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Texas filmmaker Lance Flores is moving his production company, Mockingbird Films, from Dallas to San Antonio. With a budget of $18-million for his next movie, The Black Messiah Murders, Flores had hoped to shoot in the Alamo City.

Instead Flores will be taking his crew to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The reason is simple: Financial incentives in other states exceed the benefits of Texas’s newly inaugurated lures.

New Mexico and Louisiana initiated incentive programs in 2002 and 2003 respectively. New Mexico offers a 25-percent tax rebate off the total film production (no minimum or cap spending), an interest-free loan program, state sales-tax exemption, and “50-percent reimbursement of wages for on-the-job training of New Mexico residents in advanced below-the-line crew positions,” according to

Louisiana offers a 25-percent investor tax credit and a labor tax credit.

Flores will receive a $4.5-million refund for everything the studio spends (in New Mexico) on the film, from props to crew wages. With this “seed money,” Flores says it will be easier to find a company or bank to finance the rest of the film.

According to Lisa Strout, director of the New Mexico Film Office, the state film-industry economy has increased from $8 million in 2002 to $463 million in 2007. In Louisiana, jobs in the film industry increased from 5,400 in 2003 to more than 13,000 two years later.

“Incentives … offer filmmakers the opportunity to make a better film,” said Christopher Stelly, director of film and television for Louisiana’s Office of Entertainment Industry Development. “For example, with the `tax` credits, you can afford to pay more recognizable talent, which affords the chance that the film will be succesful at the box office.”

This past June, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed HB 1634, the state’s first incentive bill, worth $22 million, intended to lure more film and television productions into Texas. According to the Texas Film Commission, the state has lost an estimated $327 million in project spending and 4,600 jobs.

Unlike New Mexico and Louisiana, Texas offers a grant “equal to 5-percent of in-state spending.” ($1 million minimum in-state spending for features.) Those grants max out at $2 million for features, and, uniquely, projects which include “content that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion” are not eligible. Texas also offers an exemption on state and local sales tax.

Although the incentive program is a good first step, says Flores, without a 25-percent tax rebate or credit to match neighboring states, Texas cities, including San Antonio, are missing out on an opportunity to become a hub for film production.

“San Antonio is the perfect place to make movies,” Flores said. “You have the desert to the west, the piney woods to the north, the bayous to the east and the grassy plains to the south. No matter what you wanted to shoot, you could do it. You could turn the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean.”

“The physical money is what talks,” adds Andrew Saldaña, board member for the Greater San Antonio Film Council, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring more productions to the area. “That is the motivation behind all these filmmakers leaving.”

So, could Texas see a grant increase in the near future?

“No,” said Carol Pirie, deputy director of the Texas Film Commission. “We are not going to be giving away 25 percent. We would end up giving away hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. We don’t need to do that. We already have a lot to offer.”

The Texas Film Commission is, however, supportive of counties across the state adopting more aggressive incentives, a plan the SA Film Council is currently pursuing.

“Right now, San Antonio is wasting its potential,” Flores said. “With a little help, they could move a whole movie industry into Bexar County.”



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