“As always, I stand with Texas” is a pretty badass way to declare that one isn’t a party to a lawsuit against their home state. That was the sign-off that filmmaker Robert Rodriguez used when he responded to a suit filed by a financier against the Texas Film Commission for failing to provide certain incentives for making the movie in-state.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, the lawsuit—filed by Machete Productions LLC—claims that the financier “spent millions of dollars in Texas and created hundreds of jobs for Texans producing the film,” and that the Film Commission “improperly denied the grant based on a perception that the film glorifies the role of a Mexican Federale (Mexican Federal Police Officer) and sympathizes with immigrants.”
Claiming that the state Film Commission refused to provide money it promised because the film “sympathizes with immigrants” is certainly a provocative statement, and one that bears further investigation. The Statesman therefore went to a source who would know what happened—the film’s director/producer, Robert Rodriguez. This is what he had to say:
This financier was made well aware at the outset of production on “Machete Kills” that this film would not qualify for a production incentive. Knowing this, the financier had abundant opportunity to choose not to finance the film, however they chose to move forward, knowing full well that the film would not receive money from the state. This is why I will not be cooperating with this financier and do not approve of this law suit in any way, shape or form. The Texas film community is a diverse and thriving part of the fabric of Texas which I have helped support and nurtured through the years. I have shot nearly all of my films and now television projects in Texas, with Texas crews, something I look forward to continuing well into the future. As always, I stand with Texas.
“I will not be cooperating with this financier and do not approve of this lawsuit in any way, shape, or form” is about as unequivocal as statements get, and Rodriguez’s declaration that the financier knew from the beginning that the incentives would not be available to Machete Kills probably isn’t going to help the lawsuit get much traction.
It’s not surprising, though, that Rodriguez stands with Texas here. The filmmaker (who is on the cover of the April Texas Monthly) has a fervent dedication to his home state. The vast majority of his films have been shot in Texas, despite the fact that Texas’ film incentives don’t necessarily compare to the ones offered by other states. Louisiana, for example, offers a 30% tax credit for productions with budgets over $300,000 that film in the state, with no cap, and an additional 5% payroll credit on films that hire Louisiana residents; New Mexico offers a 25% tax rebate; In Texas, meanwhile, the state offers a rebate of between 5-17.5%, with a $2 million cap per picture.
In other words, if you’ve ever wondered why shows like True Detective and Breaking Bad take place in Louisana and New Mexico, that is part of your answer.
Of course, there are other reasons why people make movies in certain locations besides the tax incentives. It’s easier to attract talent to a shoot that’ll have them spend their time in, say, Austin than it is to convince them to spend months every year in Shreveport. Rodriguez made a mere two movies in Los Angeles during the early days of his career (the made-for-Showtime movie Roadracers and the From Dusk Till Dawn feature film). Then he founded his studio in Texas in order to make movies in his homestate.
The budget for the incentives program in Texas, meanwhile, has zipped up and down as the legislature struggles to decide what, exactly, it wants to do. The 2005 passage of SB 1142 created the Film Industry Incentive Program, but failed to fund it; in the following legislative session in 2007, it was renamed the “Moving Image Industry Incentive Program,” so it could cover video games and digital media, and received a $22 million budget; the following session in 2009 saw its budget jump to $62 million, before cuts in 2011 took it down to $32 million. Finally, in last year’s legislative session, it spiked to an all-time high of $95 million.
All of these changes to the way the state approaches incentives makes it hard to establish a permanent film industry in Texas. Studios like Rodriguez’s, or productions from Dallas to Revolution, help provide steady jobs for crews in the state, but with an unbalanced approach to the way it supports filmmaking, the larger talent pool required to make Texas a stable home for production is unlikely to emerge.
Still, the $95 million budget for the program approved last session is a good start, and the fact that a filmmaker with as much cache as Rodriguez continues to stand with Texas—even as his financiers do not—helps provide some stability.