Saturday, October 20, 2007

Filming in the Lone Star State

Of all the people I talked to at the Austin Film Festival and sessions I attended, I think the one on one time I had discussing the film industry and incentives in Texas with Bob Hudgins was probably the most informative for me. When people talk about what more we can do to bring feature films, television programs, video games, commercials, music videos, infomercials and documentaries to our state, the more fired up I get.

Call it Texas pride. Whatever. I wasn't born. I was hatched with armadillos.

We have a lot of work left to do in Texas if we want to compete with what other states are doing. I know this and in some respects, we're at a disadvantage in that our legislature only meets every other year. But Texas' incentive program is improving. We now offer grants equal to 5% of in-state spending and combined with our tax abatements, we're getting close to 10%. Details on Texas incentives can be found here.

But seriously, in what other state can you find coasts, deserts, piney woods, canyons, lakes, dinosaurs, and Chuck Norris? Hmm? Where?

I met with Bob prepared to discuss three issues (1) there are only nine regional film commissions in Texas (2) East Texas is virtually unrepresented and (3) local government education. He didn't give me time to discuss any of them. He had a solution in progress for each of my concerns. Every last one of them!

REGIONAL FILM COMMISSIONS - While there are only nine regional film commissions at the moment, Texas is a state with 268,581 square miles which is about seven percent of the water and land area of the United States. Nine just doesn't cut it. But according to Bob, seven more film commissions are in formation as we speak, most of which are due to launch by the end of the year and the one that concerns me the most? Keep reading.

EAST TEXAS FILM COMMISSION - As of October, 2007, the East Texas Film Commission stationed in Palestine, Texas, is a go. Couldn't have timed it better. It's almost as if I said "Bob, I want an East Texas Film Commission" and he rubbed his magic lamp. Poof! There it is. East Texas is one of the most beautiful and yet under served areas of Texas as far as film commissions go. These are areas where small historic towns might feel overwhelmed by and unable to serve the needs of a film production and yet have the most to offer. Ironic.

FILM FRIENDLY TOWNS - I have long thought we were failing our small towns by not equipping them with any knowledge of the film industry and, at the same time, setting our films up for failure by sending them into cities and expecting them to figure out permits, deal with street closures, and face local government bureaucracy alone. Ever try to blow up a building in a small town? Good luck getting a permit.

It's frustrating on both sides because on the film shooting side, cost and time are critical and on the local government side, certain processes are a necessary evil. It's like sending out a foreign correspondent without an interpreter.

What the Texas Film Commission has done to address this is develop a program where towns are designated FILM FRIENDLY if they (1) assign a point person to help work out logistical details for film projects and help get them through processes - somebody who speaks both film language and government language (2) prepare information ahead of time that will help productions get through the town's processes, answer questions ahead of time, and reduce the amount of gobbledygook both on paper and in person that film personnel must decipher.

There are countless stories of productions being shut down for hours or days or even taking their toys and going home because somebody didn't know a certain kind of permit was required or that a permit had certain publication and advertising stipulations or that so-an-so approved the street closing and parade but that the Mayor had booked a craft fair on the square that day or the police officers that were going to work traffic were called away for an emergency funeral. FILM FRIENDLY towns will have a point person who knows the local officials to help circumvent these kinds of issues.

It's brilliant, I tell you.

GRANT AMOUNTS - Funding for grants is a maximum of $2 million for feature films, $2.5 million for television programs, $200,000 for commercials, and $250,000 for vido games. Keep in mind that this is in adddition to tax abatements. And yeah, rules apply so go to the Texas Film Commission production grants page and see if you qualify.

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