Penny Wise Pound Foolish

Peruse this article from the Austin Business Journal on the debate on film incentives in the state of Texas.

If you’ve ever done a professional film budget, the often invisible costs of making a movie are massive:  permits, feeding  people, putting cast and crew up in hotels, renting vehicles, supplies, location fees.  A film of any scale involves a massive infrastructure, often localized, to support it.  The last budget I prepped, I had to price out renting a local herd of goats, feeding said goats and the cost of a local wrangler and stable fees.  It’s this detail and minutiae that really make the cost of film what it is–and profitable for locals that can cash in on it.

I really want to film in Texas.  Why?  It’s my home state.  It’s where many of my stories are.  It’s what I know.  I probably won’t.  Texas’ neighbors have better incentives.  I want to do something for my community and filming could bring massive influxes of money to a very economically vulnerable area.

When I was asked at the San Antonio Film Festival why I hadn’t spent more time filming in my home state, I said at the time that, “It was not where my opportunities were, where my education led me.”  I keep returning to that question.  Here’s another reason why, one I couldn’t quite articulate in the moment:

The state doesn’t commit to its film community.  

Why should I commit to spend potentially millions of dollars in the state?

Movies aren’t made overnight.  They are long-haul projects.  It may take a screenwriter a year to get a camera-ready draft.  It may take us a year or more to get funded.  It may take us several months of pre-production, which will likely involve traveling back and forth.  We try to hire locally qualified people for the crew.  We will be in your state 30-60 days just filming, 12 hour days and paying for food and hotels and ancillary services, like dry cleaning, local assistants, etc.  We may be in your state several months after that if there’s a great post-house.  We may spend money on a Texas premiere if it’s a Texas subject.

The stability of state’s commitment to arts funding matters.  It’s a risk management consideration.  If you’re always threatening to pull a plug on your incentives, it’s not enticing.

 The counter-argument is that film jobs are temporary jobs and that is true to a point, but if you invest in creating a community, the jobs will keep coming.  Just ask Atlanta.  It seems there are some in government that would much rather have its denizens chained to an overabundance of low-paying retail jobs than branching out into a more highly skilled, better paid, film position.

I think it’s very shortsighted of the Texas legislature to nix film funding.  You could film almost anything in Texas, such is the geological and architectural diversity.  This is a whole state issue, not just an Austin or Dallas concern, where much of the film making takes place.  There are many areas that could benefit from more filming.  And frankly, it’s unnerving when New Mexico is standing in as Texas on film.  It’s happening more and more often.

 There’s a poster on the wall at the UTLA Center, an older poster, red, of all the great films made in Texas, which was a promo poster done by the Texas Film Commission a few years ago.  I hope they have to update that poster soon, with new, great films being made in Texas, but  the legislature must seize the opportunity.