Tuesday, June 02, 2009

How to Stamp Out Film Production in Texas

Are these dudes portraying Texans in a negative light?

If you are going to give tax-breaks for people doing business in Texas, how should you do it? It shouldn't be for businesses that don't bring money into Texas, or businesses that depend mostly on low-paid, unskilled labor. (In other words, there should never be tax breaks for retailers like Walmart or Cabela's.) Tax breaks, if you are going to offer them, it should be for businesses that are bringing money into Texas, and second it should be for businesses that hire skilled labor and/or professionals. Tax breaks for film production in Texas fit the bill perfectly--the films are almost always financed elsewhere, but when a production sets up in Texas, skilled Texas workers like camera operators and "gaffers" and "best boys" (not to mention accountants and office assistants, etc.) get hired.

So there's a producer making a film called Waco about the Branch Davidians. A perfect place to film Waco would be Texas! But no! As the Chronicle reports in an editorial this morning:
We’re all for granting tax incentives to lure filmmakers to Texas. But in 2007, state Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, added an annoying proviso to a bill intended to do that. To qualify for our tax incentives, a movie can’t portray “Texas or Texans in a negative light.”

Producer Emilio Ferrari has no intention of going there. His current project, Waco, is based on David Koresh and the Branch Davidians — a story with a combustible, highly marketable mix of sex, religion and armed standoff. The $30 million project, which Ferrari planned to film near Houston, would be one of the biggest Texas-made movies in years.

But citing Ogden’s proviso, the Texas Film Commission refuses to grant Waco a tax incentive. The movie, the commission says, portrays Texas or Texans in a negative light.

Amazing! You can get a tax break if you film a movie in Texas, but only if it is pro-Texas propaganda!

To please Sen. Ogden, would cowboys have to stop brawling, drinking and canoodling with women of questionable moral character? Would the next JFK skip the assassination? Would characters from a future Dazed and Confused sign abstinence pledges? Would the next Texas Chainsaw Massacre show neighbors helping neighbors remove wayward trees?

Now the producer is scouting locations in friendlier states. Waco may go to Louisiana.

That hurts a Texan’s pride. And so do the questions raised by the affair. Since when do we worry what people think of us? What happened to Texans’ confidence, our swagger? Are we really that defensive? That priggish? That … boring?

Way to shoot ourselves in the foot. Oh well, maybe we can make up for it by giving more tax breaks to retail stores, which take money from some Texans, give a sliver of it to other poorly-paid Texans, and send the retained earnings back to Bentonville, Arkansas.

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