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This story first appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
I am certainly not an expert on politics, and I’m learning the relative merits of our presidential candidates along with the rest of the nation. Forget about Texas Gov. Rick Perry‘s stances on taxes, immigration, abortion or health care. Set aside his decidedly odd debating technique, his immovable hair or whether he actually can win his party’s nomination. There’s one thing I simply can’t ignore: Rick Perry owes me $2 million bucks.
It all started when we decided to make a movie together.
Perry attended the press conference for the state’s newly revamped Texas Moving Image Incentive Program, announced at the very studio where we were to shoot our movie, Machete, with our director, Robert Rodriguez. For every dollar the cast and crew spent during our time in Austin — on personnel, hotels, transportation, restaurants — we would get back about 20 cents.
We meticulously followed the required process. The film commission read and approved the script, letting us know we had qualified for the rebate. Our film’s accountants submitted the scrupulously tracked receipts of expenditures — a substantial amount of money that we had brought to Texas. The movie was released all over the world and performed well. Everyone was happy.
Three months after the movie came out, we received a letter from the film commission: We’re keeping your money. They felt the film “portrayed Texans in a negative fashion.” This heretofore unmentioned clause was a legal loophole for them not to pay us — something about protecting the gentle folks of Texas from slander. They could have called it what it is: good, old-fashioned censorship.
Sure, Machete is about a guy who runs around killing bad guys with, um, a machete. At one point, he rips a villain’s small intestine out of his stomach and uses it to rappel out of a hospital window. It’s not exactly a documentary on the issues affecting our nation’s borders. But Gov. Perry deemed it damaging enough to his state’s citizens that he withheld our money. It would be like Gov. Andrew Cuomo denying us a New York tax credit on Black Swan because he was concerned that all New Yorkers would be perceived as paranoid, bisexual ballerinas.
My investors and I lost millions of dollars. But the people who will lose most are the citizens of Texas. The state has incredibly competent crews, amazing resources and a very eclectic topography. Despite all that, nobody in their right mind is going to risk millions of dollars shooting in a state where the government can decide ex post facto not to honor its financial commitment based on arbitrary criteria. As of 2010, 42 states had some type of tax-incentive program. The competition is fierce for the entertainment industry’s dollars.
By keeping our Machete money, Gov. Perry saved Texas a quick $2 million, but he cost the state much more. Before the new incentive program was enacted, there were about 50 film and television projects shot in Texas, spending a total of $155 million. In the past two years, those numbers have ballooned to nearly 250 productions resulting in 27,057 jobs and close to $250 million spent.
That’s all about to fold like a bad hand of Texas Hold’em.
Rick Schwartz is an independent film producer whose credits include The Aviator and Malena. He keeps hoping Alec Baldwin will run for president.
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