Since 2006, filmmakers who choose to shoot their films in Texas have been the beneficiaries of the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, a tax rebate system designed to attract projects (and the money and jobs they create) to the state. However, the program is now in danger of being dismantled in the state legislature. Last year the program’s funding was cut by two-thirds. Now two bills (Senate Bill 99 and House Bill 799) have been introduced to scrap the whole thing.
“The economic impact is a big failure,” State Representative Matt Shaheen, who introduced H.B. 799, told KEYE in an interview. “It's really not in the scope of government to determine, you know, what's good art, what's not good art.”
Shaheen is likely referring to an infamous case in which the program refused to give a rebate to Robert Rodriguez’s production company for Machete Kills, stating that the film portrayed Texas in a bad light. One of Rodriguez’s financiers later sued the state over the refusal, though Rodriguez himself was not part of the suit and stood by the decision of the state.
Government art criticism aside, the Texas Motion Picture Alliance says that the program is far from a failure. Executive Director Mindy Raymond told the Dallas Observer that the state earns nearly $5 for every $1 it spends on the project. Rebates are awarded after production has been completed and filmmakers have shown that they have met labor requirements and other criteria.
Typically, the program mostly benefits larger productions, but local filmmakers whose budgets top the $250,000 minimum can take advantage of it as well. Dom Orozco, producer of The Pick-Axe Murders Part III, says that he will be applying for the rebates when the film gets picked up for distribution, the first film of his that was large enough to qualify. Joshua Allan Vargas also had a recent film, Hairmetal Shotgun Zombie Massacre, that made it over the threshold.
“We employed over 200 people, had a budget of over a quarter million, and used only three people from outside of Texas,” says Vargas regarding the film. “We got a small rebate. Wasn't much, but it helped.”
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Other veteran film scenesters have more mixed feelings. Joe Grisaffi, director of Lars the Emo Kid and an actor with nearly 100 credits to his name, hasn’t seen much from the program that leads him to believe that it’s bringing all that much business to our city.
“I can't think of any productions that came to Houston specifically for the benefits,” he says. “I've worked on a few productions, including commercials, that have taken advantage of the incentive program, but the program usually didn't bring them here. Often, with regards to commercials, there is another reason for shooting in Houston — many times it involves a local professional athlete.”
At least one director we talked to said she is planning on actually leaving the state for her next production, partially because of better incentives. Houston director Millie Loredo (Sorrow) will be taking production of her next film, Dreams, to New York, and will apply for that state's program, which does not feature the same prohibitive minimum Texas does.
“It’s a huge deal in New York,” she says. “Not so much in Houston.”