Can you imagine the upcoming “Dallas” movie being shot in Santa Fe, New Mexico? How about NBC’s gridiron drama “Friday Night Lights” moving its production offices to Shreveport, Louisiana? As long as Texas continues not to offer any production incentives to film and television shows, both scenarios stand a very good chance of becoming a reality.
But the Texas film community has begun to fight back. Last year, a group of key industry players formed the Texas Motion Picture Alliance (TXMPA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to passing incentive legislation to bring production back to the Lone Star State.
“We’ve only been in existence for eight months, but the response we’ve gotten from the production community has been incredible,” says TXMPA chairman Hector Garcia. “The reason we’ve been able to get so much support is easy to understand — Texas desperately needs competitive film incentives. Without them, we’re going to continue to lose jobs and revenue to other states, and it’s going to happen quickly.”
Garcia’s concern is justified. Four years ago, production in Louisiana and New Mexico didn’t come close to approaching the volume of work being done in Texas. That all changed with the advent of incentive programs. In the three years since its legislation kicked in, Louisiana has seen its production revenue jump from $20 million per year to an astonishing $350 million. Texas, meanwhile, dropped below $200 million.
“Twenty percent of our IATSE members are now working out of state,” Garcia says. “Our equipment is being rented at the Panavision office in Dallas and shipped out of state. Our actors are starting to travel to New Mexico or Louisiana for callbacks. This has got to stop.”
In 2005, Garcia helped win approval for a bill that would have allocated $10 million a year for production rebates. But that bill never received funding. Earlier this month, Garcia returned to Austin with considerably more firepower than he had two years ago.
In addition to hiring a lobbying firm, the TXMPA brought 160 volunteers to Austin to help spread the word. On March 6, the organization presented its comprehensive incentive bill to the state legislature. The bill includes a combination of cash rebates, discounted services and tax exemptions.
“Until now, incentives haven’t been a priority in our state government,” says Dallas-based talent agent and Txmpa member Mary Collins. “The stakes are very high.”
Final ruling on the TXMPA bill will be issued in June. If it fails, there is a strong possibility the upcoming “Dallas” movie, TV shows like “Friday Night Lights” and “Prison Break” and other projects will shoot elsewhere.
“The reason to film in Texas has always been the great locations, great people and great crews,” says Gary Bond, director of the Austin Film Commission. “But that’s not the first question producers ask us anymore — now, it’s always, ‘What cash incentives do you have?’ If we’re going to compete with the states that surround us, getting a bill passed is an absolute must.”