When Phil McGraw, known for his long-running talk show “Dr. Phil”, filmed a commercial in Historic Downtown McKinney in late 2023, the production team worked with city officials to minimize impacts to the community, Cultural District Director Andrew Jones said. The two-day production also raked in over $6,000 for the city in permit and licensing fees.

The project is one of many commercial and film productions that have taken place locally since the city received its Film Friendly Texas designation five years ago.

The city has gotten 56 requests for filming permits since receiving the designation, Jones said, including projects for television as well as live broadcasts.

McKinney resident and producer Molly Brewer-Hahn said over 15 commercials have been filmed in the city for brands such as Subaru, AT&T and Coca-Cola in the past 15 years.

The overview

McKinney was granted the film-friendly designation in 2019 after staff at Visit McKinney completed a training and certification process. Staff pursued the designation to solidify the city’s ability to work with the state to attract film projects to the city, said Beth Shumate, Visit McKinney communications manager and the city’s liaison to the Texas Film Commission.

The city has a long history of hosting entertainment productions prior to receiving the state designation, including feature films, such as 1974’s “Benji,” and various television series. Brewer-Hahn said the city’s scenery and diverse landscapes are attractive for film productions.

“McKinney looks like a backlot,” she said. “You could actually stage it at any time from the 1800s to now.”

McKinney Mayor George Fuller said the projects filmed in McKinney have boosted the city’s bottom line through job creation as well as film-induced tourism.

"The exposure generated by these productions [leads] to an increase in tourism, as visitors are drawn to the locations featured in the films and television shows,” Fuller said in an email. “This, in turn, boosts local businesses, such as restaurants, shops and accommodations, benefiting our economy.”

The city also streamlines permits and offers other support for film productions in an effort to attract projects, he said.

Dig deeper

“Benji” was filmed in both McKinney and Denton. It spawned more than 10 sequels and spin-offs, and was later added to the Texas Film Commission’s Classics Film Trail. The owners of the historic Dowell House in East McKinney, Ian and Elisa Maclean, said they frequently get visitors interested in seeing where the movie was filmed.

“It’s really fun to share it with everyone,” Elisa Maclean said.

Fuller said “Benji” and the productions that followed showcased what McKinney has to offer to filmmakers.

“These projects not only highlight the city’s beautiful scenery and historic landmarks but also create a sense of pride and recognition among residents,” Fuller said.

Historic Downtown McKinney has been the set for multiple projects, Shumate said.
The 1993 television miniseries "Murder in the Heartland" was filmed locally. (Courtesy Visit McKinney)

Zooming out

The Texas Film Commission incentivizes film productions in the state through the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program. Filmmakers are required to complete at least 60% of the total production in Texas to be eligible for the incentive.

The program has seen over $2 billion in incentivized spending statewide since it was established in 2007, according to the Texas Film Commission’s website.
Data from the state film commission shows for every $1 paid through the incentive program, $5.20 is spent in the state.

“We were awarded $200 million [in 2023]. ... That’s essentially a billion dollars of incentivized media production,” said Paul Jensen, executive director of the Texas Media Production Alliance.

Collin County has seen over 50 productions use the incentive program since its inception, according to the Texas Film Commission’s website.

“Hoovey,” a project filmed partially in McKinney, spent over $950,000 in state and supported over 300 jobs for Texas residents, according to data from the Texas Film Commission.

Looking ahead

Shumate said she often fields calls from scouts looking for potential filming locations in the city. Interest from scouts becomes a top priority when she receives a call due to the potential for the city to draw in a large production.

“We’re open for business,” Visit McKinney Executive Director Aaron Werner said. “Even if it seems like a crazy, wild idea, bring it to us, and if there is any way to make it happen, we will.”

While working to attract new and bigger projects, the visitors bureau is also planning events to honor the 50th anniversary of “Benji,” which was the first notable film from the city. Festivities are planned for October, per Visit McKinney staff.