Friday, June 10, 2011

Texas film incentives survive; 'Lone Ranger' lurks


My column from today's Dallas Morning News.

SHOT IN TEXAS: Legislature approves $30 million in film incentives

By JOE O’CONNELL Special Contributor

Published 09 June 2011 04:48 PM

The Texas film-incentives program appears to have survived the
legislative session, but with a lot less cash to throw at potential
projects like Johnny Depp’s Lone Ranger.

The incentive program, which is aimed at attracting film, television
commercial and video-game projects to the state, will have $30 million
to spend in the next two years. That’s exactly half of what the
Legislature approved two years ago. Another $2 million will fund program
administration and a state film archives program.

“It’s a big victory and something that we’ll have to build back up on in
the future,” said Don Stokes, president of industry lobbying group the
Texas Motion Picture Alliance. “At least it keeps the program alive at
this point.”

Most film-industry leaders are keeping their lips tight about the
allocation, perhaps concerned about unlikely changes to it during the
Legislature’s special session. But it could have been worse: An original
plan had two-year funding at $10 million and at one point the Senate
considering cutting all film-incentive funding.

The funding uncertainty kept at least one unnamed network television
series pilot from filming in Texas, Stokes said. North Texas did land
two pilots — Dallas-set Good Christian Belles , which will shoot as an
ABC series primarily in Los Angeles, and TNT’s version of Dallas, which
the network has yet to pick up as a full series.

The incentives program has been less successful competing for feature
films with other more incentive-rich states such as Louisiana and New
Mexico. The next big-name film in Texas may be a remake of The Lone
Ranger , with emphasis on the character Tonto to be portrayed by Johnny
Depp. The Disney film is expected to have a fall shoot and has been
scouting locations in West Texas, Austin and the small town of Granger
where much of True Grit was shot in 2010, Gary Bond of the Austin Film
Office confirmed.

The alliance group estimates the incentive program has generated more
than $600 million in new in-state spending and 56,000 jobs since it was
first funded in 2007.

“These incentives will keep our crew and talent working in Texas and
economically impacting our entire state,” said Waxahachie-based talent
agent Linda McAlister. “Talent live and work all over Texas, not just in
the metropolitan areas. The money is filtered throughout the communities
through production as well as individual spending.”

The Legislature clearly wants to see bottom-line results. The Texas Film
Commission has until November 2012 to come up with a 10-year plan for
the film industry to “grow beyond its traditional funding.” That
includes asking cities to get involved financially and asking colleges
and universities to bolster crew training.

“Our goal is to leverage the assets we have in the state — our talented
crews, infrastructure and location variety,” Stokes said. “We can do it
all in Texas.”

Last year the incentive program was instrumental in attracting a lot of
television series to the state — The Good Guys, Chase and Lone Star in
North Texas and My Generation and Friday Night Lights in Austin, but all
of those shows have since closed shop.

To keep either television or films from gobbling up much of the
incentives allocation, the legislation requires no more than 40 percent
of funds go to either TV, film, video games or commercials and
industrial films.

“We want to make sure all segments of the industry have a chance to grow
and prosper under the program,” Stokes said.

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