Variety, By Paul Plunkett
Texas offers vast, open spaces and is beefing up its industry infrastructure to attract production not only across the state but in several pockets that have become hubs for all types of media production. From the central regions in and around Austin and Waco to the western panhandle near Amarillo, the Lone Star State is positioning itself for a production boom, aided by the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive program, recently passed by the state legislature.
“We were able to receive such great funding and have such support from the legislators across the board on both sides of the aisle, from rural areas to the cities,” says Mindy Raymond, communications director for the Texas Media Production Alliance, noting the leap in funding from the previous legislative session ($45 million) to this one ($200 million).
The Austin region, no stranger to the entertainment industry, is also experiencing a showbiz growth spurt. It’s hosted everything from the annual SXSW Festival to Netflix hit “Queer Eye” to film classics such as “Dazed and Confused” and “Friday Night Lights” to current features and shows like Apple TV+’s “The Last Thing He Told Me” and Fox’s “9-1-1: Lone Star.”
New facilities have sprouted around the capital city in nearby towns like San Marcos, Bastrop and Dripping Springs, where Stray Vista Studios, which recently debuted the largest Virtual Production Volume Wall of its kind in the state, is located.
“This allows you to tell stories from anywhere, from any time period, from places that exist to places that don’t exist,” says Nate Strayer, the founder and CEO of Stray Vista. He decided to set up shop in Dripping Springs not only for the reduced overhead compared to elsewhere, but also for the community of creatives and professionals making the Austin area their home.
Also a filmmaker, Strayer and his team, supported by partners at Vu, help clients from commercials (Google, Cadillac) to music videos (Los Lonely Boys, Hannibal Burress) and beyond so they get the most out of these cutting-edge tools.
“Without talented and knowledgeable technicians who know how to deliver for creatives, the technology loses value,” he says. “I really do think that Texas is setting itself up to really make a difference in the storytelling world and be innovative.”
The city of Waco has evolved into a major production and tourism nexus thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines, whose home renovation series “Fixer Upper” spawned lifestyle brands as well as the Magnolia Network. The Magnolia Market at the Silos is a massive, two-block retail and food complex that draws an estimated 30,000 visitors a week, making it almost a theme park for the home renovation crowd.
“Waco, particularly Magnolia Silos, is the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state of Texas, beating the Alamo,” says Raymond. “That’s attributed to media production, 100%. If ‘Fixer Upper’ did not exist, Waco would not be where it is today.”
Meanwhile, in the panhandle region of Texas in Amarillo, film and television production is also growing precipitously. Sharpened Iron Studios, a faith-based studio that partners with Amarillo College, debuted its first feature in 2022, “What Remains,” starring Anne Heche and Cress Williams.
Sharpened Iron Studios was founded in 2020 by CEO Sean Doherty, who told the Amarillo Globe-News that he hopes to transform Amarillo into the “faith-based entertainment hub of the world.” The studio offers soundstages, post-production, studio services, equipment rentals and more.
Observes Raymond, “There’s no reason why Amarillo and Waco and Austin can’t all be thriving film communities — and I think we’re gonna get there for sure.”
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