Free screening is set for the Mabank Pavilion Oct. 19
By David Webb
The Monitor Correspondent
ENNIS – Fifth-generation Mabank resident Mike Hall always thought when he was growing up he would one day become a football coach, but as a young college man he left the field to pursue a much different dream.
“I loved the sport so much I thought that was what I was going to do,” Hall said in a telephone interview from his home in the Ennis historic area. “But I started finding a real passion for theater and performing.”
So it will be the actor rather than the football star who basks in the adoration of his hometown family members and friends when “The Merchant,” a Western horror film, screens at the Mabank Pavilion at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 19. Several of the other actors and the writer, and director of the film will join Hall on the red carpet at 5 p.m. to meet the public in a reception that will include the distribution of free movie posters and actors’ pictures with autographs until show time.
“I tell everybody to hold on to them because one day they will be worth a lot of money,” Hall said. “I’m very proud of the movie and my work on it.”
The free screening of “The Merchant” in Mabank will be the second public viewing of the 101-minute movie that Sub American Pictures filmed in the Texas communities of Gilmer, Sulphur Springs and Beaumont.
Timecode, the New Orleans Film Fest, will show “The Merchant,” which was completed early this year, on Sept. 21. The Louisiana arts organization recently accepted the movie, otherwise the Mabank screening would be the first opportunity for the public to see it.
The Galaxy Drive-In Theater in Ennis also will show it on Oct. 27.
Hall said the decision to screen the movie in Mabank occurred after he, the director, Justin Mosley, and the writer, Allen Reed, realized they all had roots in the Cedar Creek Lake area. Mosley grew up in Malakoff and Reed attended Kemp and Mabank schools.
“There are all of these ties to the lake area,” Hall said. “I thought what better place to screen the film. They all agreed it was a great place to show the film.”
The film is the story of fictional Burning Bush, a rural community fighting evil brought to them by a vagrant local priest, according to the website, themerchantmovie.com. Mass madness ensues as two strangers arrive to claim the proceeds of a dark agreement involving the town’s youth and the deal they made with the town’s founders two decades earlier. A mystic bartender, drunk adventurer, farmhand, pregnant woman, young fugitive and can-can dancer unite and hole up in a saloon to fight the demons.
The violence in the as-yet unrated movie makes it unsuitable for young children under the age of 13, Hall said.
Texas communities should expect to see more movies than ever being made in Texas because the 83rd Session of the State Legislature tripled the budget of the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program overseen by the Texas Film Commission. The legislature voted to fund $95 million to the program for grants, tax refunds and tax exemptions during the next two years.
Hall said he makes his living as an actor, but he expects to be mostly working close to home rather than jetting off to California and other far-flung locations in the coming years. He spent a year in Los Angeles in 2002-3 learning the business and making contacts.
“It doesn’t make any sense to be packing your bags and moving west when there is just as much work here,” Hall said. “It’s easier to do here.”
Hall said his acting career, that has spanned 20 years, has picked up tremendously at age 45. He has appeared on stage, in movies, on television shows like “Dallas” and done voice-over and computer-driven animation work. His acting has run the range from drama to comedy, and his agent, Linda McAllister, who has an office in Waxahachie but networks in Dallas and Los Angeles, has kept him busy.
“I get lots of callbacks,” Hall said. “Just now things are starting to happen for me that I always dreamed of.”
The actor said he prefers the simple life of living in Ennis and its convenience to the interstate highways linking the major cities of Texas. “It’s a different world in LA with everybody trying to break into the film industry” Halls said. “That’s why I live in Ennis. It’s a nice, quiet little town.”
Hall said he is grateful for all the support he has received from local officials and businesses in his project to screen the movie in Mabank.
Admission will be free and visitors need only bring a lawn or camp chair with them to sit and watch the film.