Robert Sims is a top-flight radio guy who uses our medium to enlighten listeners about other media here in Austin … film, books about film, video, festivals, etc. We spoke on August 26.
Michael A. Brown: Talk about the history and evolution of your show, Lights, Camera, Austin.
Robert Sims: I have a background in writing about film going back to the 1980s, and later doing on-line film journalism and reviews. I moved to Austin in 2009 and my wife came across a recruitment ad for KOOP. I checked it out, liked what I heard, and joined the station. After training, I wrote a proposal for Lights, Camera, Austin and it was accepted. At first I wasn’t sure I could fill a half hour every week, but after 6 weeks, I had more guests than I could air, so the show eventually expanded to a full hour and has been running ever since … almost 13 years.
MAB: Tell us about some of your favorite cinematic guests and your interviews with them.
RS: Two in particular come to mind. The first major star I had on the show was Lou Ferrigno, Jr., who played The Incredible Hulk. I grew up with that show, so it was a thrill to chat with one of my childhood idols about the show and his work after The Incredible Hulk. Then, about four years ago, Ethan Hawke was on for a full half hour. He had just directed a film called “Blaze” about the singer-songwriter Blaze Foley. He brought along the musician Ben Dickey, who played Blaze Foley. After the interview, we went into Studio Two where Ben recorded a live version of the song “Blaze & Sybil’s Lullaby” from the show. We included it on the mix tape for a KOOP Membership Drive. (Sidebar: the Fall 2022 Membership Drive starts Sept. 9 … please make a donation!)
MAB: Even with made-for-media shows, there still are successful big-screen film productions. How do producers decide whether to release on-line or in theaters?
RS: Pre-Covid, there was a push to get the bigger titles released in both, but the emphasis remained on the big screen. Then when Covid hit, studios began to experiment more with digital-on-demand. What we’re seeing now is a shorter theatrical window. For example, a film called “Nope” opened in theaters only a month ago and it’s already available on-line too. Another factor is that to recover some of the money that went into big-budget movies, studios had to sell those films to streamers like Netflix and Amazon. The streamers were fine with that because they needed new content. Now, people ARE going back to the movie theaters … not as many as before the pandemic … and mostly it’s to see the super-blockbuster films. The mid-budget productions are still mainly on-line. I predict that studios and producers will decide where to release on a title-by-title basis.
MAB: Pre-pandemic, we often would hear and read stories about Austin as a hot-spot for film and video and commercial production. How about nowadays?
RS: While the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program (TMIIIP) was still robust, we were getting a lot of major film productions coming to town. But that program has been cut back over the years and other states like Georgia, Louisiana, and New Mexico are offering bigger incentives, so many films are being made there instead. Some of them were set in Texas, but were not shot here, including the Tom Hanks film “News of the World” and “Vengeance” by B.J. Novak. Still, Austin has a very strong film community, including Robert Rodriguez, who is filming “Spy Kids 5” here (partly in the Mueller neighborhood) and Richard Linklater made “Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Adventure.” Most other Austin-produced films are micro-budget shows. But TMIIIP is mostly designed to attract TV shows to film in the state, which is why AMC’s “The Son” and “Fear the Walking Dead” shot here in Austin in recent years. The big-name TV show currently shooting in Austin is the “Walker” reboot, which stars Jared Pahttps://koop.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/GFT-Harper-Madison-scaled-e1590807538934-1.jpgcki.
MAB: Which Austin locations do filmmakers like and tend to choose?
RS: They almost always show Congress Avenue with the Paramount Theater to set the Austin scene, and sometimes 6th Street or Zilker Park. I’ve also seen shots of Austin greenbelt areas, and there have been films shot in Smithville and Bastrop.
MAB: Besides filmmakers and authors, you also speak with festival producers. What are you hearing from them now that live events are happening again?
RS: They are very happy. Some of the major festivals will be offered as “hybrid events,” which means live plus virtual streaming as well. We’re talking about South by Southwest, Fantastic Fest, and similar sized festivals because they can afford to do that. But smaller, local festivals can’t do both so I expect they will focus on live events only. The crowds may be smaller than before Covid but being back live is a step forward and producers are optimistic about the future.
You can enjoy Robert Sims’ show, Lights, Camera, Austin, every Tuesday at 6pm.
Interview by Michael A. Brown