At the end of January, state Sen. Bob Deuell of Greenville introduced S.B.No. 605, which would dramatically alter the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program -- by, well, actually offering incentives. Right now, the state has but $22 million to give to folks looking to shoot their movies or TV shows or commercials here, which, says Dallas Film Commission director Janis Burklund, "is gone in a heartbeat." Deuell's bill, referred to the Senate Committee on Economic Development this week, eliminates the cap on incentives, currently set at 5 percent of whatever the production spends in-state.
At the same time, Dallas state Rep. Rafael Anchía has introduced H.B. No. 1142, which would allow for the creation of tax-exempt "media production development zones" -- soundstages, in other words, though Burkland says she would prefer the language be expanded to include complete production studios. Says Damien Brockmann, Anchía's legislative director, "we don't have adequate film facilities in Texas," and the representative sees his proposal and Deuell's proposal as working in tandem to not only lure temporary productions here, but permanent facilities.
Which is what Burklund's been hoping for since forever.
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"Five percent doesn't get us into the right ballpark," she tells Unfair Park. "California, which we thought would never happen, just passed their own incentive program. That's a big deal. They're headed for $100 million a year, which, in L.A., could go fast. But that shows how important everyone realizes this is. These other states are doing insane numbers, offering anywhere from 25 to 42 percent in incentives. We're not suggesting something that high. But we need a competitive incentive program."
Deuell's proposed legislation up the percentage available to folks wanting to shoot here -- and lowers the requirement to get them some money back. For instance, right now to be eligible production companies would need to spent at least $1 million; S.B. 605 lowers that requirement to $250,000. And only 60 percent of the total project would need to be filmed in the state; right now, that requirement sits at 80 percent.
And incentives have become a big deal in recent days: The Fox series Fringe has moved from New York to cheap-cheap-cheap Vancouver, precisely because NYC's out of dough-re-mi. And L.A. likewise has seen its industry head to states offering deep discounts; hence, the previously unheard-of incentive program to which Burklund refers. At this very moment, she's trying to convince several production companies to shoot here -- but, again, what can she use to lure them, aside from the promise of good Tex-Mex and capable crews weaned on Walker, Texas Ranger and Prison Break?
"We've got new competition," she says. "Louisiana and New Mexico have been hurting us, because they can offer crews and equipment from here. New York, their progam was so successful they ran out of money. They just put out a report showing gigantic returns on their investment, and they want more money. New York is insanely expensive, and the only way to play is with incentives. But the thing is, everyone is waking up to how much money is at stake and how much job creation there is. It's like bringing AT&T to Dallas. This isn't a one-off, but a never-ending series of projects, and if we do this right, we may see folks come in and planting who will do multiple projects. There's a lot at stake right now."