NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A commercial for a zombie Nerf gun. Development of a fantasy role playing video game. A major network crime drama. Texas has awarded money to all of them in 2017, an incentive the entertainment industry in the state is fighting to save.
Sources say the latest version of the state budget being negotiated in Austin, has trimmed funding for the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program down as low as $3.5 million dollars. That would be less than the ABC show “American Crime” received in January, and down from a high of $95 million dollars four years ago.
The cut comes as legislators are trying to fill billion dollar holes in next year’s budget. The perception that the incentive program provides welfare for Hollywood, makes it a likely target.
“My priority is more along the lines of education, CPS and not giving taxpayer funds to either producers, actors or video game producers,” said Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-West Plano.
Shaheen introduced a bill this year to eliminate the Texas Film Commission entirely. There is a similar bill in the Senate from Sen. Konni Burton, R-Fort Worth.
“My other question is,” Shaheen said, “does Texas really get a return on the investment?”
Shaheen pointed to the bulk of the awards in 2016 going to commercials, providing short term economic activity. He contends spots for local companies like Whataburger, and HEB, aren’t leaving, even if the fund does.
John Schrimpf of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance though, said some of the larger productions are already gone.
“You’ll find in New Mexico right now, that there are three or four TV series that are actually based in Texas, yet they’re shooting in New Mexico because they have the funding and the program,” Schrimpf said.
He argues the Texas program is different than most, focused on benefitting Texans, not Hollywood.
For a production to qualify, 70 percent of the employees, cast or crew must be Texas residents. Sixty percent of the total production has to be done in the state. After applications and CPA audits, a film commission audit can last eight to nine months before a production ever receives a rebate check.
In the case of a TV series, it can be applied to jobs that have the potential to last when a series is a hit. When rain all but stopped construction jobs for Barry Biffle two years ago, he answered an ad to pick up trash on the production lot of Texas Flip and Move, which shoots in Tarrant County. Two years later, they’re preparing for seasons eight and nine, and Biffle is now the general contractor with nearly three dozen people working for him.
“The guys, they know they’re going to come to work tomorrow like we’re working in a factory or a shop,” he said. “They know there’s still going to be work.”
More than 100 projects received funding last year, and another 15 had received check totaling nearly $4.5 million through the first two months of 2017.