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  • Mindy Raymond

Pyne, Thames: Film rebate program keeps Texas 'real'

Producers of the feature film "Galveston" needed a coastal town for the setting of their crime thriller, now in production and based on the recent novel of the same name. Galveston was available, but producers chose to shoot in Savannah, Ga.

The film titled "Galveston" actually was shot in Savannah, Ga. Producers say other states have more lucrative economic incentives, and draw them away from the Lone Star State

The film joined the ranks of "Hell or High Water," "No Country for Old Men" and others with Texas settings and Texas stories that were shot in other states with more lucrative economic enticements. (New Mexico doubled as Texas for both movies.)

Unless the Texas Legislature acts quickly before its session ends May 29, viewers worldwide can likely say goodbye to films and TV shows that depict the real Texas.

That's because lawmakers are poised to slash or eliminate the 15-year-old Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, which offers rebates to film and game producers who bring business to our state.

The Texas House of Representatives "zeroed out" the film and music divisions of the Governor's Office in budget deliberations for the next two years, and the Texas Senate proposed only $3 million. The Governor's Office requested $74 million. During the last legislative session, lawmakers cut the program from $95 million to $32 million for the current biennium.

We are producers who want to film in Texas. We want to hire Texans to tell our state's stories. We want to hire local film crews and location scouts, employ local security companies, build sets with materials from local lumber yards and hardware stores and enjoy food from local caterers.

Texas' mistitled incentive program (it's really a rebate) apparently has given the misimpression to some that Texas hands out millions to Hollywood types who flee our state and pocket our money in California. But the facts tell the real story.

For every dollar spent during productions from the rebate program from September 2007 to the end of 2016, Texas has seen a $5.55 return on investment, the Texas Film Commission reports. The program defrayed production costs by providing $1.91 million to qualified applicants who spent $1.25 billion on Texas residents and their businesses. Qualified producers created 142,974 production jobs during that period.

Qualified applicants must hire a cast and crew of at least 70 percent Texans, shoot at least 60 percent of the production here, undergo a rigorous audit and portray Texas in a positive light - BEFORE receiving any rebate money. In other words, government is not "picking winners and losers," as some have criticized. The rebate program is not structured that way.

The economic payback is only one benefit. The rebates also boost tourism and Texas' image.

Increasingly, other states draw tourists interested in seeing the locations where shows were filmed or the site of a historic event they saw on the screen. The City of Philadelphia estimates that millions of people visit not just the Liberty Bell but also the art museum to run the "Rocky steps." Recognizing the potential here, the Texas Film Commission launched a "Texas Film Trails" program that takes visitors to locations of popular shows where they spend their money on local businesses.

Texas-made films have spread our state's legacy and built its image for generations. The story of the Alamo has been filmed 10 times here and drawn millions of visitors. "Giant" lures tourists to West Texas 60 years later. "Urban Cowboy" and "Terms of Endearment," filmed more than 30 years ago in the Houston area, still draw visitors looking for "that mechanical bull" or "Aurora's house." Fans of TV's "Dallas" flock to the Southfork Ranch today.

The impact of film rebates is real - on the economy, on tourism and on our state's image.

Texas and Texans deserve full funding for this program, to make sure the next version of "The Alamo" isn't shot in Georgia.

Pyne is a Houston-based producer who wanted to shoot her film "A Little Something for Your Birthday," in Texas but shot elsewhere because of the lack of incentives. The film premieres next week and stars Sharon Stone, Tony Goldwyn, Ellen Burstyn and Texas actors Jason Gibson and Cami Pyne. Thames is a Houston-born writer/producer based in Los Angeles. His long list of credits include "I Dream Too Much," which he produced with Texas-based director Rick Linklater. He wants to shoot his historical drama "Texas City," about the country's largest industrial disaster in Texas, here in his home state.

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