'Machete' Producer Claims Anti-Immigration Activists Killed Tax Incentives

A lawsuit against the Texas Film Commission says that Gov. Perry was involved in a decision to deny a credit to the film on the basis that it presented the state negatively.
Courtesy of Everett Collection
Danny Trejo in "Machete"

Maybe before his final term is up, Texas governor Rick Perry might be asked to give his thoughts on Machete, the Robert Rodriguez film about a former Mexican federal named Machete Cortez hired to kill a Texas state senator deporting illegal immigrants.

The assassination wasn't what it seemed, and neither was the Texas Film Commission's early approval of a tax grant.

So says Machete's Chop Shop Inc., the production company behind the film. Three years after the film was released, and a few months before sequel Machete Kills comes out in theaters, the Texas Film Commission is being sued for denying tax credits on the basis that the first film depicts Texans "in a negative fashion."

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Machete's Chop Shop, run by producer Rick Schwartz, made an application under the Texas Moving Image Industry Program, and says the script was verified in 2009 as complying with requirements to not depict the state in a negative light.

That was enough to go ahead and spend $8 million on the film in Texas, says the complaint.

"The approval of the qualifying application induced producers of Machete to spend millions of dollars in wages and other production-related expenses in the state of Texas, which they did in reliance on the approval," says the lawsuit. "Were it not for the approval, Machete would have been produced elsewhere."

After the trailer came out in 2010, however, the plaintiff says that anti-immigration activists "inundated the Texas Film Commission with letters, faxes, emails, phone calls and other communications, all claiming that the content was inappropriate."

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Did pressure on Gov. Perry put a hatchet to the tax incentives?

"The TFC, a division of the Governor's Office, approved the content of Machete," says the lawsuit. "Nevertheless, according to Dr. Ted Baehr of the Christian Film & Television Commission ministry, Governor Rick Perry got involved in the decision to deny the application."

The complaint, filed in Travis County Court, says that this is the first time that a film has had its application denied in post-production.

"Such actions represent an unconstitutional attempt by the Governor's Office to influence speech of movie producers in Texas. These actions chill freedom of speech, chill economic development and do nothing to further the purpose of the Texas Moving Image Incentive Program (to bring business, jobs and economic growth to Texas)."

Perry recently announced that he wouldn't be running for a fourth term as governor, leading some to conclude he has his eyes on the presidency as the nation's lawmakers continue to discuss immigration reform.

The Texas Film Commission didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

E-mail: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner