El Rey Move Lights Up Austin Film Scene

Robert Rodriguez's network to use Austin as corporate HQ

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Robert Rodriguez
Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Robert Rodriguez (Photo courtesy of El Rey Network)

In a big boost for local film and TV professionals, Robert Rodriguez has announced that his El Rey Network will use Austin as its production and corporate headquarters. The filmmaker said, "I can't imagine a more iconic and inspiring location for our production headquarters or for the filming of our upcoming projects."

This makes El Rey the first TV network to be based out of Texas. The fledgling station was founded and launched last year, as a collaboration between Rodriguez, Uni­vi­sion, and John Fogelman and Cris­tina Patwa, co-founders of California-based media consulting and talent development firm FactoryMade Ventures. Its target demographic is one that has historically been underserved by U.S. studios and networks: Second- and third-generation Latinos who live in English-speaking households. El Rey currently reaches 40 million homes around the U.S., plus international audiences through Netflix deals for some of its programming.

The selection of Austin as its headquarters is another major step in the city's growth as a film and television production center. Previously, El Rey has not had a centralized office, with management split between Los Angeles, New York, and Austin. To date, the bulk of its programming has been films from the archives, including Rodriguez's own output. But Rodriguez has already made the network's first original programming, the serial adaptation of his 1996 film From Dusk Till Dawn, at his East Austin production facility Troublemaker Studios. Last month, he confirmed that the show had been picked up for a second season, and the network's second original drama, Matador, starring Gabriel Luna as Tony "Matador" Bravo (soccer star by day, CIA agent by night), will debut in July, to coincide with the end of the FIFA World Cup tournament.

El Rey will announce the exact details of the move in the near future, including how many jobs could be created. However, the network plans a total investment of $1.5 billion over the next decade, and having Austin as its base means a big chunk of that could be spent locally.

The announcement is good news for Austin's ability to attract employers, and arguably a welcome positive after IT firm Dropbox became the third company to cancel an incentive deal with the city (see Headlines, p.10.) Mayor Lee Leffing­well said, "Austin is home to creative, talented people who do pioneering, game-changing work, and Robert Rodriguez exemplifies our creative base of talent. We're pleased that the network has chosen Austin, which speaks volumes about our filmmaking environment."

It's also potentially good news for Austin's production professionals and creative class. Feature films are great employment, but they're generally short-term gigs. It's simple math: A short shoot for even a Hollywood production like True Grit still means fewer paychecks and job opportunities than five seasons of Friday Night Lights. Austin has previously attracted seasons of The Lying Game and Revolution. However, both shows were cancelled, taking the jobs with them. This announcement potentally means more than just one show, and therefore greater stability for local crews.

Austin's creative economy is already estimated to produce $4.35 billion in local economic impact, and this relocation could provide a significant boost to that number. It also comes as production capacity is poised to expand: In 2012, voters approved a $5.4 million bond to renovate the former National Guard Armory at Austin Studios – right next door to Troublemaker - as flexible office and shooting space.

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