AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A Texas lawmaker wants to abolish the program that promotes film, television and video game productions in the state. At present, productions can receive a cash grant based on the percentage of the project’s investments in Texas.
Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, has filed legislation to abolish the Music, Film, Television and Multimedia Office in the Office of the Governor and the Moving Image Industry Incentive Program. Shaheen filed a similar bill last session, but it wasn’t successful.
The 85th Texas Legislature ended up funding the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program and its administration with $32 million for the 2018-19 biennium.
“We just want to see a little bit of an increase so we can have the rest of the world know, ‘Hey, we are invested in this industry,’” Mindy Raymond, communications director of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance said in an interview.
Raymond is also president of New Republic Studios, which offers sound stages and production office space in Bastrop County.
“The landscape over the last few years has been decent,” she said. “We feel that there could be a lot more [productions]. People want to come to Texas. We have some of the most diverse locations of any state.”
Latest numbers from the Texas Film Commission’s website show from September 2007 to August 2017, the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program has helped attract an estimated $1.399 billion in production spending to the state and over 153,000 production jobs since the program was created. In order to qualify for the grant rebate, 70 percent of cast and crew must be Texas residents and 60 percent of total production days must be completed in the state as well. Project managers have to document and submit their actual in-state spending. That documentation is audited before any grant rebate is issued. On average, a project funnels in $5.33 in the Texas economy for every $1 in grant funding.
“It starts at the production, but then we see it in the small businesses,” Raymond said. “We see it in the crews that are here and the locations. Everything sort of gets a piece of that income that comes into the town.”
Brad Graeber, CEO of Powerhouse Animation Studios in Austin, credits the incentive program for launching his company. Powerhouse Animation Studios is responsible for the Castlevania series on Netflix.
“We’re going to expand from probably 85 to 125 animators in the next year,” Graeber said. “Without the incentive program, we probably wouldn’t have gotten the Castlevania series that we’ve worked on and that series is what catapulted our growth.”
When Shaheen filed his bill in 2017, he issued a statement saying taxpayer dollars shouldn’t go to an industry “that should be able to stand on its own two legs.”
“Although the goal of the commission is to encourage the film industry’s expansion in Texas, studies show that a significant amount of the work would have occurred in Texas without the incentives anyway. Additionally, we’ve seen mostly temporary jobs created by the program,” Shaheen’s statement said.
However, industry professionals say having a strong incentive program will help Texas remain competitive when productions are trying to choose between the Lone Star State and another location, such as Atlanta or Los Angeles.
“I was actually talking to a buddy earlier,” Corey Green of Lucky Giraffe said. “He’s a writer and director and I said, ‘You should come out to Texas because we’ve got this great studio space. It’d be great to have you come see it.’ And he laughed at me because he lives in L.A. and that’s just like where people think you have to go.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in 2009, there were 44 states with some form if film and television production incentives. As of 2018, only 31 states, including Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. offer some form of film incentive programs.
Some also worry without a strong program, talent trained and invested in Texas might not have any other choice other than to seek opportunities elsewhere.
“A lot of them want to stay and work here in Texas,” Dr. Paul Stekler, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Radio-Television-Film, said. “A lot of them are native Texans and they would like to work here, but if you hurt the industry, significantly cut off the legs of the industry, there’s less work here.”
Raymond said stakeholders want a small increase compared to previous years, though there hasn’t been a set number just yet.
“If we could just grow it to kind of that $50-$70 million mark, I feel like that’s going to show the industry and the rest of the world that we are starting to invest – that we see the value in this,” Raymond said.
You can find a breakdown of state film production incentives and programs on the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website here.