The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Paging Robert Rodriguez: Don't mess with Texas

Robert_deniro It's practically taken for granted now that the vast majority of films shot outside of Hollywood are made in some state that offers a rich assortment of tax rebates to bring down the films' budgets. But you can bet that studios are going to think twice about shooting their film in Texas after reading a new batch of stories saying that the Texas Film Commission is refusing to pay $1.75 million in state incentives to the producers of Robert Rodriguez's "Machete," which was released earlier this year by 20th Century Fox.

Texas officials have cited a state law that supposedly allows the state to refuse to pay incentives for "content that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion." To say this opens up an ugly can of worms would be an understatement. After all, who's to judge whether a film has actually cast a state or its citizens in a negative light? And is the Texas Film Commission really going to argue that they never never read the "Machete" script before approving its financial incentives?

A story in the Wall Street Journal speculates that Texas officials are peeved by a character in the film played by Robert De Niro, who is a virulently anti-immigration politician who supports an "electrified border fence" and pledges "no amnesty for parasites." Of course, that description could apply to any number of Texas politicians, starting with Gov. Rick Perry, who often sounds like he'd be perfectly happy if Texas seceded from the USA and established itself as an independent republic.

I hate to sound like a bomb thrower here, but if Texas wants to renege on its financial incentives to lure filmmakers to make movies in Texas, then I don't see why Hollywood shouldn't order its filmmakers to avoid shooting in Texas altogether. Even better, maybe the industry should start sending its business to Oklahoma, which would surely drive Texas wild with envy, especially during football season. After all, if Texas can bully Hollywood into casting its politicians in a more positive light, the next thing you know journalists would want to be portrayed as heroes too. Come on, guys, let's not let this get out of hand!

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Robert De Niro at a press conference at the 35th Toronto International Film Festival last September. Credit: Fred Thornhill / Reuters


Comments () | Archives (14)

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It's especially insulting because Robert Rodriguez was mentioned by name in the speech and used as a prop by Governor Perry when he signed the most recent film incentive legislation into law.

And, of course, the FOX television show "The Good Guys", which is shot in Dallas, routinely portrays Texans in a negative light. An episode earlier this season featured a corrupt state senator, for example, and there's any number of examples of Texans portrayed as criminals or as bumbling police officers or as University of Texas graduates who can't pronounce the word "Houston".

As far as I know, there's been no effort to deny incentives to "The Good Guys"

First, let me say that I RARELY agree with Rick Perry, but I am compelled to comment on your criticism of the Texas Film Commission.

Yes, Governor Perry may be heavy-handed with his control of the money, even to the point of censorship, but I do NOT appreciate your denigration of the Texas Film Commission, as they have worked TIRELESSLY with a tiny staff to bring this significant business to our state. Indeed, the Texas Moving Image Industry incentive program has brought over 54 THOUSAND new jobs to Texas and granted over $57 MILLION in incentives to filmmakers & gamers in the first 8 months of this year!

I work with the Northeast Texas Regional Film Commission. We are one of the 11 sanctioned Film Commissions across the state with a mission to bring the Film Industry back to Texas. The NETRFC represents 21 counties in the "Right Corner of Texas." ( In the last 18 months, our group has brought over $2 MILLION dollars of NEW industry to our area. We have added jobs that would otherwise go to Louisiana and sparked a chord of HOPE to our underserved area!

Texas has lost vast revenue to New Mexico, which provides up to $15 million in 0% loans to feature film and television productions. In NM, the movie industry contributed $344 million to the economy and added 2,434 jobs, in 2008 alone. Further, Texas has lost an untold amount in production spending to Louisiana, which has amassed over $1.5 BILLION in revenues from the movie industry and paid Louisianans a remarkable $90 million in wages since 2002.

Our rural communities have been hit especially hard by the recession. Unemployment is very high, as we have lost many manufacturing jobs to Mexico and our small farms have been swallowed by agribusiness. WE NEED NEW INDUSTRY HERE! The Moving Image Industry incentive program is one the of the FEW measures that Rick Perry has taken that I can agree with in his (too long) tenure as Governor. This money has made a difference in Texas!

The film industry is generally a non-polluting industry, which requires very little infrastructure, yet it mirrors traditional economic development. Carpenters, hairdressers, electricians, caterers, film students & actors, writers, lawyers, musicians, restaurant owners, car & truck rentals and gas station owners have all acquired new business due to the help of the Texas Film Commission. In fact, businesses of all types have benefited from the surge of work created by the Texas Moving Image Industry incentive program.

I URGE you to make it clear to your readers that you criticize Rick Perry (as I OFTEN do), but that you do not mean to malign the indefatigable work that Bob Hudgins and Carol Pirie have done in an attempt to dam the flood of jobs and money that have moved to Louisiana & New Mexico. In fact, I hope you will commend the Texas Film Commission for their (indeed praiseworthy) work, which has helped to move our state forward in the 21st Century.

NO surprise, Texas is full of arrogant, pompous self important small minds. Perhaps if "Machete" had a scene where the fascist leaning governor shot a coyote while out walking his dog(true story) , the money would be flowing like bubba sauce.
Texans love to pretend they were founded by noble lovers of freedom, but the truth is, the early texans rebelled against mexico, because the mexicans wouldn't allow slavery. Jim Bowie was a slave owner, as was Sam Houston. As for Gov. Perry's call to secede, please, make our day. California has nothing to fear from a place that is all hat and no cattle.

Hey Lee ELLEN Benjamin,

Step away from the caps key!

"the Texas Film Commission is refusing to pay $1.75 million in state incentives"
There is no "denigration" in this statement.
In California we call these facts.

Clearly the Commission has no concept of homage, parody or satire.
It appears that the Commission is bowing to political hit-groups and then hiding behind the "content" clause.
Or maybe there has never been a crooked politician in Texas...

Any logical viewer of the film would not believe that De Niro's character was real.
Anymore than they would believe that Lindsay Lohan was a nun.

No matter if the Texas Film Commission attracts dollars to the state by encouraging film making with incentives. The point is it failed to perform on its agreement.

I assume Texas does not allow films which show the state or its real or fictional citizens or government in a bad light to be shown in the state's theaters. I guess I'm breaking the law if I criticize a bad piece of Texas beef, flat Texas beer or a crooked Texas politician.

Robert Rodriguez has done more than anyone to build a sustainable film industry in Texas. His career is an inspiration to independent filmmakers everywhere.

The political types who dominate these state film commissions don't care about filmmakers who are already there, making long-term investments in their communities and acting as a support system for the big "Hollywood" productions that come in. The political types want to hobnob with movie stars.

This is true in Pittsburgh, where I live (and where the local film commission flat-out refuses to help local filmmakers). I suspect it is also true in Texas.

In response to Ms. Benjamin, I would say that Bob Hudgins was a great film commissioner and that it's probably no coincidence that the decision to deny funds to "Machete" came to light after he resigned his position.

The fact is that before "Machete" went before the cameras, Mr. Hudgins talked about potential state incentives for a movie based on the Branch Davidian siege outside of Waco. Hudgins certainly implied when asked about "Waco" that the "portraying Texans in a negative light" would only apply to movies based on true stories that lacked accuracy.

Incentives aren't supposed to be a bonus - the sort of thing that's great if you get it but okay if you don't. When a producer makes a decision to shoot in a state offering incentives, those incentives are factored into the budget and used in the decision-making process. Denying incentives to a movie that would otherwise qualify based on a rule that has not previously been enforced ("Waco" never officially applied for incentives and has not been shot), even when plenty of other productions routinely portray Texans in a negative light (a bribe-taking state senator, for example)and still get incentives, is just going to create uncertainty. And if there's uncertainty, the risk-averse producer (and producers, especially when dealing with studios, are risk averse) to simply say it's not worth the risk that a particular movie is going to rub some politician the wrong way and ultimately have the counted-on incentives denied.

This decision will harm the Texas film industry. Robert Rodriguez will probably continue to shoot his movies in Texas because he did before there even were incentives, but there are producers and studio executives who will bring this incident up in budget meetings, and it will cost us money and jobs.

And that sucks.


Anything that discourages filmmakers from leaving LA is fine with me!

The issue is very simple...Texas is a very conservative state whose TAXPAYERS do not appreciate their hard-earned dollars being WASTED to subsidize racist, reconquista movies that portray white law enforcement officers as racist goons who murder pregnant women.

Props to Texas for standing up to this over-the-top celluloid garbage like "Machete"!!

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