Time for a New Republic (Studios)
John Robison is building a creative campus out in Bastrop
Austin's reputation as a film and TV production center could get a new boost through a proposal to turn a local studio into a massive creative campus, matching those that turned Atlanta into Hollywood's new rival.
Since 2009, Bastrop's Spiderwood Studios has hosted productions including Open Windows (starring Elijah Wood), NBC's Revolution, and AMC's The Son. Within the past few months the studio has been rebranded as New Republic Studios, but there's a lot more going on than a new sign. The investor and entrepreneur behind the massive expansion is Texan John Robison, a tech and film entrepreneur fascinated with "the convergence of technology and content" who sees New Republic as a full "creative platform" – "not just stages, but everything, involving the universities, TV, and gaming. … Someone needs to build a campus and start tying together all the other resources that people don't know about."
That someone, he says, is him.
New Republic's expansion came about by sheer accident. As chairman of Hollywood Movie Works, Robison helped break open the Chinese market for American films and film production. After dozens of trips to Asia, then-Governor Rick Perry contacted him about transferring the work to Texas rather than China. Robison remembers Perry's pitch: "The creativity of L.A., the technology of San Francisco, nice people, and no income tax."
Robison opened discussions with Spiderwood founder Tommy G. Warren over a year ago, and bought the entire operation from Warren last year*, including four purpose-built sound stages and a 200-acre back lot. He envisions production offices, pre- and post-production services, and facilities designed to attract the growing AR and VR industries. "We've got a lot of land out there," he said, "where we can build whatever we want."
Robison doesn't see New Republic as competition for existing facilities like Robert Rodriguez's Troublemaker or Austin Studios. They're complementary, he believes, and the whole region could see a boost from each other's successes. He plans to develop a pricing system to demonstrate regional savings to line producers as a way of combating the state's infamously weak incentive program, which remains an issue.
The studio's first big hire is Mindy Raymond, outgoing executive director of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance. She's now New Republic's director of marketing and development. After a soft launch during the Austin Film Festival, her team is already booking shoots and office space. The big push will begin in March, when the film and creative industries descend on Austin for South by Southwest.
The goal is a campus and full production pipeline that can stop Texas' ample creative and technical talent from going out of state to get work. And there's reason to believe that can happen. It was the development of Pinewood in Atlanta, as much as Georgia's generous incentives, that attracted production to that city.
By turning New Republic into a mixed-purpose facility, the hope is that the campus will always have some tenants. If Robison can accomplish that, he may be able to win over state lawmakers who've been leery of what they see as an industry propped up by fly-by-night Hollywood shows. By building a major production facility that looks like any research campus, he can show them "this is a real industry. … If you want to be in the manufacturing business, content needs a manufacturing facility.
* Editors note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Warren had retired.