I was talking to Chris Bright yesterday, checking in to see how the million dollar movie he made and launched Saturday at the Dallas Film Festival is doing for business. “Cooper & The Castle Hills Gang” was also shown up at Castle Hills Saturday night, then let loose on the internet to go viral. The whole thing started, he told me, with the idea of just making a video to market the 2500 acre home development and before Chris could say Dennis the Menace, he had a production on his hands with real actors.

Chris told me that since the movie hit the web, they’ve tracked a 30 percent increase in traffic to the Castle Hills site — and that was just yesterday.

We all know that, when it comes to marketing, the world has changed. And when it comes to marketing real estate, we may as well be on a different planet. No longer are cute cards and glossy brochures and, some might add, print advertising in pretty magazines and newspapers, enough. You’ve got to go viral, go FaceBook,  go Hollywood.

Which is why Chris Bright, son of the Texas Bright dynasty built on oil, football and banking, probably thought there was noting wrong with spending a million dollars to make a 60 minute, family-focused major movie about Bright’s 2,500-acre Castle Hills development north of Dallas near Denton. Remember, Chris’ dad, H.R. “Bum” Bright, owned the Dallas Cowboys from 1984 until selling the team to current owner Jerry Jones in 1989.

The movie was shot entirely in the neighborhoods, parks, shopping centers and golf courses of Castle Hills, and even used some resident kids and homeowners in large scenes. Produced by Ditore Mayo Entertainment, the film will debut Saturday April 2 at NorthPark Center mall as part of the Dallas International Film Festival. After its debut,  it will stream everywhere on the development’s website. And then, baby, it’s viral!

How can you make a movie about a housing development, even one as really nice as Castle Hills? Think Dennis the Menace meets Hank Hill in twenty years. “Cooper & the Castle Hills Gang,” follows the quest of 11-year-old Cooper (played by Kyle Kirk, an actor), his three friends and the elderly Mr. Wilson (played by J.B. Edwards) as they canvass Castle Hills for something Mr. Wilson has lost, a wedding ring. The film has B grade actors, and according to the Wall Street Journal,  really “focuses on its story rather than lingering on obvious marketing shots.” Nice.

Except ooops: WSJ said a hiccup comes when Cooper uses the term “mixed use urban center” in casual conversation. No, don’t think 11 year old talk like that. If he does, I want him as a blogger.

The movie will show Cooper at several of the more than 20 parks Castle Hills has to offer, along with the hike-and-bike trails, fishing lake, sports fields, community swimming and splash pools, and the outdoor Village Shops and Plaza.

Mr. Bright, 58, said he foresees the film helping his Bright Realty market Castle Hills’ commercial and residential land.

“Castle Hills was originally our family farm and holds childhood memories for the entire Bright family,” said Chris.

He may be onto something and find his phone ringing: the Saturday screening is sold out. Many second home developers are also taking to the movies, making docu-films of happy families enjoying life in their mountain, beach, or lakeside homes. I expect we’ll see lots more of this.

Castle Hills, which the family started developing in 1997, has 2,500 homes built, with another 600 planned. One third of its potential 1 million square feet of shops is built. An office-and-residential complex of more than 2 million square feet is in the planning.

“It’s a way of letting the community tell a little bit about itself through the residents and showing the community as a backdrop and not the focus,” Mr. Bright said.

There were several opportunities throughout filming for residents and neighbors to be part of the cast and crew, including a fireworks-filled re-enactment of the Castle Hills 4th of July event that calls for hundreds of extras. There will also be opportunities to help behind-the-scenes as a “PA for the day” (production assistant).  To give you a taste of the flavor,  a 1965 red Ford Mustang was called for as a prop.

PS: I have been to Castle Hills and love it. Chris Bright (who’s kind of a big kid at heart) took me on a personal tour in his 1960’s era auto, showing me each park he personally designed. His greatest wish, he said, was to give kiddos great places to play and create memories. It’s the closest thing to bubble living outside of the Dallas “bubble” I have ever seen, and I loved the multiple castle themes for kids. Dare I say, I even felt a bit as if I were in The Truman Show: life in Castle Hills can look that perfect at times.

And now, Hollywood!

Update: people have emailed me about Castle Hills, some saying a few homes in the area had foundation problems back when it was first built out. Here’s what I received from an agent who asked to remain anonymous: “There is a high concentration of clay soil in CH (along with a lot of other areas in Dallas) and there were some publicized issues with houses in one area back in the early days of the neighborhood. The cause of the foundation issues in that case was a ruptured water main that flooded the clay substrate and it was confined to one custom builder that has not been building in the area for many years. Builders have been working in this area for a decade now, and do full soil testing to determine what is necessary to prevent shifting. Regardless, I think you should advise readers to hire an independent soil engineer for an analysis. I will add there is clay substrate in many parts of Dallas south of LBJ, including the Marsh Lane area. Buyers need to do due diligence.”

People are always asking me how to find a builder they can trust! Last Thursday, you may have heard me Face-Booking, tweeting and making noises about Highland Homes, Darling Homes, Lantana and Castle Hills. And why was I so bullish on these  builders? Because they were cleaning up the show at the Home Builders Association of Greater Dallas McSam Awards. These winners were the People’s Choice because, for the fist time ever, people like you and me had voted on them, given them their seal of approval.

The McSam , or “maximum creativity in marketing and sales”, rewards excellence in building sales and marketing. High volume builders as well as luxury builders who have created a Luxury Home of the Year can enter.  McSam is part of a bigger network of local and regional building excellence awards programs– such as MAME in California and Colorado, and the PRISM Awards in Houston. The program started in l979 and grew in the boom years of new home sales.  Usually a gussied-up, Oscar-style event, this year, as you can imagine, it was toned down to a dance boogie session at House of Blues. And in years past there have been more categories like architectural design, interior merchandising, individual sales achievement in all price categories, advertising and marketing programs, Builder of the Year and Community of the Year. The builders also did some “crowd sourcing” for a genuine real People’s choice Award. Highland Homes won People’s Choice Builder of the Year honors. Lantana was named People’s Choice Community of the Year.

Darling Homes was the REALTOR®’s Choice Builder of the Year, and Castle Hills was honored as the REALTOR®’s Choice Community of the Year.

Now in its 32nd year, The McSAM Awards added the new People’s Choice Awards based on consumer and real estate professional voting.  Market Research Answers, Inc. was enlisted to conduct a survey of recent homebuyers, prospects and real estate agents from email contact lists supplied by participating builders and communities, more than 30,000 contacts in all. MRA’s clients include Pepsico, Frito-Lay and Starbucks. MRA dug deep into respondent’s feedback about their experience on everything from home design, sales experience, customer service, community lifestyle and overall satisfaction.

“Specifically for the purpose of the People’s Choice Awards, Market Research Answers asked respondents to rate – on a scale from zero to 10 – how likely they would be to recommend a particular builder or community to a friend or family member,” explained Harold Gross of Market Research Answers. “This question is THE gold standard in customer satisfaction surveying.  Responses were tallied and for each builder and community and an average score was calculated – the winners, of course, being those builders and communities with the highest average score.”

Winners in additional judged categories were:

  • Best New Product – K. Hovnanian Homes, The Villas at Craig Ranch;
  • Best Green Building Program – Meritage Homes;
  • Most Innovative Marketing Concept – Meritage Homes, De-Constructed Home Learning Center;
  • Luxury Home of the Year – Simmons Estate Homes, Casa Montecito;
  • Multifamily Community of the Year – Grenadier Homes, Villas in the Park;
  • Sales Professional of the Year – Michelle Brighi, K. Hovnanian Homes; and
  • Real Estate Professional of the Year; – Carole Waugh, Ebby Halliday REALTORS®.