Board of Directors

Mike Farris - Tall CastleMIKE FARRIS is a cum laude graduate of Texas Tech University School of Law, where he was an associate editor on the Texas Tech Law Review and was inducted into the prestigious Order of the Coif.  He practices business litigation and entertainment law, focusing on the movie and publishing industries. In addition to his law practice, Mike and his wife, Susan, also an attorney, run Farris Literary Agency, Inc. As an agent, Mike has placed several award-winning novels for publication, including Balaam Gimble’s Gumption by Mike Nichols, winner of the 2004 Texas Institute of Letters John Bloom Humor Award, and Sheldon Russell’s Dreams to Dust: A Tale of the Oklahoma Land Rush, winner of the 2006 Langum Prize for Excellence in American Historical Fiction. Mike also represents various university presses and has successfully placed subsidiary rights to their published books, including negotiating the sale of movie rights to producers and Hollywood studios.  Mike himself is a published author.  He collaborated with former ABC-TV anchorman Murphy Martin to write Martin’s memoir of his years in journalism, entitled Front Row Seat: A Veteran Reporter Relives the Four Decades That Reshaped America (Eakin Press). In 2009, the University of Oklahoma Press released Call Me Lucky: A Texan in Hollywood, Mike’s collaboration with rodeo cowboy-turned-actor/producer/director Robert Hinkle on Hinkle’s memoir of his years in show business. Mike’s Hawaiian thriller, Kanaka Blues, and his mystery novel, Manifest Intent,  were both released in 2010 by Savant Books and Publications.

Sally Helppie

SALLY HELPPIE is a graduate of the UCLA School of Law who focuses her practice on entertainment law and business litigation. She represents high-budget Hollywood productions and small independent producers, as well as individual writers, actors and financiers. Sally has performed the legal work on such films as “The Tourist,” starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp; “The Young Victoria,” starring Emily Blunt; “Windsor,” starring Barry Corbin, and Martin Scorsese’s 3D feature, “Hugo,” as well as on multiple other narrative and documentary films at all budget levels. Similarly, she has negotiated and drafted contracts for numerous television pilots and series, including “Anger Management,“The Glee Project,” The Bachelor,” “Children’s Medical Center,” “Texas 28,” “Donna Decorates Dallas,” “Texas Troubadours,” and others. Sally also is a seasoned trial attorney whose litigation work emphasizes contracts and business torts, trademark and copyright issues, software disputes and employment litigation.  She has been lead counsel in literally hundreds of lawsuits, trying cases before juries in state and Federal courts, and representing parties all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.   In addition to her legal work, Sally is the CEO of Advocate Pictures and the award-winning producer of the feature films Exit Speed, starring Lea Thompson and Fred Ward; Haunting at the Beacon, starring Teri Polo and David Rees Snell; Beyond the Farthest Star, starring Renee O’Connor, and “9th Floor: Quest for the Ancient Relic,” starring Robert Picardo and Nathalie Kelley. Sally has been an Adjunct Professor in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts since 2011, where she teaches two semester-long courses: Film Producing and Media Career Preparation. She is the 2015-16 Chair of the Entertainment and Sports Law Section of the State Bar of Texas, the 2011 Chair of the Dallas Bar Association’s Business Litigation Section, and a past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association’s Sports and Entertainment Law Section and Judicial Evaluation Committee.

Russ PondRUSS POND is a graduate of the University of Texas where he studied electrical and computer engineering.  As a child, he would accompany his father—a professional photographer—to his studio, where he first learned about the visual arts. Russ is the founder and CEO of Top Pup Media, where he uses his education and experience to produce, direct and edit corporate videos, commercials and promotional spots. Top Pup Media’s corporate clients include AT&T, Chase Bank, FedEx, Mattress Firm, NAPA Auto Parts, Nokia, Pepsico, and Russ also produces and directs narrative films. In 2003, he shot Treasure, an 8-minute short film that screened at the Damah Film Festival (Hollywood) and the Deep Ellum Film Festival (Dallas). He followed up with The Light, a semi-finalist at SAIC Film Festival (San Antonio) and official selection at the WYSIWYG Film Festival (San Francisco) and Growing Up, which won the 2005 Audience Choice Award at the SAIC Film Festival (San Antonio) and screened at a variety of festivals around the US.  Russ subsequently produced and directed the sci-fi thriller, Fissure, which premiered at AFI Dallas, and co-produced The Imposter, a faith-based feature about the world of Christian rock music. Russ continued his work in feature films producing the action film, 9th Floor: Quest for the Ancient Relic and the festival favorite, Sunny in the Dark. He has also produced a pilot TV reality show called Marry Me Again.

Tom-photoTOM SOWELL is a native of Dallas, Texas and a graduate of Texas A&M-Commerce. A former oilfield engineer and later an insurance company manager, he opened an office, Barfield-Sowell, with a former fellow insurance executive in Dallas in 2010. He was recently accepted into Arizona State University’s Masters program. Tom has been involved in several film productions: The Devil Wears Spurs, Exit Speed, The Haunting At The Beacon, Beyond The Farthest Star, and Infiltrators since 2006. Before joining the Tall Castle board, he had served on boards and advisory panels for school, neighborhood, and charitable organizations.


Steven SmathersSTEVEN SMATHERS earned his Juris Doctorate and his Bachelor of Science degrees from Ohio State University.  He has served as Managing Director and General Counsel to Sowell & Co., a Dallas merchant bank, since 1991. In that role he has been responsible for numerous acquisitions and the subsequent dispositions of the merchant bank’s portfolio assets. He has had operational responsibility for the international investments of the merchant bank and led financing activities of the bank.  Prior to 1991, Steven was a corporate shareholder in the Banking and Corporate sections of the Dallas firm of Johnson & Gibbs. From 1976 through 1982, he practiced law in the Corporate Section of the Philadelphia firm of Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen.  Steven also has been an adjunct professor of law at Southern Methodist University since 1998, with responsibility for the Corporate Finance and Acquisitions Course, and has served on numerous PLI and ALI-ABA panels dealing with many different aspects of financings and acquisitions.

Victoria HellingVICTORIA HELLING earned her Juris Doctorate from Texas Wesleyan School of Law and B.B.A. in Entrepreneurial Management from Texas Christian University. She currently serves as Head of Business & Legal Affairs for The Agency Dallas, a full-service SAG-franchised talent agency located in Dallas, Texas. Additionally, she practices commercial litigation, antitrust, complex business litigation, and securities litigation at Greenberg Traurig. She received her first film credit, Assistant to the Producers, for her legal work on the feature film 9th Floor: Quest for the Ancient Relic.