Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Texas lege gets Muzzle Award for nixing 'Waco' bucks

The Texas Film Commission's decision to potentially deny (the request was never officially made) incentive funds for the making of Waco, a film about the Branch Davidians has earned the Texas Legislature a Jefferson Muzzle award from the Thomas Jefferson Center. The Lege gets the credit because the decision was based on an incentives rider that says something the effect that no funds will go to projects that show the state in a negative light. Film Commish Bob Hudgins has contended factual errors were the basis for the decsion. See my Dallas Morning News article here.

Here's the press release:

“One objection I have heard voiced to works of this kind—dealing with Texas—is the amount of gore spilled across the pages. It cannot be otherwise. In order to write a realistic and true history of any part of the Southwest, one must narrate such things.”
Robert E. Howard, an early 20th century American author and proud Texan.

For denying motion picture production companies tax breaks if their proposed movies portray Texas or Texans in a negative fashion, a 2010 Jefferson Muzzle goes to…
The Texas State Legislature

Waco is the working title of a planned movie production about the FBI’s 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. This nearly two month long ordeal captivated the media across the nation and culminated in a shoot-out and fire, leaving 86 dead and more than 19 wounded, including 20 children. According to the movie’s production company, Entertainment 7, the film seeks to provide a historical account of the actions taken by the FBI and the Branch Davidians that led to the violent conclusion of the siege.

In order to encourage motion picture production in the state, Texas by statute offers a state rebate of up to 15% on in-state movie production costs. In 2007, the Texas State Legislature amended the Moving Image Industry Incentive Act to deny such incentives to films with “inappropriate content or content that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion.” The amendment was given effect for the first time in 2009 when Bob Hudgins, Director of The Texas Film Commission and the state officer in charge of making such decisions, determined that Entertainment 7 would not be eligible for the tax incentives because “[a]fter reading the Waco script, I did some fact-checking and feel very confident in the checking I did. I talked to people, law enforcement and journalists who were actually involved in the whole incident. This was not something that was done lightly. This project steps outside an accurate portrayal of those events.” Although Entertainment 7 had yet to formally apply for the incentives, they had provided Hudgins with a copy of the Waco script in anticipation of doing so.

Entertainment 7 producer Emilio Ferrari strongly disputes Hudgins’ claims of the script’s inaccuracies: “Show me where in the script there is anything against Texas. Those are his two points: It’s against Texans and it’s inaccurate. Neither is correct.” Says Ferrari, “it’s not a movie about Texas. It’s about an incident that happened there, but it could happen anywhere.” Ferrari points to the film’s production staff including Mike McNulty, who co-wrote the 1997 Oscar-nominated documentary, Waco: The Rules of Engagement. “We did years of research on this project, and there’s nothing inaccurate in the script. We have not been told of any specific inaccuracies, and I’d really like to know,” states Ferrari.

Hudgins contends that the movie’s script compresses and simplifies the historic event. Actions that were taken by several individuals are attributed to a single character in the movie. Hudgins appears to deny that the extent of a movie’s factual distortion is a factor in determining its eligibility for the tax incentives. “Either it is (accurate) or it isn’t.”

Whether Entertainment 7 or Hudgins is correct about the historical accuracy of the Waco is irrelevant to the First Amendment principles at issue in this incident. No state is required to offer tax incentives to movie production companies. If a state chooses to do so, however, it cannot bestow those benefits in a manner that discriminates on the basis of the views expressed in the movie. Yet such discrimination is exactly what is required under the amendment to the Moving Image Industry Incentive Act. Under the terms of the amendment, a movie that took a critical of Texans such as Lyndon Baines Johnson or George W. Bush would be ineligible to receive the tax incentives. Moreover, the amendment conflates questions of historical accuracy with the determination of whether Texas or Texans are depicted in an unfavorable fashion. In passing the amendment, the Legislature for the State of Texas fails to recognize that there has never been a movie based on actual events that has depicted those events with 100% accuracy; history—whether detailed in a book or depicted in a movie—always involves a significant degree of subjective interpretation. For engaging in blatant viewpoint discrimination by passing legislation that presumes the only correct view of Texas or Texans is one which depicts them in a positive fashion, a 2010 Jefferson Muzzle is awarded to the Texas State Legislature.

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