UT alumnus fights for local film funds

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CEO of Austin Film Society Rebecca Campbell says incentive programs are important for UT film students to have successful future careers in Texas. The Texas Moving Image Industry incentive program could possibly be defunded this legislative session.
Photo Credit: Karen Pinilla | Daily Texan Staff

Before working as the Broadcast Advisor for Texas Student Television, UT alumnus Robert Zimmer made films. Despite wanting to shoot in Texas, he was unable to do so because of the lack of state incentives. 

The Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program is offered by the state to entice film and television productions teams to come to Texas. Zimmer said the less generous Texas program has forced him to turn to California for his productions.

“It breaks my heart because I’m a UT RTF graduate, and I would love to shoot here,” Zimmer said. “But it is more affordable and makes much more financial sense to shoot elsewhere like in LA.”

The Texas film industry could fall ever further behind its neighboring states in the coming years. In the past couple of years, funding for the program has been trending downward with the legislature decreasing funding from $95 million to $32 million in 2015. And this legislative secession, the program is up for review again with the chance of it being defunded completely.

Austin Studios, which is managed by the Austin Film Society and rents out film space to local producers, is a local business being hurt by these cuts.

“In order for Austin Studios to have a healthy tenant base, Texas needs to have a strong incentive program,” Rebecca Campbell, CEO of the Austin Film
society, said.

According to Campbell, the incentive program is an essential part of supporting the Austin economy. For every dollar spent, a return on investment of over $5 is granted out of the incentives program.

“It’s a win-win for everybody if the state legislature increases film incentives,” Zimmer said.

Film producers in Austin like Zimmer are represented by the Texas Motion Picture Alliance, or TXMPA, which is an advocacy organization that lobbies on the behalf of industry professionals in Texas. This session, their main focus is the incentive program.

“After last session, a lot of professionals have left the state to go to work where the work is,” said Mindy Raymond, executive director of TXMPA.

The City of Austin offers a similar program to productions that spend and shoot in Austin in order to generate economic growth and support the vast creative population that lives within the city.

“As a city, we created the program because we wanted to provide residents with a series of (productions) that were coming through the city that could continuously employ creatives in Austin,” said David Colligan, manager of Global Business Expansion. “I would like to see more local productions that can be generated and brought out to market.”

With the incentives program, UT students can gain the necessary experience to have a prolific career right here in Texas.

“It gives students opportunities … to stay here and get some experience within the industry without having to go to a market that is so completely saturated with talent and labor supply,” Colligan said.

Future UT radio-television-film grads could find themselves without a proper incentives program if the legislature doesn’t provide the necessary funds to ensure a prolific film industry in Texas.

“You could have the best locations in the world, the best crew in the world,” Raymond said. “But if there is not that bottom line that everyone is looking at they will simply go elsewhere.”