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Texas Film Commission

From doors to video games

See if you can tell what’s missing from this discussion.

While Democrats clamored for stricter gun regulations and Gov. Greg Abbott discussed measures to tighten school security following Friday’s mass shooting at Santa Fe High School, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick set his sights on another target: the makers of violent films and video games.

Patrick spent the weekend on national television talking about what was to blame for the tragedy in southeast Texas that left 10 people dead, the latest in a spate of mass shootings across the country. It wasn’t the ready availability of guns in this country, Patrick said. Instead, the bloodshed was the result of a “violent culture where we’ve devalued life,” Patrick told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

“We have devalued life, whether it’s through abortion, whether it’s the breakup of families, through violent movies and particularly violent video games, which now outsell movies and music,” he said. “Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that students are desensitized to violence, have lost empathy for their victims by watching hours and hours of violent video games.”

But many of those games are at least partially produced in Texas — including “Prey,” a first-person shooter horror game rated for mature players age 17 or older, and “Doom,” another mature-rated first-person shooter that depicts “mutilated corpses with exposed organs/viscera strewn in the environment,” according to the Entertainment Software Rating Board. And the state government has given millions of dollars in incentives to some of their creators.

Patrick has supported those state-funded incentive payments to lure film, television and video game creators to Texas, but on Wednesday he said those payments should be barred from certain projects or he would withdraw his support for the incentives program.

“The lieutenant governor does not support using state taxpayer dollars to make violent films or video games that are harmful to our children,” spokesman Alejandro Garcia said in an email, noting the Texas Film Commission may decide which projects get reimbursed. “If this is the direction they are going, the lieutenant governor will not support their funding requests in the future.”

Hey, you want to cut the film incentive fund, I’m fine with that, and I bet you could get a majority in the Lege for it. But that’s not what Patrick is proposing here – he’s saying that only films and video games that meet his standard for artistic merit should be eligible for those funds. Putting aside the ridiculousness of Dan Patrick as the official state movie and video game critic, there’s also the fact that the idea that violent films and video games lead to gun violence is even more ridiculous.

Pretty much everything Patrick said here is wrong. He also went on to blame abortions and broken homes and suggest arming teachers, but I’ll stick to his claims about video games.

Here are the facts. The evidence is abundantly clear at this point: Violent video games do not cause violence.

Longitudinal studies of youth have not found evidence that early game playing is associated with later violencedecreased empathy or conduct problems. In fact, the release of popular violent video games like “Grand Theft Auto” are associated with immediate declines in societal violence, and long-term relationships show that increased violent game consumption is associated with reduced youth violence — and we have to remember that youth violence is down by more than 80 percent from 25 years ago.

Also, playing games like “Grand Theft Auto” does not appear to decreaseempathy toward women. Internationally, the countries that consume the most video games per capita are among the least violent.

And analyses of school shooters have found that they appear to consume unusually low levels of violent media for males their age.

Villanova University professor Patrick Markey and I discuss much of this in our book “Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games is Wrong.”We note that, contrary to the lieutenant governor’s claims, most psychologists who study the issue do not link violent media to violence in society.

Indeed, across studies, only about 10 percent to 30 percent of scholars agree with him, making it a decidedly minority view. Just this year, the Media Psychology and Technology Division of the American Psychological Association (APA) released a policy statement asking politicians to stop making exactly the kinds of claims Patrick made about video games and violence.

Dan Patrick has a long record of not being interested in anything that doesn’t further his own political agenda. Nothing will change until Dan Patrick and others like him are voted out of office.

Of course the film industry thinks we need more film incentives

It’s all money to them. Why wouldn’t they think the state should provide more funding for them?

BagOfMoney

A Warner Bros. executive told a panel of Texas lawmakers they would have to pony up more cash for film industry incentives if they wanted to be in the movie business.

“The Texas movie industry incentive program … is not as competitive as many other jurisdictions,” said Warner Bros. Entertainment Vice President Michael Walbrecht. “Increasing the overall budget provided each year would probably draw more large-budget feature films.”

During his remarks before the House Select Committee on Economic Development Incentives, Walbrecht told the panel’s 13 members Texas was doing “just enough” to get some filmmakers to come to the state.

Texas’ programs are far surpassed by much more enticing incentives in states like Louisiana, he added, saying the Lone Star State isn’t even on the list of states feature filmmakers go to as a default.

“Without the incentive, these productions would probably not be able to choose Texas,” Walbrecht said.

The panel is holding a series of meetings before the 2015 session and is charged with looking at the state’s myriad economic development incentive programs, from the “deal-closing” Texas Enterprise Fund to local tax rebates.

Earlier Wednesday, Texas Film Commission Director Heather Page said the amount of money available through the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program is a moving target, but currently sits around $32 million. The program’s return on investment to date stands at 658 percent, she added.

Boy, I’d love to see the accounting on that. We know how accurate Hollywood accounting can be. Speaking of which, the state of California is boosting its film credit program to $400 million per year, with fewer constraints. We can’t let ourselves get beaten by California, can we? My opinion on this hasn’t changed much in recent years. If we’re going to throw money at movie studios to try to “incentivize” them to do their filming here, we should at least be honest about it.

Film incentive lawsuit

I can’t wait to see what happens with this.

A lawsuit filed by Austin-based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and the production company behind his film Machete accuses The Texas Film Commission of denying agreed-to financial incentives after the commission decided the film was “inappropriate.”

Machete Chop Shop Inc. says in a suit filed July 13 in Travis County that the Texas Film Commission backed out of partially reimbursing the cost of the film after coming under fire for the film’s violence and depiction of Texans.

Before the movie was released in September 2010, anti-immigration groups were upset over the film’s trailer, citing its violent imagery and Robert De Niro’s cartoonish role as a senator who kills illegal immigrants.

According to court documents, the Machete producers’ application for a grant under the Texas Moving Image Industry Program was approved in May 2009, one month after Gov. Rick Perry signed the program into law at Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios in Austin.

At the bill signing, Rodriguez announced that the bill would allow him to make films in Texas, including Machete.

The complaint states that former commission head Bob Hudgins verified that the script complied with content requirements and also claims that an attached email shows Hudgins’ approval of the incentive package.

Once filmmakers knew they had additional state funding they increased their budget, the complaint says, banking on a state contribution of nearly $8 million.

Had filmmakers not had this funding, they would have made the film elsewhere, said the complaint.

According to my archives, the Texas Film Commission denied granting the incentives for the film in December of 2010; Hudgins resigned from the Commission in November of 2010. The complaint states that no other film has been denied funds post-production. I have no information on that, but I do know that at least one other filmmaker was turned away for fear than his movie would not portray Texas in a positive light. I’m just going to add this to my list of reasons why the whole Texas Moving Image Industry Program idea is a bad one that should be scrapped.

Video game incentives

In my earlier post about film incentives, the story noted that the video game industry was a big player in getting those funds. They’re set to get more of them now.

In an effort to keep attracting video game jobs to Texas, the Texas Film Commission will boost incentives for the gaming industry to a level equivalent to those given to film and television projects.

Under the new rules, video game companies can apply for grants that will reimburse them up to 15 percent “of eligible in-state spending paid to Texas residents” — up from 5 percent previously.

The changes will take effect Aug. 28, timed to coincide with the commission’s new fiscal year, which starts Sept. 1. Film Commission director Evan Fitzmaurice said the increase is a recognition of the economic impact that video game jobs have had in Texas.

He pointed to publisher Electronic Arts’ recent announcement that it would expand its presence in Austin, bringing 300 jobs and a division of its famed EA Sports studio.

“These are great jobs for Texas,” Fitzmaurice said.

[…]

A report last year from the state comptroller’s office shows the gaming industry has created a disproportionately large amount of spending and jobs.

From April 2009 to August 2010, the Film Commission awarded more than $48 million to 260 applicants. About $9 million of that went to 58 gaming applications, according to the comptroller’s report.

“While making up only 19 percent of the grant receipts, the game industry is responsible for 41 percent of the spending and 45 percent of jobs created,” the report said.

My objections remain the same. These were jobs that were going to be created anyway. Having states compete against each other by throwing money at the corporations to get them to do in their state what they were going to do somewhere is a race to the bottom and a needless subsidy of an industry that doesn’t need it. Given that this is the world we live in, I can understand the allure for a given state, but the data here doesn’t help me understand just what the costs and benefits of this are. But even if I could, I’d still consider it a waste.

No film commission incentives for you!

Noted for the record.

The Texas Film Commission has denied incentives for “Machete,” the controversial immigration-related feature film from Robert Rodriguez’s Austin-based Troublemaker Studios.

In a brief, formal letter dated Dec. 1 and released Wednesday by Katherine Cesinger , a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Film Commission cited part of a state code that says requests for film incentives can be denied “because of inappropriate content or content that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion.”

[…]

A representative for “Machete” producer Elizabeth Avellán said Wednesday that Avellán and Rodriguez were traveling after recently wrapping up shooting on “Spy Kids 4” and that they were unavailable for comment.

Although exact figures aren’t available, the production budget for “Machete” was estimated at $10 million by the Internet Movie Database. Based on that figure, Troublemaker could have received a grant of as much as $1.75 million for making the movie in Texas.

The letter from [deputy director Carol] Pirie said that the commission’s ruling “does not affect…other grant applications from Troublemaker, now or in the future.”

Rodriguez is Texas’ most prolific filmmaker, and when Perry signed legislation to beef up filmmaking incentives and bolster the state’s industry in April 2009, he did so at Rodriguez’s studios, with the director/producer at his side.

Rodriguez told The Associated Press at the time that without the bill he would have had to move the production of projects, including “Machete,” to another state.

“Thanks to this bill, I don’t have to go shoot out of the state,” Rodriguez said.

See here and here for some background. The film incentive funding is certain to get cut in the next budget, so it’s unlikely there will be a repeat of this any time soon. But let this experience be a lesson to anyone else who would let Governor Perry use their studio as a backdrop for one of his publicity stunts. You won’t get anything in return for it.

The film’s not right

I’m just amused by this.

Movie producer Emilio Ferrari vowed last week to move ahead with his $30 million screen depiction of the deadly 1993 clash between federal agents and Branch Davidian cultists, even though the Texas Film Commission says the project could taint Texas’ image and is unworthy of taxpayer support.

The movie, Waco, would be the first feature-film treatment of the 51-day federal siege of David Koresh’s Central Texas compound that led to the death of four federal agents and more than 80 cult members.

Ferrari, whose production credits include Baby on Board, starring Heather Graham, called the incident the “nation’s biggest tragedy, after 9/11.”

“And this was by Americans against Americans,” he said. “It’s been completely swept under the rug. I think people have a right to know what happened. I’m not a political guy at all. I’m making a story from every point of view.”

The Texas Film Commission’s director, Bob Hudgins, said the movie would not be eligible for a state rebate of up to 15 percent on in-state production costs because the movie doesn’t “accurately portray Texans.” In language creating the stipend, lawmakers specified that Film Commission grants should be denied movies that distort facts to make Texas look bad.

Hudgins said he consulted media and law enforcement sources and determined that the movie’s script compresses and simplifies the historic event. Actions that were taken by several individuals during the standoff are attributed to a single character in the movie, he said.

The extent of a movie’s factual distortion isn’t a factor in determining its eligibility for funding, Hudgins said. “Either it is (accurate), or it isn’t,” he said.

OK, I’m dying to know the specifics of this. Almost every movie of this kind combines characters, just so it can fit into a movie-length narrative, so I’m curious what the commission deemed too much. The best reminder of the Waco tragedy I’ve seen in recent months was this Texas Monthly story from last April, the fifteenth anniversary of the conflagration. It’s unfortunately only available to subscribers now, but if you happen to come across a print edition it’s well worth your time to read it. Among other things, it demonstrates that many of the key facts about this event are still in dispute. Which makes me wonder all the more just what the commission objected to. Anyone know any more about it?

Money for movies

Clay Robison reminds me of something in a discussion of Governor Perry’s resistance to spending stimulus money on expanding unemployment insurance.

Right after giving the back of his hand to thousands of jobless workers, he was promoting a $60-million handout for the film industry.

Yes, the industry that pays some of its top stars almost that much for a single picture and seems to always thrive, even in a struggling economy, because fans are willing to spend small fortunes on movie tickets and popcorn.

Perry, who once had a bit part in a movie, has asked the Legislature to increase the state’s financial incentives for movie and TV productions from the $20 million budgeted for the current biennium to $60 million for 2010-11.

He wants to encourage more film production in Texas and compete with other states that have lured production away with sweeter deals. The incentives, he says, would help create jobs in Texas for technicians and other specialists who are paid far less than the screen idols.

It is, however, a niche industry, and relatively few Texans have the skills necessary for the higher-quality jobs.

Perry is leery of the $555 million in federal unemployment aid, part of the financial stimulus package, because it would require Texas to expand its jobless program to allow more people to qualify for assistance. He said the aid would leave Texas on the hook for a half-billion dollars in additional costs when the federal aid ends.

I noted that push to increase the subsidy for filmmaking in Texas back in December, and said at the time that I’d bring it up when Perry inevitably balked at spending money on something else by claiming a lack of funds. So here it is. Since Ken Armbrister, Perry’s legislative director, has said that “The hardest thing to remove from government is a temporary program”, I presume the movie subsidy is intended to be an ongoing expense. As I said before, I’m agnostic on the question of whether or not this is a good use of public money. I think it’s clear, however, that in terms of bang for the buck the unemployment insurance funds, for which the state might be on the hook in the future for a lot less than the half-billion the Governor claims, would help a lot more people right now and going forward. We don’t have to choose between these two if we don’t want to – we could do both, if we think they’re both worthwhile. If we think only one of them is, or than only one can be justified in this climate, however, I know which one I’d pick.