The film industry moves fast, and Fort Worth’s film commissioner Jessica Christopherson knows it.
After all, she grew up in the industry.
She was a producer at FOX 4 News Dallas-Fort Worth before moving on to FOX Broadcasting in Los Angeles. While in L.A., she worked on marketing campaigns for shows like Glee, Prison Break and American Idol.
But a 2015 trip by Visit Fort Worth executives to China, while Christopherson was on maternity leave, would change her life. During the trip, Visit Fort Worth COO Mitch Whitten and local filmmaker Red Sanders saw the importance of having a film commission as a tool to bring new creative opportunities to Fort Worth.
Christopherson was tapped to lead that department as director.
“We were losing a lot of opportunities to other cities because we didn’t really have an office to advocate and promote the city as a film destination or just answer questions and inquiries,” Christopherson said. “It really made a lot of sense for the city of Fort Worth to start a film commission because every other major city had one and most of them within the state of Texas are housed within (the tourism office).”
Since the creation of the film commission, Christopherson and her team have worked on hundreds of projects that have spurred economic benefits, such as supporting over 19,000 local jobs and generating over $555 million in economic impact.
“We have such a variety of locations. I think that’s one thing that helps us stand apart,” Christopherson said. “It’s also the environment. It’s very film-friendly. A lot of the local businesses and districts open their arms to film crews and really help make things happen.”
The team at the film commission was able to accomplish a film-friendly atmosphere with a customer service approach. Whether it’s fast-tracking permits or finding the perfect location for a shoot, it’s all about attention to detail.
While the commission has helped bring productions like “A Ghost Story,” “The Old Man & the Gun,” “Never Goin’ Back,” “No Future,” “Miss Juneteenth,” “12 Mighty Orphans” and “The Senior” to Fort Worth, it was Taylor Sheridan’s “Yellowstone” and “1883” that have really put the city on the map.
“We’ve also started to create tourism opportunities through some of these shows, like self-guided tours,” Christopherson said. “There’s definitely interest in film tourism and that’s something we will want to continue to develop with those partners.”
Taylor Hardy was the commission’s first intern and now works as the associate film commissioner — right under Christopherson. She described Christopherson as a mentor and a leader who “genuinely cares about people as a person.”
That approach to relationship building is how Christopherson not only stands out but was able to bring major projects like the works of Sheridan to Fort Worth, Hardy said.
“(She’s a leader) definitely within Fort Worth and I think even nationally…” Hardy said. “People look up to Jessica as a leader and almost kind of a visionary, wanting to replicate some of the ideas that have come from her.”
Most recently, Christopherson partnered with Tarrant County College and producers of Yellowstone to create a certification program to train future film crew members.
For Christopherson, building up Fort Worth’s status as a film destination for producers and fans alike helps grow the local creative community.
“I think there’s a story within that, too, and it’s been cool to see some of these filmmakers and production companies grow over the past decade,” she said.
While Christopherson has received much praise for her work leading the film commission, she said it all comes down to passion and working with a good team.
“Having good leaders can help make you a strong leader because you have that influence,” Christopherson said. “I also think it just comes down to being human and being real because not everyone’s perfect …”.
Some projects recently filmed in Fort Worth:
John Kukla, vice president of creative services at FOX 4 in Dallas, used to work with Christopherson in the early 2000s and immediately identified her as someone who loves and embraces a challenge.
That positive attitude and ability to find opportunities makes her a leader, Kukla said.
“Her leadership is putting the right people together, putting them in a room and going ‘what can we do here?’” Kukla said. “She certainly exemplifies every challenge is an opportunity.”
The standard Christopherson and her team’s work have set at the film commission has traveled beyond the city’s border thanks to word of mouth, which in turn, has created a greater awareness for Fort Worth.
“Whether it’s a student film or big production, we try to give it all the attention,” Christopherson said. “We have a really great crew based in DFW … They’re very professional and work hard. Again, it’s that Texas hospitality.”
Jessica Christopherson Bio:
Birthplace: Ada, Oklahoma
Moved to Fort Worth: Moved back from Los Angeles in 2011
Family: One son in third grade
Education: University of Texas at Arlington, bachelor’s degree in broadcast communication
Work experience: Freelance Production Assistant, Clear Channel Radio, KDFW FOX 4, FSN Southwest, FOX Broadcasting Company, Visit Fort Worth & Fort Worth Film Commission
Volunteer experience: Light The Trail with the Elizabeth Harris Foundation
First job: Working in laundry at grandparents’ dry cleaners (age 12)
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: “Lead with compassion, actively listen and don’t be too hard on yourself.”
Best advice ever received: “Anything is possible and stay positive.”
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ssadek19.
Disclosure: Mitch Whitten, chief operating officer for Visit Fort Worth, is a member of the Fort Worth Report’s Board of Directors.
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