joe's d col
- Texas Legislature to consider larger incentives for filmmakers
12:00 AM CST on Friday, January 2, 2009
Joe O'Connell filmnewsbyjoe@...
Are financial incentives for filmmakers a good idea, and can they save
the Texas film scene?
Those are the operative questions as the Texas Legislature revs up this
month with a proposal from Gov. Rick Perry to nearly triple the state's
fledgling incentives program.
Hard figures won't be out for a week or two, but 2008 generally is seen
as a down year for the state's film industry.
"They stayed away in droves," says Bob Hudgins, head of the Texas Film
Commission. They being Hollywood studios that have bypassed Texas and
its 5 percent rebate on spending in favor of states such as Michigan
that offer up to 42 percent incentives through tax rebates or direct
North Texas' saving graces were television commercials, reality
television, video games, small independent films and longtime heroes
such as the PBS show Barney and Friends.
"Truthfully, it could have been a whole lot worse," says Janis Burklund
of the Dallas Film Commission. That's despite the loss of Prison Break,
which moved production to Los Angeles after two seasons (the second one
truncated by the writers strike) in Dallas.
Look for the Texas Motion Picture Alliance to push to increase the
state's incentives to 15 percent, a number not so quietly touted as the
point of equilibrium given Texas' established crew base and varied
shooting locations, particularly in the filming hubs around Dallas and
Austin. Perry is proposing boosting the two-year incentives budget to
$62 million, a $40 million increase over the 2007-08 authorization.
But the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, in a recently released
report (see www.tpj.org/watch yourassets/film), says multinational
corporations are the true beneficiaries, particularly of rebates given
to television commercial shoots. Hudgins says that's dead wrong and that
the group's study was biased. "For the most part, Texas-based production
companies benefit," he says. "That's a fact."
Meanwhile, some bigger-spending states also are taking second looks at
film incentives. In New Mexico, which offers 25 percent tax rebates, the
Legislative Finance Committee commissioned a study that found each
dollar of rebates returned only 14.4 cents in tax revenue; some there
have suggested a $30 million yearly incentives cap (roughly what Perry
is proposing in Texas).
In Louisiana, which also offers a 25 percent tax rebate, critics have
balked at the $27 million – including part of Brad Pitt's salary – owed
for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
In Texas, the $22 million total approved for the first two years of the
incentives program in 2007 didn't get many takers outside of commercials
and the television series Friday Night Lights and Prison Break. (The
latter stands to get just more than $1 million back from $17.4 million
spent before closing shop in North Texas.) Prison Break also employed
more than 1,000 people, which the state calculates as the equivalent of
200 full-time jobs.
With little interest from Hollywood, $8 million of the $22 million could
end up unspent, Hudgins says.
In its current state, Texas' program brings in $27 for every incentives
dollar spent, he says. Under an expanded program, the big return still
probably would come from commercials and video games, while feature
films incentives may have a hard time breaking even.
Then why increase incentives? Hudgins is guessing at a $400 million
increase in filming activity in the state, including feature films and
network television series work, as a result of greater incentives.
Plus, he sees creative vision losing out to the cold, hard bottom line.
Even stalwart Texas filmmakers such as Robert Rodriguez, who has built a
film studio near Austin, are facing studio pressure to shoot where
incentives funds flow deeper.
With increased Texas incentives, Burklund says, she sees "no reason we
can't blow the socks off of other states, and they know that."
SHOT IN TEXAS: Texan Nick Krause gets breakout role in film with Oscar buzz
BY JOE O'CONNELL
Special to The Dallas Morning News
It was a surreal moment for young Texan Nick Krause as he stepped on the red carpet for The Descendants during the Toronto International Film Festival last week.
Krause, 19, portrays Sid, a goofy beach bum friend to George Clooney’s on-screen daughter in the film. The Hawaii-set and -filmed tale of a father in crisis, directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways), is already getting Oscar buzz.
Atherton woke him at 5 a.m. to make an audition tape that led to a meeting with Payne. Krause figured the laid-back character Sid would be a Cheetos fan and gifted Payne with a small bag of them. He got the part.
“The audition process had taken months, and we weren’t sure if Nick was still even in the running,” Atherton said. “We set up a Hawaiian shrine by the phones, hoping the call would come. When it did, not only did we celebrate, I’m sure the neighbors are still talking about the screams.”
He’s not the only actor in the family. His sister, Kate Krause, played Tabby Garrity for three seasons on Austin-shot Friday Night Lights, and two older brothers dabbled in acting when they were young.
It marks a major leap for Nick Krause from small roles in films such as How to Eat Fried Worms. Atherton believes it was his involvement in Richard Linklater’s ongoing 12-year independent project, Boyhood, that piqued Payne’s interest.
“He’s a very cool guy,” Krause said. “He’s superprofessional but down-to-earth. One minute he’s joking around with extras and hanging out with crew. Five minutes later, he’s in character and on time.”
Krause also scored a role in the Dallas-shot Good Christian Belles television pilot but was written out of the series when it moved to Los Angeles, where he is now living and riding this wave wherever it takes him.
“It’s really about sticking with it,” he said. “When you get turned down at your first audition, you just have to forget it and keep going.”
Atherton, who 15 years ago bought an existing Central Texas talent agency that counted her other sons as clients, worries that Krause will have a hard time furthering his career in Texas.
“I think we are at risk of losing film and TV as an integral part of our economic fabric: Plain and simple, our incentive program is not competitive enough,” she said. “I recently spoke at length with a high-profile producer friend of mine who is presently packaging his next film — a film centered on a Texas theme — and he will likely film in Louisiana. Why? Because it just makes more business sense.”
Film studios get haunted
Filming wrapped this month in North Texas on The Ghost of Goodnight Lane . The horror tale starring Billy Zane (Titanic) claims to be based on reality, in the tradition of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre . The kicker is this new film is about ghosts purported to haunt Alin Bijan’s Media World Studios; most of the film was shot in the studios themselves. The studio’s ghosts have been said to move heavy equipment and once slapped someone’s face. Also in the cast are Lacey Chabert ( Mean Girls), Danielle Harris (Halloween), Matt Dallas (Kyle XY) and Richard Tyson (Black Hawk Down). J.D. Sanders’ FTG Media Group served as executive producer on the film. Check out a production blog at ghostofgoodnightlane.com.
Joe O’Connell is an Austin-based freelance writer.