TV, Film Professionals Rally to Save Incentive Program

Lawmakers threatening to remove rebate designed to lure Hollywood to Texas

There is some Texas-sized drama surrounding the future of the film industry in the Lone Star State. 

State lawmakers are considering dropping the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, which is “designed to build the economy through the moving image industry and create jobs in Texas,” according to the state. 

“TMIIIP provides qualifying film, television, commercial, visual effects and video game productions the opportunity to receive a cash grant based on a percentage of a project’s eligible Texas expenditures, including eligible wages paid to Texas residents,” according to the program's website.

Not all lawmakers see the benefit of the program, including two from North Texas. 

State Senator Konni Burton, (R)-Tarrant County, and Representative Matt Shaheen, (R)-Plano, each introduced bills this session designed to cut the rebate program. 

Shaheen took his opposition to the TMIIIP even further when he pushed to have the program removed from the current House version of the state budget. 

“We’re ending Hollywood handouts in Texas,” he posted on <a href="<iframe src=" mce_href=""">Facebook in early April. “I recently eliminated this wasteful, failed program from the state budget that gave hard earned taxpayer dollars to Hollywood actors.” 

Shaheen’s post has generated hundreds of comments, the overwhelming majority of which are opposed to his effort. He replied to at least one of the comments, posted by the former head of the Texas Film Commission, to defend his position. 

“Think about taking taxpayer dollars from a single mother, working multiple jobs and giving that money to someone that makes more money than she does,” he wrote. “Based on some of the film projects produced, she may find her money going to films she finds objectionable.” 

Industry professionals will rally at the State Capitol in Austin Thursday to try to change the mind of those who wish to see their program eliminated, according to Dallas Film Commissioner Janis Burklund. Burklund is “responsible for promoting Dallas worldwide as a location for film, television and media production,” according to her official biography

“I’ve been using a slogan for a while, ‘It’s not all show, it’s business,’ because I think people kind of forget. They think it’s play time. But it’s very much about people’s jobs,” she said. 

The threat of defunding the TMIIIP, or drastically reducing its funding, has been like a dark cloud over the head of Burklund and others who are planning productions for the foreseeable future. 

“We have some large projects at serious risk of not, of wanting to come in but not being able to if these incentives [are eliminated,]” Burklund said. “I’m talking to one of the studios daily that has two shows that are looking. One is already here and another they want to do here. And it’s like we are on fingernails now holding on for this incentive to come through so we can get these shows to land.” 

A production qualifies for the TMIIIP rebate only if it can prove it has spent the majority of its money in Texas and on Texans. 

For example, a TV or film production qualifies for the rebate only if 70 percent of the paid cast and crew working on the project are Texas residents and if at least 60 percent of total production days take place in Texas. 

The Fort Worth Film Commission is one of the newest in Texas, according to its commissioner Jessica Christopherson. 

“We've hosted scouts for major television networks and been in talks with filmmakers interested in shooting future projects in Fort Worth, so we know the interest and potential is there,” she said in a statement. “However, we won't be able to land those interested or attract future business if the rebate program isn't available.” 

“We've heard from Los Angeles-based TV networks and production companies that DFW has one of the best crew bases in the business. There are a lot of really talented people in the film, television, animation and gaming industry that live in our area,” Christopherson said. “If we don't have the rebate to attract business, we will lose our local crew because they will be forced to go where the work is.”

Burklund argued that the film industry spending its dollars in Texas benefits professionals in several industries. For example, she said she previously worked as a location manager for “Walker: Texas Ranger,” a TV show that was responsible for a lot of broken glass on camera. All that broken glass required the production crew to hire a local man to perform glass replacement on set. 

“That guy grew to a larger shop from just that one show,” she said. “After it went away he dwindled back down to a one man show. But then comes ‘Prison Break’ and it ramps back up to a big shop again. ‘Prison Break’ goes away and it dwindles back down again. Here comes ‘Queen of the South’ [a USA show that is currently filming on location in the Dallas-area] and he’s back up. If we could just retain these kinds of shows all of these little businesses can grow.”

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