When budding film producer Red Sanders graduated from TCU in 2004 with a radio-TV-film degree, many of his classmates were packing their bags to move to Los Angeles or New York. After all, those are the entertainment-industry capitals of America.
But something that David Minor, founding director of TCU’s Neeley Entrepreneurship Center, suggested stuck with him.
“He said, ‘Look, what if you planted the flag in Fort Worth and see what you can build here? Then go to L.A. when you can go on your own terms?’” Sanders remembers.
Sanders, now 32, followed that advice, and it seems to be paying off. His company, Red Productions — based in an office in the West 7th area — is releasing its second film, Balls Out, Friday.
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The comedy, shot in Austin by Fort Worth director Andrew Disney and set in the world of intramural football, stars Jake Lacy (The Office) and Saturday Night Live cast members Kate McKinnon, Jay Pharoah and Beck Bennett.
Balls Out, which was picked up for distribution by MGM/Orion, is opening theatrically in several markets across the country — including the Look Cinemas in Dallas as the lone North Texas venue — in addition to being available simultaneously through video-on-demand.
For Sanders, it’s the culmination of a decade of work.
“People in film school, everybody wants to be a director, right? I realized what I really loved was the producing side,” he said on a recent morning in his office. “Putting the whole team together, finding the talent and the scripts, and making it happen.”
He laughs, “I’m too ADD to actually focus on directing.”
The Grapevine High School grad, who was given the nickname “Red” because of his red hair and then used it as his name, made video projects and did deejaying to earn extra money during his school years. But he began to take it seriously after college.
Red Productions was launched to make commercials and corporate films. The company’s website includes spots for Tyler Junior College, the Red Bull Air Race, the Lone Star Film Festival and Cook Children’s Capital Campaign, among others.
“We started first with that but I always knew that I wanted to grow both of these [ads and films] concurrently,” he explains.
Today, the company has a full-time staff of eight, including someone staffing an office in Los Angeles.
The first film Red Productions was involved with was the 2008 drama Karma Police, which was shot in DFW.
“It was super, super low-budget and we came in and helped with the physical production of it but we didn’t do the whole thing,” Sanders says.
It was a different story for the next project, the 2011 Andrew Disney mystery-comedy Searching for Sonny (filmed in Fort Worth). Red Productions was involved from the beginning.
Balls Out, originally titled Intramural, is a co-production with Austin-based Ralph Smyth Entertainment and was shot in Austin. Red’s next project, based on Fort Worth filmmaker James Johnston’s short subject Melville, about a man who can’t communicate what’s troubling him, will be set in Fort Worth.
“It was made as a stand-alone short, but we think we could make it episodic. The story lends itself to that, either as a digital release or premium cable,” Sanders says. “James has developed a story for the first season and we’re working with an agency in L.A. to pitch it.”
Sunday, Melville is part of a Texas Filmmakers Showcase in Los Angeles at the Directors Guild Theater that also includes One Hitta Quitta from fellow North Texan and University of Texas Arlington film professor Ya’Ke Smith.
“The past films [we’ve done] have been comedies. We want to do something more serious with Melville,” Sanders says.
Also in the pipeline are the comedy The King of North Dakota and the drama Human People.
In between, Sanders has found time to help promote Texas as a filmmaking location. He was one of those accompanying Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to China for their promotional trip in 2014.
“It was cool sitting in those meetings with them and their presentations about the growth happening here,” he says. “It’s funny, you don’t appreciate something until you step outside of it.”
One thing he would like to see is a dedicated Fort Worth Film Commission to help push Fort Worth as a distinct filmmaking destination separate from Dallas.
“What I found on that China trip was that both convention bureaus pitched alongside each other, both mayors did the same, and both chambers. Why aren’t we doing the same with film?”
He would love to see Fox’s Urban Cowboy TV reboot shot in Fort Worth.
“Back then [in 1980, when the Houston-shot movie came out], Houston’s Gilley’s was the world’s largest honky-tonk. Today, that would be Billy Bob’s,” he says.
“Dallas is awesome and there are many great things about being next door to each other. But Fort Worth has its own cool, unique thing happening here.”
All of which to say that Sanders still has no plans to follow his former classmates to the coasts.
“I can’t predict the future, but my wife and I love Fort Worth,” he says, noting their roots are here. “We’re starting a family, and we’re going to have our first kid.”
Three of his recent hires have been from Los Angeles, and if he needs to be in Hollywood, it’s not such a big deal.
“We have the fourth busiest airport here,” he says. “You can fly to L.A. every five minutes.”
Cary Darling, 817 390-7571