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The Legislature's $20 million in proposed incentives to lure more film projects to Texas is emphasizing jobs and aiming to boost rural areas as well as larger cities like Austin; plus, Wes Anderson's next movie

By Joe O'Connell, Fri., March 18, 2005

The Legislature's $20 million in proposed incentives to lure more film projects to Texas is emphasizing jobs and aiming to boost rural areas as well as larger cities like Austin. And, of course, it's all about turning back the infidels in Louisiana and New Mexico whose similar incentive programs have cut into our slice of the auction. Early wording has landed in two House committees, and it offers a grant per film of a max of $750,000 for each $3.75 million spent on below-the-line wages to Texans for work done in Texas. That doesn't include large salaries for directors and star actors. To qualify, the projects have to spend at least $500,000 on Texas wages, while national and multistate commercials must spend $50,000 to qualify. In an interesting twist, movies that spend at least a quarter of their shoots outside Austin, Houston, and the Metroplex can get additional bucks. And a separate $10 million would be earmarked to promote the Texas film industry under the proposal with the belief that movies filmed in Texas raise the state's profile. The one-time (at least for now) incentive funds are projected to create 7,600 direct jobs and 15,200 indirect jobs each year, if the proposal passes. More important, they could end the migration of Texas film crew and talent to Louisiana, which was highlighted recently when one of Austin's largest talent agencies, Jeff Nightbyrd's Acclaim, opened a New Orleans office. Film folk should do the necessary at the earliest: Contact your legislators.

Heard at SXSW: Luke Wilson, who, along with older brother Andrew premiered The Wendell Baker Story on South by Southwest Film 05's opening night, said during a press conference for the Austin-shot film that he's considering returning to the capital city for his upcoming adaptation of Jim Lehrer's novel White Widow. The story is set in 1950s Texas and centers on a bus driver with a fertile imagination. But first, Luke is working on a project with Matthew Lawrence set in Florida. Meanwhile, Owen Wilson spilled the beans on the next film for his frequent writing partner Wes Anderson. It's an adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's book Fantastic Mr. Fox featuring evil farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean ("one fat, one short, one lean") vs. a sly critter. Wendell Baker co-star Harry Dean Stanton, who chain-smoked his way through the press conference, proclaimed that "Austin is the cultural center of Texas, frankly." Also of note, recent Oscar nominee Thomas Haden Church said the stoner comedy Rolling Kansas, which he directed in the Austin area in 2003, was sold to Comedy Central.

• The untitled Focus Features film formerly known as Revolver has started shooting at Austin Studios. Joining Sarah Michelle Gellar in the cast are Sam Shepard, Kate Beahan (the upcoming Flight Plan), J.C. MacKenzie (Dark Angel), Adam Scott (The Aviator), and Aussie actor Peter O'Brien.

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