Should the state of Texas deny tax incentives to a film deemed a negative portrayal of Texas?
AUSTIN – A decision by the Texas Film Commission to deny tax incentives to “Machete,” a controversial film shot in Austin, could signal the state is closed for business to movie-makers. An official from New Mexico’s film incentive office even likens the Texas program, which requires films to project a positive image of the state, to censorship.
Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez had been in talks with the Texas Film Commission for months, hoping the state would give him certain tax breaks as part of the state's film incentive program.
"We actually qualified when they read the script, they have to see the finished product to make sure we didn't shoot something else completely from what we wrote,” Rodriguez said at the film’s premier in September.
Once they had that final look, the film commission sent a letter to Rodriguez' production house, saying his movie did not qualify, because it portrays Texas negatively.
“I believe the state should support movies being shot here regardless of how the state is depicted,” said Austin movie-goer Trish Brooks.
She believes the program should encourage creativity, rather than create a positive image for the state.
As part of its incentive program, Texas offers a refund of at least five percent on eligible money spent by film-makers in the state, Louisiana offers a 30 percent tax credit, New Mexico issues a 25 percent tax rebate.
“We would consider that censorship,” said Pahl Shipley, Ed.D., head of Head of Publicity and Media Relations for the New Mexico Film Office.
University of Texas film professor Paul Stekler, Ph.D., said the state's program is already lackluster by comparison.
“The reality in the film industry right now is that we are surrounded by states that are essentially giving away the bank,” he said.
In the face of stiff competition at the state line Stekler said it will be hard for industry to live in Texas, if the state does not sometimes support home-grown, controversial projects such as “Machete.”
“This is not a decision to be taken lightly and the folks that made this ought to realize what the possible consequences are,” Stekler said. “If they can live with that, great.”
The governor's office maintains they were well within their rights to deny the request. A spokeswoman insists filmmakers are free to make whatever movies they like in Texas, but they are not guaranteed help from the state.