San Antonio Woos Hollywood with Tax Incentive Approval

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San Antonio City Council members unanimously passed a five year strategic plan to draw the lights camera and action to the city. The well anticipated move came last Thursday.

The lure of a great production is not only a favorable look on the city, rich with a cinema scouts dream of historical landmarks,  military bases and film financiers such as Eva Longoria, Tony Parker, Executive Producer on ‘Birth of a Nation’ which is now in theatres, but also former Spurs player, Michael Finley. The increase will provide a rebate to movie studios covering a minimum of 7.5 percent of production  costs for films shot in SA, and up from the 2.5 percent rebate that was previously contingent on securing state dollars.

“Breaking Bad,” shot in Albuquerque, N.M., boosted that city’s economy to the tune of $70 million over the six seasons it was produced there, Mayor Richard Berry told “Marketplace” in 2014. “We’d like to have a ‘Breaking Bad’ here,” said Debbie Racca-Sittre, interim director of San Antonio’s Department for Culture and Creative Development. “That just really blew them (Albuquerque) away to have something like that and kept people working for a long time.”

Other films shot in and around San Antonio are, “Spy Kids” and “Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams”: 2000 and 2002. Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez,  “My All-American”: 2015. Written and directed by Angelo Pizzo,  “Syriana”: 2005. Written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, Hope’s War, Written directed and Produced by San Antonio’s award-winning filmmaker, Yake Smith.  Also,  “Miss Congeniality”: 2000. Directed by Donald Petrie; written by Marc Lawrence, Katie Ford and Caryn Lucas, “Selena”: 1997. Written and directed by Gregory Nava, “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure”: 1985. Directed by Tim Burton; written by Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens and Michael Varhol, “The Newton Boys”: 1998. Directed by Richard Linklater; written by Linklater and Clark Lee Walker,“All the Pretty Horses”: 2000. Directed by Billy Bob Thornton; written by Ted Tally, “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls”: 1995. Written and directed by Steve Oedekerk, “Wings”: 1927. Directed by William A. Wellman; written by Hope Loring and Louis D. Lighton and a few others.

San Antonio comes late to the scene since others have been utilizing the lure with an increased tax incentive for some time now.  This move is certainly to attract high-profile productions that will generate a boost in production employment which is also good for the local film schools, as San Antonio College and other higher learning institutions in SA.

The Savannah Economic Development Authority in Georgia launched a $4.5 million local incentive program last year — a response to the Atlanta area’s ability to snag productions like Marvel Studios’ “Captain America: Civil War,” AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” and the “Walking Dead” series, as well as FX’s “Atlanta.”

While some may question the film production infrastructure  in SA, there is certainly enough aspiring filmmakers and acting talent in SA.  That along with the beautiful landscape of the city will hopefully be enough to warrant a major Hollywood productions given the new incentive increase. Over the last three years, the estimated economic impact of the city’s production industry totaled almost $50.7 million, according to a snapshot by Steve Nivin, chief economist for the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In sister city of  Austin,  there are sufficient film facilities and production crews,  as the industry generates an estimated $280 million annually, according to a 2011 study. That coupled with the fact that the popular SXSW film and music festival attracts thousands annually.

Though the Texas Film Commission offers a similar rebate of almost 23 percent, it recently cut its funding for the film industry. Lawmakers — against the wishes of Gov. Greg Abbott — cut funds to the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program from $95 million during the two-year period ending in 2015 to $32 million for 2016 and 2017 — a 66 percent drop. Projects funded by the state film commission created an economic impact of $1.3 billion over a five-year period ending in 2012, according to a 2014 study conducted by the IC² Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

Sam Antonio leaders have apparently grown weary of being scratched off as a possibility for major productions to consider shooting in the area. San Antonio leaders and local filmmakers held a series of community meetings this year to look at making the Alamo City more film-friendly. That resulted in City Council’s unanimous vote Thursday to implement a five-year strategic plan to boost film and television production here by beefing up incentives, updating the San Antonio Film Commission’s duties, aggressively marketing the city to filmmakers, and assessing the city’s film and television workforce needs.

Under the plan, San Antonio will no longer have to wait for the state to pony up incentive funds to provide its own. The city will provide a tax rebate to production studios that reimburses at least 7.5 percent of costs for films, shows and other visual media shot here, up from its previous rebate of 2.5 percent. Racca-Sittre said her department currently has about $700,000 to spend on incentives, much of it left from years when the state film commission didn’t dole out funds to projects made locally.

A hit like “Breaking Bad” won’t come to San Antonio overnight. Leaders want at least two $10 million film and television projects made here within the next five years, but Racca-Sittre said the city will initially look for productions in the $1 million to $3 million range until it has adequate resources to prop up larger productions.

“We can’t support them right now, but we will build up to those larger films,” Racca-Sittre said. “Part of it is just building the film culture here.”

It’s unclear how the city’s efforts will be impacted if state legislators opt not to replace incentive funds that were cut in 2015, a sticking point for many filmmakers who’d like to produce films and television shows in the Lone Star State.

Jackie Earle Haley, an Academy Award-nominated actor who lives in San Antonio, said his 2015 directorial debut, “Criminal Activities,” moved from Detroit to Cleveland after the Buckeye State offered to foot almost 15 percent of the crime movie’s production costs, which the actor-director characterized as a “big deal.”

Haley — currently in production on the Robert Rodriguez-helmed movie “Alita: Battle Angel,” being filmed in Austin — said he enjoys being able to work on a major production in relative proximity to his home but that studios ultimately want to get the best bang for their buck.

“If I were producing something and I had a $6 or $7 million budget like we did on ‘Criminal Activities,’ even as much as I would love to do it here, I would go someplace that I could get a bigger incentive,” Haley said. “That’s just business.”

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