The Stars Come Out for Texas Film and Video Game Incentives

Dennis Quaid, one of a whole posse of Texas actors saddling up for a new commercial advocating for increased funding for the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program

The stars at night are big and bright (clap clap clap clap) in the new celebrity-heavy commercial celebrating the successes of the Lone Star State’s film, TV, and video game tax rebate system, the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program (TMIIIP to its friends).

In the new commercial by advocacy group Good for Texas, some of the most famous Texans to have ever graced the silver screen – including Uvalde native Matthew McConaughey, Houstonite Dennis Quaid, UT grad and recent Chronicle cover star Owen Wilson, and Austin’s owning rising star, Glen Powell (as well as honorary Texan Billy Bob Thornton) – promote the benefits of the program.

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The smartly-framed video makes the key point: as Woody Harrelson (yup, he’s here too) points out, this is not what has been painted by opponents a Hollywood welfare program. Founded in 2006, TMIIIP pays productions a rebate on eligible in-state spending – the bulk of which has historically gone on wages. That means actors, directors, grips, wardrobe staff, but also caterers and drivers, and that’s before we start talking about hotels, restaurants, forestry (Robert Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel reportedly spent $600,000 on lumber to build the massive Iron City set at Troublemaker Studios). All in all, estimates from the Texas Film Commission calculate that TMIIIP produces a five-to-one return on investment, protects jobs, and ensures that Texas stories are being told in Texas.

Which is all well and good, but why pull out all these acting heavy hitters to promote the program?

Because the Texas Legislature has 14 days left of the current regular session, which ends on May 29. This means that lawmakers are hard at work on the budget for the 2024-5 biennium, including the allocation for TMIIIP. After years of being a political football, this year it seems that not only is there no real opposition to TMIIIP, but that it’s gained unprecedented momentum.

The issue is money: The biggest sum ever allocated was $95 million in the 2012-13 biennium, and two years ago, it received only $45 million in funds and burnt through that before the end of the first year of the biennium. Now there are serious discussions of anywhere from $150 million to $300 million for the next two years, plus negotiations for an extra $100 million in Senate Bill 30, the supplemental appropriations bill, that would be available for projects that missed out in the last biennium due to the kitty being empty.

Undeniably, the success of program as a job creator has made a major case for continued investment, while the industry has made massive inroads through programs like Film Friendly Texas, whereby small communities (like, as Quaid mentions, Stephenville) have learned how to work with filmmakers and TV shows. Projects like Yellowstone (and, let’s face it, everything producer Taylor Sheridan touches) have helped expand production outside of the major centers, and swing the political barometer in favor of this big boost.

That said, having some of Texas’ leading men swing by to make the case doesn’t hurt any.

There’s a side note to this: Last month, TMIIIP supporters and industry advocates were casting a weather eye towards House Bill 3600 by Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo. This measure would establish the Texas Multimedia Production Program, under which films and TV shows would receive a transferable tax credit for eligible in-state spending. Even though this was based closely on Georgia’s highly-touted Film Tax Incentive, there were a whole series of strikes against it – not least that it excluded the gaming industry, a major stakeholder that benefits from TMIIIP. The bigger concern was that trying to set up a whole new program, one with massive administrative costs and a potential billion dollar price tag, would distract from the negotiations around the tried-and-tested TMIIIP.

It seem like Rep. Price has taken all this on board. Even though his bill sailed out of the House Culture, Recreation & Tourism committee with bipartisan support, last Thursday he postponed the hearing before the full House. With the calendar counting down fast, he effectively killed it for this session, leaving the road clear for TMIIIP boosters like that celebrity roster to work on securing that major investment.

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