During his senior year in high school, Lane Garrison’s football teammates dared him to audition for a musical play. 

The Richardson ISD’s J.J. Pearce High School football team’s wide receiver took off his sports helmet for a moment to shine in the theater spotlight. 

The audition sparked Garrison’s passion for acting and movie-making. Soon after, he joined a theater class where he once showed such intense emotions that he smashed a chair against a chalkboard while acting.

“I thought I was to be thrown out of there, go to the principal’s office,” Garrison said. “But the teacher said, ‘I think you can do this professionally, and I think you should pursue this.'”

So, he did. Garrison moved from North Texas to Los Angeles after high school. For the last 23 years, he has been building up his Hollywood connections and working on developing stories and film projects. That work culminated in the filming of a Hollywood movie in Fort Worth.

“I didn’t know how to make it in Hollywood. I didn’t have a famous last name,” he said. “I knew no one other than the one person that my theater teacher knew, and they didn’t know anybody.”

Now, he and his Texas film colleagues want to make Hollywood more accessible to younger film enthusiasts in North Texas and Fort Worth. 

Garrison co-wrote the Fort Worth-filmed “12 Mighty Orphans.” Starring Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen and Robert Duvall, the film tells the true story of the Mighty Mites, a humble Fort Worth orphanage football team that went on to compete for the state championships led by legendary coach, Rusty Russell, during the Great Depression.

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The film is slated to open in Texas on Friday, June 11, and nationwide on Friday, June 18. 

As per plans by the film’s creators, the after-effects of the film is likely to persist in Fort Worth long after the movie finishes its theatrical run.

Filming in Fort Worth

The movie had been in different stages of production for several years before it finished shooting in the fall of 2019. 

While the film was originally envisioned to be filmed in Fort Worth, Oklahoma briefly lured the project away from the city.

Director Ty Roberts said the tax breaks and incentives Oklahoma provided were almost too good to turn down.

Texas can provide eligible film projects cash grants of up to 22.5% for all its expenditures. The Oklahoma Film + Music Office offers 30% and upwards in tax credits.

“We were like, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s seven-and-a-half percent,'” Roberts said.”It’s a lot of money when you’re talking about a film budget.”

However, in the end, the location and hospitality in Fort Worth beat the economic attraction of other cities, Roberts said.

The filmmaker and other crews are now planning an offshoot to continue their stay in Fort Worth.

The film creators have written a television series adaptation of “12 Mighty Orphans.” Fort Worth could soon have a long-running TV series, Roberts said.

Roberts added he and his team are working on producing a couple of other projects that “could be very fitting for the area” as well.

Film producer Brinton Bryan said Fort Worth was accommodating in every way.

“A lot of Fort Worth has been preserved in a sort of this historical way,” Bryan said. “So, it really fits the time period. I don’t think there’s anywhere else we could make it.”

The filming of “12 Mighty Orphans” started in Fort Worth in April 2019 and lasted about six months. The film used hundreds of crew members and actors from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Acting and Hollywood are rarely on the radar as a viable career choice for people of Fort Worth and North Texas, Garrison said.

He believes a continued exposure to Hollywood-level filmmaking locally would only inspire more individuals to pursue the career path. 

“I feel important, and I want everybody to feel the same way I do today,” Garrison said. “The next kid can go write the next great movie. They can direct and act – whatever you want to do.”

“Movie magic”

Although North Texas native Garrison spent his school days playing football, he did not previously know about the Mighty Mites and its triumphant sporting successes.

Neither did Bryan, the producer. George M. Young, Jr., a Fort Worth businessman and a family friend, alerted Bryan to the Mighty Mites story and to author Jim Dent’s 2007 book, which the movie is based on.

“I’m really happy that the film is coming up,” said Bryan, who grew up in Granbury. “A lot more people are going to be aware of this amazing local history now.”

Film director Roberts and producer Houston Hill bought the rights to the story several years ago. 

Roberts, Bryan and Garrison had previously worked together on another movie inspired by a true Texas story, “The Iron Orchard.” The film crew came together again to shoot in Fort Worth. 

Bryan also managed to get Young on board to invest in the project as an executive producer.

“We just hit it off,” Garrison said. “It was one of those movie magic moments where you know just the team you want to work with.”

The Texas connection also extends to actor Wilson, who was born in Dallas. 

(From left to right) Mayor Betsy Price asks questions to a “12 Mighty Orphans” panel comprised of actor Luke Wilson, director Ty Roberts and actor Vinessa Shaw during an event hosted by Visit Fort Worth at Fort Worth Masonic Temple on Monday, June 7. (Neetish Basnet | Fort Worth Report)

At a promotional event on Monday, Wilson said he used to visit Fort Worth a lot when he was young and enjoyed being back in the city to make the film.

“You’re not always lucky enough to shoot where a story takes place,” Wilson said. “When a story is this important to the town and to tell a story, it’s so great to have been here.”

The City of Fort Worth celebrated the occasion with a formal proclamation declaring June 7 as “12 Mighty Orphans Day.”

Officials with the city and Visit Fort Worth announced the film is a major accomplishment for the city’s tourism and creative industry.

“These are some very special visitors here this week,” said Bob Jameson, Visit Fort Worth President and CEO. “The same is true of making movies in Fort Worth. It’s a team effort. Private business, city staff, the school districts, everyone gave just a little time and space, so that people like Ty Robert, Houston Hill can help make movie magic. Movies are our shared experience.”

Neetish Basnet is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at neetish.basnet@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

Note: The story was updated to correct the spelling of the high school Lane Garrison attended.

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Neetish Basnet is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He has previously worked as a business reporter at Fort Worth Business Press and Dallas Business Journal. He graduated from University...

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