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Houston Filmmakers and Actors: Filmmakers hope to keep cameras rolling

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Filmmakers hope to keep cameras rolling

Dec. 27, 2004, 9:24AM

Filmmakers hope to keep cameras rolling

Movie insiders say Texas needs to offer incentives to keep business

By KELLEY SHANNON
Associated Press

RESOURCES

TEXAS MOVIES

The movie industry in Texas took hold in the 1990s. Some of the movies filmed in the state during that time: •The Alamo, 2003
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, 2001
The Life of David Gale, 2001
Traffic, 2000
Miss Congeniality, 2000
Spy Kids, 2000
All the Pretty Horses, 1999
The Faculty, 1998
Selena, 1996
Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, 1995
Dazed and Confused, 1992
JFK, 1991
Slacker, 1990


Source: Texas Film Commission

AUSTIN - Cameras keep rolling on Texas movie sets, but nearby states are grabbing a piece of the action.

Directors Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater made films here in the past year. And Burnt Orange Productions, an upstart Austin for-profit venture that works with University of Texas film students, shot its first picture and plans many more.

Film-industry insiders, though, warn that the state must work to retain the film business that blossomed in the past decade or risk losing it to nearby states where financial incentives are attracting producers.

"Filmmakers tend to follow filmmakers. If there's a hot spot, they're going. New Orleans is a hot spot right now," said Tom Copeland, director of the Texas Film Commission.

The commission is looking at new ways to promote the Texas movie-making infrastructure. Specific proposals are expected in the 2005 state legislative session.

Economic impact

Austin city officials are working on similar strategies. A city study released in August pegged the economic impact of film and visual media on the city at $360 million annually.

MovieMaker magazine just named Austin the top location in the nation to live and make movies. Houston was No. 10.

Filmmakers often praise the diversity of locations near Austin and the fact that crews, equipment and studios are already in the city.

Texas gives moviemakers some sales-tax exemptions, but other states are "literally throwing money at people to get them to come there," Copeland said.

In Louisiana — where, unlike Texas, there is a state income tax — moviemakers can get investor tax credits and payroll credits.

New Mexico also provides tax incentives and recently announced funding to train film technicians.

Texas film-industry experts worry about losing the state's all-important crew base — the behind-the-scenes people who tend to sets, operate cameras and work in production.

"Our crews are leaving and going to work on films in Louisiana and New Mexico. I hear it almost every single day," said Carolyn Pfeiffer, president and chief executive of Burnt Orange Productions.

Hardworking crews

Producer Elizabeth Avellan, who makes movies in Austin with her husband, Rodriguez, said professional, hard-working crew members in Texas are a big attraction.

Rarely, she said, do they encounter "whining" or "drama" from crews.

"Drama takes a lot of time, and time is money in the movie business," Avellan said. "When you have crews that are professional and know what they're doing, you get it done faster."

The couple's Texas-made films include the Spy Kids movies.

Last spring they filmed Sin City in the area, and they are working on The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl, set for release June 10.

Rodriguez and Avellan live in Austin, where they operate their Troublemaker Studios, and shoot 80 percent or more of their movies in Texas. They don't intend to be lured to neighboring states, Avellan said.

But Texas should try to persuade filmmakers not to flee, she said, praising the bipartisan movie-industry support shown by Texas leaders.

As of early December, $304.7 million from 51 projects flowed into film production in Texas this year, Copeland said.

Making choice easier

State and local officials are well aware of that economic impact.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry joined governors from the three other most populous states this year to urge Congress to stop filmmakers from making movies in other countries because it is so much cheaper.

The governors asked Congress to allow immediate expensing of production costs for some U.S.-made films.

Every production dollar generates $2 to $5 in a local economy, the governors said.

In the Austin area, Burnt Orange Productions has plans to become a larger part of the economy.

Burnt Orange, working with the University of Texas Film Institute, wants to produce eight to 10 commercially viable, feature-length films in its first three years, in the budget range of $500,000 to $3 million per picture.

Almost all the movies will be filmed in Central Texas.

About 30 students — some paid but most earning internship credits — worked on the recently filmed Burnt Orange movie Dot, a dark teenage thriller set in Connecticut but made in Austin.

The film will be finished in March but so far has no distributor or release date.

"Our goal is that eventually students will be taking on roles of greater and greater importance," Pfeiffer said.

Another inspiration for young filmmakers is the presence of big-name directors and producers in Texas, Copeland said.

Projects by Rodriguez, Linklater and Mike Judge were among the state's major productions this year.

"They're cult favorites," he said. "The fact that they're from Austin and they did these things, it's a huge, huge deal. That means that you have this environment of people going, 'If he can do that, I can do that.' "

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