American Crime Going Back to Cali

TV show departs Austin over incentives

More bad news for Texas television production: Variety reports that ABC's American Crime, which shot its first two seasons in Austin, will be relocating to California for season 3, and it looks like production incentives are the culprit.

Texas suffers more runaway production as American Crime (shown here featuring stars Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton) relocates to California.

There's a certain symmetry at play: season 1 of the drama was set in Modesto, Calif., but shot in Austin, as was season 2, which was set in Indianapolis. The action for season 3 moves to North Carolina, but production moves to California, as the show has been approved to receive an estimated $5.2 million under the California Film and Television Tax Credit Program.

This is exactly the kind of worst case scenario for Texas creatives predicted last legislative session, when lawmakers decided to slash the funding for the state’s own creative financial support, the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program. While the fund is commonly referred to as film incentives, they are structured to be more favorable to the long-term investment of TV than the touch-and-go world of studio feature films. American Crime series creator John Ridley originally picked Austin in no small part because of the Texas incentives.

However, in 2015 there was a big fight, between the TV and film industry representatives on one side, and digital and gaming industries (which are also eligible for the funds) on the other. They argued about who should have greater access, and who provided a better return on investment. In a fit of exasperation, lawmakers basically declared a pox on both their houses, and cut the allocation for TMIIIP from $95 million for the 2014-15 biennium, to $32 million for 2016-17 (See "They Shoot Movies, Don't They?," April 22).

This meant there was less money in the kitty at a time when California (arguably the greatest victim of runaway productions) was ramping up its own incentives. With state support for production such a significant component of the cash calculation for midsize to large productions (they’re arguably the only reason that Louisiana, Georgia, Toronto, and Hungary have the film industries they do), the math was simple, and so American Crime relocated.

The announcement couldn’t come at a worse time for TV jobs in Texas, and particularly Central Texas. In recent months, the region has lost two shows in their third season: The Leftovers relocated to Australia, while Robert Rodriguez’s long-form adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn has packed up its vampire-slaying kit and set up shop in New Mexico.

The situation seems set to get worse, especially as TV becomes an increasingly marginal business form in the face of competition from streaming and cable-cutting. If Texas can’t become more competitive on the incentives front – either by increasing its own stake, or hoping every other state abandons them – it could be bleak news for its creatives and craftspeople.

For more about American Crime, read our interview with series creator John Ridley.

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84th Texas Legislature, TMIIIP, Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, Film Incentives, American Crime, John Ridley

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