LOS ANGELES, March 18 (UPI) -- Cities and states across America routinely angle to get a slice of the Hollywood production pie, but a Texas town recently ejected a production company shooting an independent feature -- allegedly because the central character is gay.
Producer Kim Fishman told United Press International the picture -- "Fat Girls" -- had verbal approval from the City of Canton to film there in January, but the approval was withdrawn after city officials learned that the movie was a coming-of-age story about a gay high school senior in a small Texas town.
Canton City Manager Charles R. Fenner said, however, that producers were free to shoot "Fat Girls" on private property in Canton but that they had not secured necessary approval for such operations as blocking off streets with sawhorses -- a common practice for filming on location.
Ash Christian, who wrote, directed and starred in "Fat Girls," said the last-minute change of plans led to a huge logistical challenge.
"Everything was lined up," he said. "Locations were paid for, the hotel was arranged, tons of meals were ordered, and we had talent flying in from Los Angeles and New York."
Fishman said the production managed to make arrangements to shoot in Waxahachie but sustained a significant economic loss.
"We were on such a tight schedule and on such a tight budget, you can imagine all the money we had already spent getting ready for Canton," she said. "We didn't get as great of a deal (in Waxahachie)."
Fishman said producers had secured lodging for cast and crew in Canton at the Buffalo Girl's Hotel -- with especially favorable rates, given that the rooms were otherwise going unused.
"(In Waxahachie) we had to stay at a Days Inn," she said. "Also, we had an RV that the hotel lady at Canton was going to let us borrow for a makeup trailer, and we lost that as well."
Such are the concerns of small-budget moviemaking.
Fishman would not say precisely what the production's budget was, but she said it was what the Screen Actors Guild calls an experimental film -- which means the budget was below $50,000.
"A lot of what we did is based on favors and deferments, so our deferred budget is a lot higher," she said. "We have a lot of people who believe in the project who dedicated their time and labor."
The deferred compensation is contingent upon the future sale of the movie to a distributor. Still, once "Fat Girls" had to fold up its tent in Canton, Fishman had to go back to her original investors and explain to them that she needed more money.
"Every movie budget puts in a contingency for flexibility," she said, "but how can you budget something like this?"
Fishman and Christian remain convinced that the only reason they were unable to shoot as planned in Canton was the subject matter of the film.
"This has to do with discrimination," said Fishman.
"They (Canton officials) were just so supportive and so nice until they found out that the character was gay," said Christian, "and everything just changed."
Fenner insisted that, officially, Canton's problem with the production was just about permits and proper procedure for getting them. But he conceded that there were those in the city who had a problem with the subject matter.
"As people found out about the controversial issues," he said, "I'm sure attitudes were certainly changed."
Christian, a native of Paris, Texas, estimated that Canton's decision cost the city's economy about $20,000.
"In Texas, that's a lot of money," he said.
Fenner said he had not received any complaints from Canton merchants about economic losses. But he said he has received communications -- some of which he characterized as "nasty" -- from people and groups sympathetic to the production company.
Fishman said the film community in Texas wanted her to keep quiet about what happened in Canton, due to fears that it might cause other filmmakers to avoid shooting in the Lone Star State.
Christian acknowledged that publicity surrounding the incident should help "Fat Girls" in the marketplace, but he said that isn't why he and the producers are making an issue of it.
"I was totally outraged the day that I found out about this," he said. "I called (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and a couple of different organizations -- mainly to get the word out there that discrimination is still happening out there in Texas and we're not going to stand for it."
Christian's fondest wish for "Fat Girls" is that it might find the same level of success as "Napoleon Dynamite," one of 2004's biggest independent movie hits.
"I would love to have the same run as them -- the same money and the same exposure," he said. "(The) Sundance (film festival), of course, is always a wish for a young indie filmmaker."
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