San Antonio’s filmmaking industry has yet to close the gap on its contemporaries in Austin or Dallas.
The past three decades have seen a few significant wins in the sector. Major motion pictures such as Miss Congeniality, Spy Kids, and Selena have provided the market with boosts of energy, but have not stimulated the robust economic engine envisioned by many since the late 1990s.
The Alamo City has seen its fair share of TV productions and small, independent films over the years, but major studios have largely avoided the city in favor of heavy incentives offered in other municipalities and states.
Even major TV network productions set in San Antonio, such as NBC’s The Night Shift, have elected to film in other states, only highlighting local landmarks in establishing shots and intros.
However, while San Antonio may lack the magnetic pull of other markets, the city is blazing a trail among minority filmmakers. And one local collective is doing its part to ensure that industry professionals of color remain a productive part of the city’s still-developing film scene.
With recent films Get Out and Black Panther cementing the blockbuster box-office potential of films created with minority casts and crews, renewed attention is being paid to films that tell their story though the eyes of black, Hispanic, and female filmmakers.
“It’s all about connecting, collaborating, and getting on the same page,” said Michael L. Jackson, owner of San Antonio-based Idle Time Cinema.
A film industry veteran of more than 15 years, Jackson founded Idle Time Cinema in 2008 and has placed an emphasis on helping actors, actresses, and crew members of minority status break into the business.
Though the film industry has had its share of successful black filmmakers, including Melvin Van Peebles, Spike Lee, and John Singleton, none have had the box office success that others are currently experiencing. Lee’s 1992 film, Malcolm X, for example, is the highest-grossing minority-driven film in his stable, with a lifetime cumulative audience of $48 million. That is a fraction of the $1.3 billion earned by Black Panther so far.
Jackson notes that those directors have been at the forefront of the movement, and have inspired him to drive minority filmmaking forward in San Antonio.
His most recent productions, Solomon’s Dilemma and Cost Effective, co-produced by San Antonio-based JRAD Productions, will debut at a sold-out screening on April 20 at Santikos Northwest, and showcases the diversity that Jackson and his team pride themselves on. The films will enter the film festival circuit after their premiere, seeking distribution and investors.
“We are very purposeful in our approach to representing women and people of color on screen,” said Jackson. “Giving the underserved and underrecognized communities an opportunity to gain experience making films is a mission of ours.”
This approach has proven successful as Jackson and his team have over 60 productions in their portfolio, spanning a variety of genres. In addition, they have built a loyal fan base, which shows up in droves for his premieres. The audience is as diverse as the people he casts in his films.
“When people attend our film screenings they are guaranteed to see faces of color, women, men, children, the whole spectrum,” said Jackson. “We do make films for specific audiences and listen for their feedback, but ultimately we make films for everyone.”
As home to a predominately Hispanic population and a growing African American population, Idle Time Cinema has its finger on the pulse of an increasingly minority-majority city.
“This is our moment,” said Jackson. “If we as producers, writers, directors, actors, and actresses can come together and mentor one another, fight for resources such as more local production facilities, incentives, and respect, this city can turn the corner and become a force in the film industry.”
This enthusiasm for San Antonio’s film community extends far beyond the men and women Jackson has spent a decade advocating for.
“Our goal is and always has been to make a big-budget feature film in San Antonio. Myself and a number of others support this city and want to make this dream happen. We are not doing this for one or two groups of people. We are doing this for everyone.”