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June/July 2009

by Karen Hudgins

It's Action! for Texas Films

The Texas film industry is moving to the top of the credits, as new legislation passed in April strengthens incentives for filmmakers.

House Bill 873 provides incentives for film, television, video and digital interactive media production companies. It took effect immediately in April after passing by large margins in the House and Senate.

Texas already had a film incentives program, but the new law gives the state flexibility to be more competitive, says Bob Hudgins, director of the Texas Film Commission.

“Now we’ve opened it up to the smaller projects, which is really important because I think we need to support film makers,” says Hudgins. “If (filmmaker) Robert Rodriguez had gone somewhere else to film his movies, things would have been very different.”

The Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program already offered cash grants equal to 5 percent of qualified in-state spending on feature films, documentaries, television programs, commercials and video games. Under the previous program, projects had to total $1 million to qualify for the 5 percent grant. The new legislation opens up the 5 percent grant to projects between $250,000 and $1 million, says Hudgins.

Friday Night Lights poster

Under the new law, films with budgets from $1 million to $5 million will receive a 10 percent cash rebate, while films with budgets of more than $5 million will qualify for a 15 percent cash rebate.

Several projects have already applied for grants under the new law, including Austin-based Troublemaker Studio’s upcoming $7 million film “Machete,” which will start shooting in Texas in June. Robert Rodriguez, who co-founded Troublemaker Studios with Elizabeth Avellán, will produce the film.

Other projects this summer include Warner Bros’ “The Jetsons” and the TV series “Friday Night Lights,” which filmed its last season in Texas last November.

“We’re really excited,” Hudgins says. “Retaining ‘Friday Night Lights’ was huge. About 95 percent of their crew are Texans.”

Hudgins says the 5 to 15 percent rebates offered in the new legislation, while not as much as the 25 percent tax credits offered in Louisiana and New Mexico, put Texas’ film industry on a level playing field.

“Fifteen percent is our magic competitive number,” he says. “It’s not dollar for dollar, but there are so many assets on the ground in Texas — film crews, infrastructure, diverse locations. A 25 percent tax credit in New Mexico is equal in value to [a] 15 percent [rebate] in Texas.”

Studio feature film production spending in Texas hit $28.7 million for 2008, down from $58.9 million in 2006.

 The budget for the new program totals $22 million, including $20 million for production incentives and $2 million for administration and training.

To read more about the impact of the state’s film industry, read the Comptroller report, The Current and Potential Economic and Fiscal Impacts of Texas’ Moving Media Industry.

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