midway and Coliseum from the 1990 movie, Problem Child” with John Ritter. Actually the midway scene was shot in spring, months before the Fair. Besides thousands of extras called in to make the fair atmosphere authentic, the producers paid the State Fair of Texas handsomely to get the rides going!
Commercials and catalogs add constant exposure.
A slew of Hasbro’s latest toy commercials were shot at the Automobile Building. Reebok recently produced a commercial on the Cotton Bowl turf. And remember the 2004 Ford Truck commercial with 5,000 pairs of Lucchese boots surrounding a truck? Done at the Centennial Building.
The Esplanade always makes a splash with ad agencies and film producers. Its 880,000 gallon reflecting pool lent panache to a recent Neiman Marcus swimsuit catalog and JCPenney catalog. Billy Dean has seen the water turned different colors for effect, from orange to red. “We tinted the water bluer for the Walker shoot to show up better in the night scene.” Ms. Burkland remembers one particular Walker, Texas Ranger episode filmed at the Esplanade. “We ran a group on horseback across the grounds and through that pool!”
One of the biggest challenges: something else is usually going on when shoots take place. “After the Walker shoot ended one evening,” recalls Billy, “the Fair Park Special Events crew spent the rest of the night setting up for a health fair for 20,000 people the next day!”Billy Dean has just received a call regarding a train robbery scene to be shot at the Age of Steam Railroad Museum. The producer wants to pop off some fake rounds of ammunition, so Billy must alert the Dallas Police Department. “It’s never a dull moment here. We’ve got a great group of people who’ll do whatever it takes—20-hour days are common—to make Fair Park a screen gem.”