A few years ago, the Texas Legislature passed a law stating that no films showing Texas or Texans in a bad light would be given tax incentives. This law effectively put Bob Hudgins, director of the Texas Film Commission, in charge of determining what that meant. Nobody except Hudgins paid much mind to the law until this spring, when Hudgins denied incentives to a film called “Waco.” The initial complaint, as well as accusations, came in an Austin American-Statesman blog post on May 25, which stated, ”While attending the two-week Cannes festival…Emilio Ferrari and Tara Wood, executives at Los Angeles-based Entertainment 7, said that Hudgins had bowed to pressure from politicians.” Hudgins said he found inaccuracies but wouldn’t specify. Then, in a later Statesman story, Byron Sage, the FBI’s lead negotiator during the siege, outed himself as one of Hudgins’ fact-checking sources. “Sage contends that the new film makes him look good, even saintly,” the story said, “but [Sage is] more concerned that it paints the FBI as aggressors—and possibly at fault in the fatal fire.” The filmmakers defended their decisions. We haven’t read the script or fact-checked its contents, but we’re wondering along with a lot of other Texans: Just what good is this law to Texas?
I wanted to ask you about the incentives and the law about whether certain films showed Texas or Texans in a bad light.
That’s been with us from the beginning. 2007.
From what I understand, the law stems from the Texas-filmed 2006 sports drama, “Glory Road”?
It’s a little more complicated than that. We had no content provision, except pornography, in the language that was originally drafted. At that point it had already passed the House and gone to the Senate Finance Committee. And through the process of the hearing they had a lot of pointed questions, but specifically on content issues more than anything else. They took on faith the provision that this would create jobs and [have an] economic impact. That wasn’t in discussion. What came to the fore was, we want to be careful about who we’re giving money to. They decided a couple of issues. There were two that were the most relevant. The first is that, well, we don’t want projects to show Texas in a bad light like the way “Glory Road,” which I thought was a good movie, did. I was not aware of the nuance in the film. As films do, they took license but they were portraying this as actual events and they had a scene of a racially charged incident that took place at a basketball game. And that actual incident took place against a Kentucky school but in the truncated version of the two-hour movie, they showed it in a game against a Texas school. So the Texas school said, that didn’t happen in our school. We didn’t have that big racial event happen. They didn’t show all the games, they just showed highlights of a couple of games.
So it was this one scene that was at issue?
One scene was a very racially charged event where the white team on the other side threw epitaphs disparaging the black players. In the film they showed it as a game with UTEP [University of Texas at El Paso] against another Texas school. In reality it was UTEP versus a Kentucky school, not a UTEP school against another Texas school. So the school, which is now Texas A&M Commerce, was not happy. The movie portrays it as a factual event. So granted, that school was disparaged.
Any idea why the filmmakers of “Glory Road” made that decision?
No idea. From my point of view that’s not relevant to the conversation. They made their choice. Films take license. That’s their right and privilege. This isn’t about whether they had the right. The senators were not pleased that a Texas school was cast in a bad light by this film so their charge to me was, make sure that doesn’t happen. We don’t want to give money to films that do that. Then there was a second project discussed called “Varsity Blues,” a film shot in the Austin area. It was a fictional story to the point of showing high school football. Well, the filmmakers went to Georgetown ISD and told them this was a nice little PG-13 family movie. So they made the movie, shot it at the school facilities, and lo and behold, come to premiere, it’s R-rated and it’s not a family movie. It’s drugs, sex, rock n’ roll, and football. So to that point the senators were not happy because the film portrayed itself to be one thing but the final product was very different.
So these two comments end up being two points to our program. When we got the final language, it’s very vague. It basically says “things that are deemed inappropriate”—so vague that it was unmanageable. I was sitting with my head in my hands thinking, this could mean anything to anybody. One group could be offended by showing a prayer service. Another group would be offended by showing kids smoking pot. You name it, there is a group in Texas that would be offended. I went to the lawyers. We worked through general counsel in the governor’s office. We backtracked and went back to legislative intent: Why did [the senators] give us this provision and what are we supposed to do with it? They were talking about projects that portray themselves as a factual story but inaccurately portray the events that happened in Texas. Any project can come to the state and make their film. This is only specific to them getting money from the state of Texas. So this isn’t about, from my point of view, this isn’t censorship, this is about investing in the film. You have to look at Texas as an investor in the film that shows a great deal of discretion in what they invest in. Also, legally, there’s a Supreme Court case called NEA [National Endowment