Texas filmmaking behind the scenes: MPS Studios delivers Hollywood with a Texas flair
by Jill McCoy
Strategically placed, away from the noise of Dallas highways and out of the flight patterns of the city’s major airports, is an unassuming warehouse that belies nothing of the glamor-centric hustle and bustle happening inside its plain beige walls. Just as unassuming as MPS Studios’ storefront are its owners, Mark and Brad Beasley. The brothers were born just 13 months apart to Johnny Beasley, an immigrant from England who, remarkably, sailed to the shores of America on a United States cargo ship called the USS Producer. By 1949, he had made his way to Dallas where he went to work as an animator for Jamison Film Company. He then married and started a family, eventually going on to executive produce for Century Studios, affording his young sons an early opportunity to learn the business.
It was 1979 when Mark Beasley decided he didn’t like the slap-dash way equipment was thrown together in the back of a van on the way to film sets at Texas locations. It lacked the organization and professionalism he had seen in Hollywood and New York. Mark wanted to make Dallas an attractive marketplace for big budget productions, so he built the first grip truck ever used in the state. (Grip is the term given to the equipment that supports lighting and camera.) With a vehicle laid out specifically to carry this equipment, Mark could now support his customers in a more efficient, polished manner. From that single vision, Mobile Production Services (MPS) was born and today boasts a fleet of 25 trucks and the capacity to send equipment packages specific to the needs of all types of productions anywhere in the United States. And that’s only the beginning.
Over the years, Mark and Brad have amassed an astounding depth of inventory that can meet the needs of any film project, from commercial to full-length feature. Whether a filmmaker prefers to shoot using the latest digital technology or classic film style, they have four dozen cameras, over a hundred different lenses and a thousand-plus filters to choose from. Miles of warehouse are dedicated to storage of these cameras and the supporting grip equipment items with fun little names like dollies, jibs, flags, lunch boxes, and a finger. The brothers agree that what sets this company apart is the staff of highly skilled professionals who maintain, repair, and consult on the equipment.
The areas not packed with equipment allow for an astounding 65,000 square feet of set space and additional amenities to accommodate a full crew, such as wardrobe rooms, makeup salons, green rooms, dressing rooms, kitchens and office space. “Our sets are similar to a hotel ballroom, in that we offer a blank slate and customize the space for every single job,” says Meredith Stephens, magician and vice president of business development. (She’s earned the title of magician by pulling rabbits out of hats – metaphorically speaking, of course – for her bosses and clients on a regular basis.) One 8,000 square foot studio was designed so that client Peterbilt could drive their semi-trucks through the door. The space has also obliged airplanes, horses, the giraffe and elephant who starred in a Texas Lotto commercial, and a shark tank for a KISS video. One wave of Meredith the Magician’s wand, and that very same space magically becomes the comfortable interior of a five room home for some lucky on-screen family. The smallest studio is 900 square feet, and with the push of a button reveals a full service industrial restaurant-grade kitchen, which makes it an ideal location for restaurant commercials where they can prepare the food and then get it on film while it’s still hot.
About five years ago, after realizing there was a gap in services in the independent film market, MPS opened Lucid Post, a post-production editing facility that handles all stages of production after filming is complete, such as picture and sound quality and special effects. This and their fairly recent distribution branch, Indigenous Film Works, are just two of the many ways MPS has reached out to filmmakers who don’t have the financial support of large studios. While they may not generate much in the way of revenue for the company, it does help local independent filmmakers finish out their projects here in Texas. “We are blessed to have a market that has a lot of independent filmmakers in it,” says Mark. “It helps to go home at night knowing you just sold the farm so someone could come in and do their film. You just hope that it’s a success so they will come back.”
Keeping local talent here in the area is important to the brothers and they’ve done their best to lay the foundation so that the rising tide will view Dallas as a viable alternative to Los Angeles or New York. MPS has employed interns from area colleges like UNT, TCU, SMU, and Baylor. Not only do they take the time to train the students for their future careers, they also help them with their film projects. “We enjoy helping the students,” says Brad. “We give them a big discount and we treat them like adults.” They remember all too well what it was like to be young and trying to make it in the business.
And their desire to serve and commitment to the community doesn’t stop at the industry door. Numerous not-for-profits, such as Susan G. Komen, have used their facilities free of charge to tape their public service announcements. While they seemed reluctant to talk much about their good deeds, Mark did say this before changing the subject: “It comes with the territory. We love Texas and Dallas. We’re all about this state. Anything that we see that we can help promote, we are all about it.”
MPS was a founding member of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance, an advocacy organization to promote The Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program. “The impact of the program has been tremendous,” says Stephens. “We’ve put in a lot of time and energy into bringing this program to Texas.” While MPS doesn’t benefit directly from the incentives, the program brings a remarkable amount of revenue into the state from which many local businesses, both in the industry and outside of it, will see profits. Stephens goes on to say that, “from an economic development standpoint, it’s been very positive statewide.” She cites the TV seriesPrison Break as spending $2.2 million in the state every eight days. Without the tax break, local business wouldn’t have profited.
And as for anyone who might be concerned that Dallas is getting a little too Hollywood: That’s not anything we should worry about, says Brad. “Hollywood is Hollywood and Texas is Texas. We will do it Texas style and make it unique to us – and we’ll do it better!”