Jun 9, 2023 - News

How Texas films fared this legislative session

Robert Rodriguez outside the Paramount Theater ahead of the premiere of Hypnotic, his film shot in Austin.

Robert Rodriguez outside the Paramount Theater ahead of the premiere of Hypnotic, his film shot in Austin. Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for SXSW

Austin film electricians, hairstylists and carpenters can look forward to a gusher of state money this fall — but a legislative push to win long-term incentives for the industry fell short.

The big picture: Some fantastic TV shows and movies, like "Friday Night Lights" and "Dazed and Confused," have been filmed in Austin, but many that are set in Texas are actually filmed elsewhere, in part because filming incentives in other states are more appealing to production companies.

State of play: The Legislature plumped up its Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program from $45 million for the current biennium to $200 million for the coming one, according to Mindy Raymond of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance.

  • Production companies apply for the program's cash grants.
  • "It's the most successful legislative session we've ever had," Brian Gannon, director of the Austin Film Commission, an arm of the city tourism bureau, tells Axios.

Yes, but: A proposal to provide tax credits to film companies, except for productions considered "obscene," never made it into law.

Context: Georgia doled out $1 billion in tax credits last year, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

  • The Texas bill would have cost $921 million in the 2026-27 biennium.

Between the lines: "Tax incentives create longevity and stability that production companies look for so they can set up long-term projects, like 10-year studio leases," Austin-based film producer Jennifer Hutchins, who supported the bill, tells Axios.

  • "​​It’s very obvious when the grant program runs out because the jobs run out," she said. "We lose a lot of good people to Atlanta and Oklahoma."

Of note: Roughly 1,000 Austinites work in film production, Gannon tells Axios, making the city capable of supplying crews for one feature movie and two TV shows at any given time — plus a handful of commercials.

Recent Austin-based productions include:

  • "Hypnotic," a Robert Rodriguez film starring Ben Affleck — "A detective investigates a mystery involving his missing daughter and a secret government program," per IMDB.
  • The HBO Max drama "Love and Death," by David E. Kelly and starring Elizabeth Olsen.
  • The Apple TV series "The Last Thing He Told Me," with Jennifer Garner.
  • "Walker," the CW series reboot of Chuck Norris' "Walker, Texas Ranger."
  • "Spy Kids: Armageddon," the latest installment in the Rodriguez-produced series.
  • And a series of independent films, such as "Clock," now streaming on Hulu, and the horror-comedy vampire film "Blood Relatives," which carries the tagline "Family sucks."

The intrigue: Austin's Matthew McConaughey and Glen Powell participated in a charming Western-themed video featuring Texans Dennis Quaid, Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson to advocate for Texas incentives.

The other side: Every Texan, a nonprofit focusing on social justice, opposed the legislation, saying it would be costly to implement and that film incentives have a "mixed record of boosting economic activity."

What's next: "What we received was a big win for the industry," Mindy Raymond of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance, tells Axios. But, she added, "We're absolutely in support of a long-term strategy — there needs to be something in place, so all of our eggs are not in the basket of the appropriation" of the grant program.

What we're watching: Mykle McCoslin, president of the SAG-AFTRA Houston-Austin Local screenwriters guild, told lawmakers in a hearing in March that she had developed a TV series called "ATX," about the next female governor of Texas.

  • She warned that without the passage of the tax incentives, "this television series will go to either Oklahoma, New Mexico or Atlanta."
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