Austin Film Scene Keeps Plugging Along, Without Competitive State Incentives

Mar 9, 2018

State-sponsored film incentives are a big driver of the entertainment industry these days. States like Georgia and Louisiana have beefed up their programs, luring big projects away from states that have curbed their programs – like Texas.

The State of Texas has provided $22 million through the Texas Moving Image Incentive Program (TMIIP) to help shows like AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead film here. And while $22 million sounds like a lot, it’s down more than 75 percent from its peak of $95 million in state rebates available just a few years ago.

To further complicate things, the TMIIP funds are shared between film, television, commercial and video game projects.

While the lack of incentives may have scared off big-budget projects, incentives aren’t the end-all be-all for Texas film success.

Smaller-budget filmmakers, like Richard Linklater, continue to tell stories here.

Director Richard Linklater talks with the media before the 2018 Texas Film Awards in Austin on Thursday.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

“Is it harder to make films without the incentive programs and our state’s support, or less support?” he said. “Certainly, but that affects the lower-budget films less, I think. You know, you make it because you want to make films in your own backyard with your friends. There's so much talent here.”

Linklater says there’s a certain budget level where the incentives don’t really matter that much. Most films shot in Austin are in that zone.

“We have a thriving ecosystem for independent film here,” said Holly Herrick, head of film and creative media at the Austin Film Society. "We do not have every piece of the puzzle solved.”

Herrick says Texas has major pieces that other states don't, though.

“We have film production and creative media production happening in Austin all the time,” she said. “We have artists that make their home here. We have educational institutions that support the filmmaking community by churning out apprentices and crew. And we have an amazing and talented crew base that continue to find work in the region.”

And then there’s the annual pilgrimage the film industry makes for South By Southwest.

“Having the industry’s attention is a crucial part of that ecosystem,” said Herrick. “So, we really wouldn’t have what we have if it weren’t for South By Southwest, but it just is one other piece of this puzzle that makes Austin such  a thriving community.”

Pat Kondelis is a documentary film director based in Austin. His film Disgraced premiered at last year's SXSW film festival.

“Getting into South By and other people seeing that film and reviewing that at South By, I don’t know how to measure how much that helped us, but it was huge,” he said.

Kondelis' production company, Bat Bridge Entertainment, has been busy ever since. It recently produced a documentary series on Patty Hearst for CNN and is working on a few projects now. Kondelis says being in Texas has been a positive.

“That’s something that we hear from networks all the time is that they love that we are not working on the coast,” he said. “Strangely enough, just our geographic position being based in Texas, I think, makes us more desirable to networks, because we’re obviously going to have a different perspective on things, especially on storytelling.”

Deborah Valcin, from the Austin Film Society, helps Giovanni Hernandez record audio during film club at Hart Elementary School.
Credit Austin Price for KUT

The Austin Film Society is also working on the next generation. It gives away $100,000 annually in grants to burgeoning filmmakers throughout the state. It uses fundraisers like the Texas Film Awards held Thursday to help pay for those grants. It also has programs in local schools.

“We run after-school programs in underserved schools in Austin, which teach children about media literacy and filmmaking,” Herrick said.

The hope is that one day, a few of those students may grow up to make movies close to home.