- Friday, Jun. 22, 2007
The bad news first: The Texas Film Commission is aware of 32 film projects in the last four years that researched Texas for their production location but instead chose other states that offer film incentives. Twelve of those projects had storylines set in Texas, but opted for other locations such as New Mexico, Louisiana and Canada. The loss of those projects cost Texas an estimated $327 million in project spending and 4,600 jobs. And in recent years, Texas lost 20 percent of its film workforce. including firms that provide specialized filming equipment.
Now the good news: Earlier this month Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a $22 million film incentive bill that will reverse the export of Texas filmmaking talent and attract more jobs in television and film production. Texas' new Moving Image Industry Incentive Program will offer grants equal to five percent of in-state spending, including wages paid to Texas residents. (For commercials, only the first $50,000 of each Texas resident's salary will be included in the grant calculation.) These grants will be available after Sept. 1 to features, television programs, commercials and video games.
"The incentive program is an amazing accomplishment that will be great for all aspects of production in Texas. The Texas Motion Picture Alliance fought very hard for this and it's an amazing feeling to finally have it come together," says Tony Miglini, executive producer, Sugar Films, Dallas, and AICP Southwest Chapter President. "I definitely think the incentive program will have a positive impact on both the quantity and quality of production in Texas. Texas has always been a great place to shoot. This will make a great place even better."
To qualify for a grant, at least 80 percent of the production must be completed in Texas; at least 70 percent of the total number of crew, cast and extras must be Texas residents; and there must be a minimum in-state spending of one million dollars for features and television programs (for episodic series, $1 million per season); and $100,000 for television commercials, series of commercials and video games.
The maximum grant amounts are $200,000 for a commercial or series of commercials. Additional grants may be obtained for production in underused areas. Underused areas are defined as any part of Texas other than the metropolitan areas of Austin and Dallas. Projects that complete at least 25 percent of their total production days in underused areas may receive an additional 1.25 percent of total in-state spending. The additional 1.25 percent applies to all spending in all areas of Texas; it is not restricted to the underused-area spending.
Since implementing a film incentive program in 2003, Louisiana has seen film production spending increase 30 times. Likewise New Mexico has experienced a fifty-fold increase in economic activity related to film production following the creation of film incentives. And those involved in the production of commercials in Texas are optimistic that an incentive program will boost business in their backyard as well.
Even without any economic incentive, activity has been booming this year. "Business has been very good in the last six months. Sugar has had the two best consecutive quarters in our history. I'm not really sure why. We're shooting about half of our projects somewhere in Texas," says Miglini, who just finished a spot for Tabasco via TracyLocke, Dallas.
"We have great crews here. There are a lot of feature film and TV projects that happen in the state and so the crew base stays strong here. That combined with the fact that there is an abundance for support, everything from equipment rental to the many fantastic postproduction facilities, make Texas a very easy place to work."
Jeremy Besser, executive producer at DIRECTORZ in Dallas, believes that business is strong because the economy is good and advertisers are spending again.
"We've had a really good year. We've done 32 jobs since the beginning of the year. We surpassed what we did by this time last year. Out of the 32 jobs, 22 were shot in Texas. Business has come from Florida, Detroit, Chicago and Atlanta, and 20 of the jobs were actually Texas agencies," Besser says. "Usually right about now is when we sense a slow down. Almost every year it starts to slow down in June and then straight through August it gets pretty quiet. And it's the opposite this year. So we have a feeling we are going to go strong all through the summer and then fourth quarter is typically always busy. If that holds true, it will be a great year."
Among the projects Besser worked on recently are the national campaign for White Castle and the brand campaign for Home Depot.
White Castle's "Cubicle," directed by David Wild, shows an office worker disapproving of the way people have decorated their cubicles--with lava lamps, bobble heads and snow globes. He is obviously impressed when he gets to one cubicle, which has been transformed into a castle using White Castle hamburger boxes stacked on top of eachother. Low and behold we learn the cubicle is his.
Director Stewart Cohen recently did a humorous campaign for the Texas Rangers Baseball Club via Door Number 3 in Austin.
In the spot called "Candle," we see a couple sniffing candles in a store, trying to decide which one to buy. At one point, the guy recommends the Cinnamon Seashell candle to his sweetheart and she agrees its a nice scent. Pleased with himself about his discovery, he takes another big whiff of the candle and then looks up to find a father and son, sporting Texas Rangers' t-shirts, looking on in disgust at this not so manly act. A teaser reads: "You could use some baseball."
And director Jeff Bednarz just shot the Texas Tourism Package out of TM Advertising in Irving.
Stephanie Murdoch, producer at TM, said the shoot took two weeks and covered a lot of territory in Texas. "Jeff knows a ton of Texas places. He is the epitome of the Texas guy so we didn't have to worry about anything."
This is the fourth campaign she has worked on for Texas Tourism. "Every time, I see a new place that I didn't see before. The locations in Texas are so diverse. I don't think people are aware of that."
In addition to Texas Tourism, TM has created spots for Bell Helicopter and American Airlines. The commercial for Bell Helicopter was the first TV spot in the brand's 65-year history and shows the company's support for the U.S. Armed Forces. The commercial was shot in Texas and Washington, D.C., and features yellow ribbons located in various places in a series of vignettes that take viewers on a journey through everyday life in America.
The American Airlines spot was filmed at Dallas Fort Worth Terminal. The campaign also encompasses webisodes for the American Airlines Advantage website. In the webisodes a spokesman for the airline is filmed in different cities such Rome, Paris and London so customers can discover different things to do in these locations.
"We're getting more requests like that. The broadcast department and interactive department worked on this together to execute it. It's kind of doubled our broadcast workload but its fun. It's a total learning experience for us," Murdoch relates.
She is relieved that Texas passed the incentives bill so more people can take advantage of the talent available in Texas.
"The talent in Texas is great--directors, crew, editors music, everything. I know that if I need to get something great produced, I can stay here and get it done really well. I think more agencies will use postproduction companies here. And once they give them a chance, they'll come back."
Carrie Callaway of edit house Red Car, Dallas, is optimistic that the incentive program "will have the Texas agencies wanting to stay home." She says she probably won't see the effects of it until this time next year. In the meantime, the company has had a good first and second quarter.
"The TV commercial is still strong and alive at Red Car and with the clients and agencies we work with," Callaway says.
She points out that Red Car recently opened an audio suite. "So we are able to not only do offline but do our finish here as well with online and mixing. We just signed on Collyer Spreen who was formerly with Filmworkers Club in Dallas as our audio engineer. He will be mixing our final TV spots and mixing all our radio."
Recent projects include Texas Lottery with TracyLocke, Dallas; BC Powder out of Publicis, Dallas and AT&T via Dieste Harmel and Partners, Dallas.
Dieste Harmel and Dallas-based Reel FX recently collaborated on a spot for Gatorade called "Punch by Punch." The spot is entirely CG except for the action in the boxing ring, according to Jason Needleman, general manager, Reel FX.
The crowd was created using Massive, a software program that allows for crowd duplication. "We've been using it more and more because it's a more economical way. It's really expensive to go to a stadium and shoot people at halftime or at a boxing match between rounds," Needleman says.
In March, Reel FX announced a merger with Radium, the California-based digital studio. The combined group boasts an artist pool of more than 130 individuals.
Needleman points out the company will be migrating to the Radium name for its commercial services and that Reel FX will remain the name for the entertainment division. Business has been particularly strong for the creative studio the last few months.
"We've seen an uptick. We are excited to go into summer doldrums a little bit better than where we were expected to be. A lot of it is we are a content provider, whether its commercials, movies, the internet, for mobile phones.
"I think everyone is trying to define what new media is and it's ambiguous for a reason because its changing on an hourly basis. I think we are in a sweet spot of being able to provide not only the content once its fleshed out but help create the idea," Needleman says.
"With new media generally the budgets are a little bit smaller so you have to be smarter about how you are going to do it.
"People come to us now earlier in the process versus just considering us a post house. In the purest sense we are a design studio. It's great to collaborate rather than just be given a set of boards to complete."
He is hopeful that the incentive program is just the beginning of and even greater economic incentive program so that "more of a rush of people will think of Texas."
The New Hollywood?
Houston born actor Dennis Quaid, who was on hand with the governor for the ceremonial bill signing, wants people to think of Austin as "the new Hollywood."
According to Gary Bond, director of the Austin Film Commission, Austin is fortunate to be located on the cusp of several topographical areas: the Hill Country and Highland lakes to the West, rolling prairie and pine forest to the east, several smaller towns within 30 miles, as well as a modern urban environment that continues to grow. "This gives Austin and the surrounding area road-movie appeal, and also "road commercial" appeal," he says.
"We do a ton of automobile spots here. We also offer a deep and talented crew pool, waive permit fees for filmmakers who use city right-of-ways and have available a city-owned film studio [Austin Studios], which is managed by the not-for-profit Austin Film Society."
He points out that commercial production is the hardest of all types of production to track, making it difficult to get any meaningful production budget numbers.
That being said, he reports that business has seemed pretty much on a par with recent years, he says. "That is another benefit to our state's new incentive program,; it should make the in-state spending easier to track."
The Future Looks Bright
Bond says he is always looking for ways to better serve his clients. He reports that currently there are plans for a large state-of-the-art film facility on the outskirts of Austin and that the Austin Film Commission is working with the city and local vendors on a filmmakers' discount card. And of course there are the new state incentives.
"I am delighted as is everyone I know in the film business here, to finally have an incentive package to offer to qualifying projects.
"I expect more and larger commercials and productions of all kinds to take advantage of the new state program," Bond says.
He is also excited that NBC has renewed the primetime hit Friday Night Lights for a second season and that it will continue to be shot in Austin. Expanding on the feature film Friday Night Lights, the series centers on the small rural town of Dillon, Texas, where the coveted state football championship rings are held in the highest regard.
To save money and increase its chances for renewal, the show was considering moving production to Louisiana or New Mexico.
"The order for a full season will help provide a synergy to other television productions, including commercials--more available equipment and personnel, better infrastructure and greater recognition of this area as a production center. Nothing succeeds like success," Bond says.