Dukes Moves to Boost Film Incentives

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes
State Rep. Dawnna Dukes (Photo by John Anderson)

In 2007, Gov. Rick Perry signed off on $22 million in funds for the new Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program. For the next biennium, Perry wants to boost that investment to $60 million, and Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, wants to fine-tune legislation to keep media production in Texas. "We want to be realistic and competitive," she said.

According to the Texas Film Commission, about 150 TV, film, and computer-game productions have applied to the program, bringing in $200 million in spending and receiving $10.5 million in grants. But the program saw teething troubles, with a backlog of applications and concerns about low payouts (see "Abandoning the Nest," Screens, May 23, 2008). Texas actually saw a drop in film production after the program began, as a tight economy overwhelmed creative decisions on location choices. "The conversation has changed," said Texas Film Commission Director Bob Hudgins. "Filmmakers tell us, 'Our investors say we have to go here and we have to go there.'"

Over the interim, lawmakers and the commission met with studios to discuss what Texas needs to do to stop projects going elsewhere, to states with similar incentive programs, such as Louisiana. The incentive package was quickly identified as the weak link. Dukes explained: "We put some very high standards in the bill, to encourage the use of Texas residents in the production and the amount of production. The bars are a bit high, so we have not been able to capitalize as much as we would have desired."

Dukes has introduced House Bill 873 to address those lessons learned. The bill drops the total amount of in-state spending required for a qualifying production and extends the program to cover the potentially lucrative educational and instructional video market. Dukes hopes this will attract filmmakers back to Texas (Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, is working on a soundstage-development construction bill, to ensure there's enough production space if they do come). Most importantly, the bill gives the Film Commission more authority over the program so it can be more responsive to shifting market demands. While commissioners will still be responsible to the Legislature and the comptroller, Dukes explained, "We did not want to come back every single session to micromanage."

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