By Matt Smithfirstname.lastname@example.org
Liz Franke calls it organized, more or less, chaos, this fourth night of filming at Billy Cate’s Chisholm Town near Lake Pat Cleburne.
Cate’s western motif town provides the perfect location for the movie, “Adventures of Bailey — A Night In Cowtown.” The movie marks the third Bailey film produced by Dallas husband and wife team Steve and Liz Franke.
At 7 p.m. Tuesday, it’s early for this bunch. They’ll likely be here all night.
“It’s been that way the last few days,” Cate said. “Last night they worked through till about 5 a.m.”
Crew members busy themselves with cameras, lights and cables. The actors, some alone, others in groups, run through lines of scenes scheduled to shoot tonight. The film’s lead stars bound about the set, sniff the ground here and there and let loose several barks.
“They have to run around and burn off some energy first,” Franke said just as Duke hops up to greet production assistant Sarah Keen with a kiss.
Bailey follows suit moments later.
Once on set, however, Bailey, Duke and their two fellow thespian canines exude professionalism.
The Franke’s two English Golden Retrievers starred in all three Bailey movies.
Here’s where it gets confusing.
“Bailey, who is a girl, plays Duke in the movies,” Liz said. “Since Duke’s a boy, Bailey also plays as a boy in the movie, but Duke, who plays Bailey in the movies, plays Bailey as a boy. Did you get all that?”
Bailey and Duke handle their acting name-switch roles with no problem, Liz said with a laugh, But keeping track of which pooch is which often confuses cast and crew members to no end.
“See, I started writing the script when Bailey was a puppy with the title of “Adventures of Bailey — The Lost Puppy.” Liz said. “By the time we were finally ready to make the movie Bailey was no longer a puppy. Duke, who’s a little younger, still was a puppy though so we used him, but changed the names. And, of course, I felt bad about Bailey getting booted, so I wrote a part for her.”
Steve and Liz write and produce the movies together, which Steve directs.
“It’s both chaos and a seamless blend,” Liz said, describing the process of writing with her spouse. “That road can get a bit bumpy, but we work well together overall. I’m more detail oriented where Steve is more the visionary for the overall film, so there’s a compliment.
“We don’t always agree on the script, but a lot of times, a situation like that, is where you come up with the best creative outcome.”
The Frankes describe the Bailey films as family films with something for both children and adults. The first is somewhat similar to “Homeward Bound” and “The Incredible Journey”, Liz said. Albeit with the twist of Bailey and Duke cavorting with zebras, camels and other exotic animals.
Each is professionally shot and feature length, running about 90 minutes.
Thanks to distribution deals in place through Engine 15 Media Group and Entertainment One, the first film is available through Blockbuster, BestBuy, Amazon.com, Netflix, iTunes, Redbox and other outlets. The same will be true for the soon-to-be-released Christmas film and the now filming “Night in Cowtown.”
“We wanted a direct line to the market,” Liz said. “Usually film festivals only want films that haven’t been picked up by a distributor yet. But the first one’s done great for a small independent film. It was No. 84 on iTunes and in their top 20 for kids and family films, which is great. It’s also been sold internationally, Europe, Latin America, Far East, where its done very well.”
Both Arlington natives, Liz graduated Texas Christian University with a degree in broadcast journalism and went on to work for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Dallas Morning News.
Steve earned an English degree with a minor in communications from the University of Oklahoma and later took summer film classes at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Liz pursued acting, she plays the mom in the first two Bailey movies.
“I always loved writing too,” Liz said. “That’s how the screenplays came about. I attended a lot of screen writing workshops and seminars.”
The Bailey movies mark a “complete change of pace” for the Frankes, Liz said.
“Steve liked horror films from the time he was a kid,” Liz said. “Me, never. But that’s where we started. He had me watch a lot of horror movies to get to know the genre, but they always scared me and I never liked them.”
The couple’s first two films, “Playing Dead” and “Serum” are decidedly different from the Bailey films, both said.
““Serum” does have Derek Phillips, the guy who played Billy Riggins on “Friday Night Lights,”” Liz said.
The switch occurred courtesy their Los Angeles distributor.
“They wanted family films, and films with dogs in particular,” Liz said. “Because both boys and girls, really everybody loves dogs. So, because I’m such a dog lover, I started writing scripts with dogs.”
Duke and Bailey supplied the obvious star power.
“Liz takes care of training the dogs and getting them ready,” Steve joked. “She’s better at that.”
Which is a full-time job. Liz joked that she took a break from acting in the new Bailey movie.
“We explain it as mom’s out of town in this movie,” Liz said. “And you know, when mom’s not around and dad’s in charge, chaos ensues. But this leaves me free to deal with the dogs and actors and everything else.”
“A Night In Cowtown” filmed in the Fort Worth Stockyards, Billy Bob’s Texas and Weatherford, Liz said. But the film called for another suitably western locale.
Billy Cate’s granddaughter, Brook Cate, a friend of Liz and Steve, provided the solution.
Chisholm Town is an old west town the Cates constructed on their property near Lake Pat.
“I was describing the movie [to Brook] and she said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’ve got to come out and meet Billy.’ So we went out there and saw the little town he has and were just completely blown away. It works perfectly for what we needed.”
Cate may sing in and narrate portions of the film, Liz said.
Two other dogs join Duke and Bailey in the new film. Jiff, a Pomeranian dog model and actor from Chicago amazed cast and crew members on set Tuesday night with his array of tricks. Though Jiff’s already a hit on YouTube and Facebook — facebook.com/jiffpom — “A Night In Cowtown” marks Jiff’s feature film debut.
Trixie, a rough collie, from Arlington also makes her acting debut.
“She’s like Lassie, only smarter,” said Patsy Haines, Trixie’s owner.
Patsy said she and her husband, Chuck, use Trixie in obedience classes and were approached by a talent agent about casting her in the film.
“What convinced me was seeing how much Liz and Steve love their dogs and take care in handling them and have such a passion for them and the films,” Patsy said. “That was important to me.”
Liz said she and Steve continue to write screenplays, family films, dramas and other genres. They plan to shoot two films next year, one involving a dog and the other a horse. There will no doubt be a fourth Bailey film, she said, but for now the couple want a change of pace from the series.
“I’m sure we’ll do more,” Liz said. “The reaction we’ve had from the first one has been great. The kids just love it which just melted our hearts and tickled us because we really didn’t know what to expect. I think it’s because it’s a feel good, positive movie that has a positive message but also delivers fun and entertainment for the whole family.”
Liz and Steve said they found Cleburne and the Cate family wonderful and welcoming and added they wouldn’t be surprised to find themselves filming in Cleburne again.
To watch trailers and learn more about the Franke’s films, visit www.hungrybearproductions.com.