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How Rebates Have the Texas Film Industry Playing Catch Up To its Neighbors

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Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A

South Texas? Killer Women, surely you jest.

See if you can spot the common thread that is pulling at the seams of the Texas film industry.

On NBC’s The Night Shift, a stock-written staff populates the halls of San Antonio Memorial Hospital, dealing with the tendrils of bureaucracy, sexual tension and a non-stop chain of outlandish injuries. Recently picked up for a second season, the SA-set hospital dramedy calls Albuquerque, New Mexico, its home for production.

In the forthcoming MGM action-comedy Don’t Mess With Texas, Reese Witherspoon must protect cartel wife Sofia Vergara during a law-bending romp through the Lone Star State. Set in SA, principal photography began earlier this year in New Orleans and Ponchatoula, Louisiana.

On ABC’s short-lived Killer Women, Texas Ranger Molly Parker (Tricia Helfer) solves a series of murders committed by beautiful women in various cuts of snug-fit clothing. Set in SA, the series’ dreadful two episodes were filmed in Albuquerque prior to a swift cancellation.

Despite major studio interest in San Anto settings, production studios have kept their distance—and, more importantly, their business—from Texas. Like a school day crush gazing from afar, film industry big wigs have kept their eyes on SA without locally filming much more than cameo shots of the Riverwalk, the Alamo and the AT&T Center. In TV and film, New Mexico and Louisiana now substitute for the plains and cities of South Texas.

Like all business decisions, this one comes down to cutting costs. To entice the tax base and massive budgets of Hollywood to spend within their borders, many states (39 plus Puerto Rico) have set up lucrative rebate programs to compete for shoots.

Take New Mexico, where a tax rebate initiative willed into existence a state film industry from thin air. For every dollar spent in-state, filmmakers received 25 percent back as a rebate, with no cap on returns. With major shoots running easily into the multi-millions, LA producers flocked 780 miles east to Albuquerque, eager to cash in on the savings. Under Democratic governor Bill Richardson, from 2003-2011, Harvard’s Institute of Politics reports that there was an economic impact of $3 billion sparked by the motion picture industry.

Upon her inauguration in 2011, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez stifled the rebate program with a $50 million cap, an action in line with her Tea Party, minimal government roots. But as subsequent in-state film spending began to wane, Martinez changed her mind, even upping the program for television projects from a 25 to 30 percent rebate. Signed into effect in March of 2013, Martinez dubbed the legislation the Breaking Bad Law, named after the acclaimed AMC series that spent $60-$70 million on in-state services and crew wages during its run.

With such a stellar incentive plan, studios have been choosing ABQ soundstages for any locale even remotely similar to the city’s high desert clime. Albuquerque has recently substituted for Wyoming, South Texas and Nebraska, introducing millions into the state economy. And with the incentive and infrastructure firmly in place, New Mexico’s lawmakers and filmmakers intend to keep the money flowing through the Land of Enchantment.

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