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Actors McConaughey, Quaid, Harrelson among the Texas stars pitching media incentives

By Austin American Statesman, Michael Barnes

Advocates are bringing out the big guns — including Matthew McConaughey, Dennis Quaid and Woody Harrelson — to push for state incentives to encourage making movies and other media in Texas.

Part of the campaign to influence the Legislature during its session's final weeks — and beyond — is a recently released video, "Good For Texas," featuring marquee Texans, along with one Arkansan, Billy Bob Thornton, who has lived in Texas.

Advocates feel confident that the timing is right after years of shrinking state support. Bipartisan budget legislation now in conference committees would more than triple incentives, for instance, from $45 million to at least $145 million, perhaps more.

"The Legislature is getting behind the media production industry like never before," said Mindy Raymond, communications director for Texas Media Production Alliance, which advocates for makers of video games, animation, film, television, commercials and video effects. "We should know any day now. The bills are receiving support from both sides of the aisle."

Raymond said her group has tracked 19 media-friendly bills this session, the most ever. Some had to do with infrastructure or residency, but the main action could be found in the primary and supplemental budgets, which have benefited from a large surplus in state coffers this session.

"Texas used to have a great incentive program that brought hundreds of great movies and shows," Quaid says in the video, which he and moviemaker and actor Jeremy John Wells put together in a matter of weeks.

"Unfortunately, over the years, the funding became less and less," says Owen Wilson.

"Now all those films and shows, all those jobs, all that positive economic growth for the economy of Texas is migrating to other states," McConaughey says about the decades long drift away from the state.

Throughout the video, the stars sprinkle references to more generous incentives in New Mexico, Louisiana and Georgia. They joke about the recent — and they feel unlikely — rise of moviemaking in Oklahoma.

The performers, which include Austin native Glen Powell, who scored with audiences in "Top Gun: Maverick," note that the money does not go directly into the pockets of Hollywood moguls, but rather it offsets money paid to Texas vendors — from caterers to carpenters — who supply the moviemakers.

Texas workers and business people add their testimonials to that of the stars near the end of "Good For Texas."

"Film incentives in Texas mean I don't have to move to another state to work in films," said an independent gaffer identified as Jax.

Quick, funny and filmed in multiple locations, the video ends with a request for viewers to contact their state lawmakers. It can be seen on multiple platforms, including YouTube.

No mention is made in the video about how the state's transferable tax credits work; how gross economic impact from Texas media making is figured; or whether the state will again deny support for projects that might put Texas in a bad light, as it did with Robert Rodriguez's 2013 "Machete Kills."

The video grew out of a chance meeting at South by Southwest between Wells, a Californian who married into a Texas family, and George Lane, a film fan who has worked as a project manager in the Office of the Texas Attorney General.

Wells told Lane about two of his upcoming movie projects.

Lane: "Where are you going to film?"

Wells: "Not here."

Lane: "Why?

Wells: "You guys won't let me."

Wells explained that the risks in making media are high, and incentives play a role in any producer's calculations.

In April, the pair looked for ways to help filmmakers in Texas, and they connected with Quaid, who is filming "Bass Reeves," a Taylor Sheridan-produced series, in Texas towns such as Stephenville.

According to Wells, Quaid, who has said he wants Texas to become the "film capital of the world," came up with the idea for the advocacy video. Private donors blessed the project May 1.

By May 12, the video was released.

"We got the green light 45 minutes before I left for the airport to fly to Texas," Wells said. Given the tight schedule, the makers had no time to reach out to a wider range of celebrities. "It's basically friends of Dennis."

Particularly galling to many of the media makers featured in the video — and others — is that shows set in Texas are being made in other states, or even other countries.

Media advocates are overjoyed that multiple friendly bills are still alive in this legislative session.

"Oh, there are many bills!" said Rebecca Campbell, CEO of the Austin Film Society. "It’s shaping up to be the best session ever, but lots of moving parts."

Repeated requests for data or comment from Gov. Greg Abbott's press office, which fields all media requests for the Texas Film Commission, went unanswered.

Quaid has made additional media appearances to push the Texas incentives, including an interview on Fox News that was framed as a Texas vs. California cultural clash.

Wells can attest to the strong feelings aroused by the subject among the media celebrities he filmed.

"They really mean it," Wells said. "They are passionate. They love Texas and have seen the economic impact on little towns and wanted to support it."

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