Audio by: Karla Benitez and Ceci Gonzales
Story by: Grant Gordon
Visuals by: Ashika Sethi
Three separate bills introduced to the Texas State Government earlier this year are threatening the already reeling Texas film industry.
These bills each propose the abolishment of the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, a series of tax incentives that underwrite up to 20 percent of production costs of films, television shows and video games made in Texas. This comes after the incentive program was already cut by about two thirds in 2015, from $95 million to $32 million.
Paul Stekler is a documentary filmmaker who sits on the Advisory Board of the Austin Film Society. He said filmmakers in Texas are already choosing to move to states with more generous incentive programs, such as Georgia, California and Louisiana. “If they want to kill the movie industry in Texas, eliminate the incentives,” Stekler said. “Simple as that.” Stekler blames the budget cuts on a lack of interest in the film industry from Texas legislators. He said that these legislators associate the film industry with Hollywood liberalism, but he sees it a different way. He said that every dollar of film incentives creates several more for the state through tax revenue from employment opportunities that the industry generates. “When I look at the incentive program, I think job creation,” Stekler said. Kyle Cavazos is one potential employee of the film industry who left to find work elsewhere. Although he graduated from the University of Texas in 2016, Cavazos works in Los Angeles as a freelance camera assistant and production assistant, working on commercials, short films and more. “The opportunities in Texas are much smaller than what you can find out here,” Cavazos said. He said that strong incentive programs have a huge impact on production locations, even if you can’t tell as a production employee. “You don’t necessarily see firsthand what’s happening because it mostly results in films and movies and media just not being made,” Cavazos said. “It kind of just disappears.” Cavazos said that a lot of filmmakers are moving to Atlanta because of strong film incentives. In 2008, the state of Georgia enacted a program that offers up to a 30 percent tax credit to certain productions, and the industry has grown accordingly. In 2015, production companies spent $1.7 billion on almost 250 projects, more than six times the amount spent when the incentive program was enacted in 2008, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Unlike Atlanta’s budding film industry, Austin has gone in the other direction with less film incentives.
“If Austin isn’t doing anything to entice people to shoot there and make it cheaper for them, then people will just not shoot there,” Cavazos said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Stekler echoed this sentiment.
“There are winners and losers in terms of incentive programs in different states,” Stekler said, “and if somebody can make a movie in a different state for much less money than Texas, they’re going to go someplace else.”
While Austin has grown significantly in population in the past three years, its film industry that has already seen a sharp decline will fall even further if the incentive program is abolished.
“There are so many states and countries with incentive programs that if you don’t have an incentive program, you’re making the entire industry a loser,” Stekler said.