A member of the San Antonio film community considers changes to the Strategic Plan. Photo by James McCandless.
A member of the San Antonio film community considers changes to the SA Film Commission's Strategic Plan during a public meeting on Aug. 25, 2016. Photo by James McCandless.

The San Antonio Film Commission‘s proposed strategic plan, which City Council will vote on next month, was unveiled to nearly 100 members of the film community and general public Thursday night at the Guadalupe Theater. Actor and San Antonio native Jesse Borrego, who helped develop the plan alongside fellow local film industry members, described the plan as a ‘vision’ for what he called San Antonio’s “creative economy.”

Actor Jesse Borrego addresses members of the San Antonio film community at the Guadalupe Theater. Photo by James McCandless
Actor Jesse Borrego addresses members of the San Antonio film community at the Guadalupe Theater. Photo by James McCandless Credit: James McCandless for the San Antonio Report

“Thank you to those people for their tireless work, for creating this fertile soil for us to grow this vision that will be hopefully something we all can be proud of,” Borrego said. “I think it’s important to celebrate the efforts that all of us, as visionaries, have done in the process.”

Last week, Debbie Racca-Sittre, interim director of the Department for Culture and Creative Development (DCCD), briefed City Council on the strategic plan and did the same for the Guadalupe Theater crowd Thursday.

“The 2021 vision for the San Antonio Film Commission and local industry is for San Antonio to be the most production-friendly city in the United States,” she said, “celebrating our location, our cultural diversity, and supporting the film industry and all of you with effective infrastructure, funding, marketing, professional development, and workforce development opportunities.”

Enticing incentive programs, collaboration with the City, and publicizing San Antonio’s current filmmaking resources all are key to realizing this plan.

The State’s Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program (TMIIIP), which was launched in 2007 and aims to “build the economy through the moving image industry and create jobs in Texas,” provides the opportunity for film productions to win a 22.5% cash grant based on in-state spending on feature film projects, with a minimum of $3.5 million in Texas spending.

Projects can qualify with as little as $250,000 in state spending at 7.5%, and at 12.5% for projects with a state spending level between $1 million and $3.5 million. San Antonio qualified for the additional 2.5% “underutilized area bonus.”

Racca-Sittre said the state incentive program has helped Austin much more than it has helped San Antonio. For that reason, San Antonio started its own supplemental film incentive, the largest available film incentive (up to 25%) among Texas’ four biggest cities combined.

The DCCD proposed to boost the local incentives as part of the strategic plan. If approved by City Council, a higher local incentive would help San Antonio to recover from the State legislature cutting the total film incentive fund by two-thirds last year.

However, another disadvantage for Texas is that states such as Georgia and New Mexico leverage state income tax credits among their incentives. It’s one of the main reasons the NBC medical drama “Night Shift,” set at the fictional San Antonio Memorial Hospital, is shot in New Mexico. Since Texas has no state income tax, the State can merely offer cash grants and state sales tax exemptions.

Not long ago, industry observers saw San Antonio as that so-called “production-friendly” community worthy of many more projects. In 2015, MovieMaker magazine named San Antonio one of the 10 best large cities to live and work in as a filmmaker. San Antonio is no longer to be found on that list this year, and this year’s number of local filmmakers participating in the film portion of South by Southwest decreased from 2015.

While San Antonio has a track record of attracting local feature filmmaking – from Wings, the award-winning 1920s silent movie, to Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids – that history has not translated into the city luring a constant stream of productions. Projects such as commercials and public service announcements, feature and short films, as well as documentaries have yielded a total local economic impact of $50 million, but that number still has room for improvement given the resources that exist here.

Local filmmakers are looking to benefit from resources like Alamo City Studios, a converted warehouse on East Houston Street that boasts 100,000 sq.ft. of multifunctional space for film production. The Film Commission’s strategic plan states a need for more of these cutting-edge, collaborative film workspaces around town.

A survey of six local film producers and 116 projects, done over the past three-plus years, shows that, locally produced feature films averaged budgets of $367,000, and 119 employees. TV series could further boost these numbers, Racca-Sittre said, as they would provide stable, well-paying jobs over an extended period of time.

Interim DCCD Director Debbie Racca-Sittre addresses the crowd at the Strategic Plan release event. Photo by James McCandless
Interim DCCD Director Debbie Racca-Sittre addresses the crowd at the SA Film Commission Strategic Plan release event. Photo by James McCandless

At last week’s City Council meeting, Racca-Sittre applauded San Antonio’s wealth of quality local film festivals, but added there’s room for improvement in increasing awareness of the local film community. The 2016 editions of local annual film fests, such as the San Antonio Film Festival and the 48 Hour Film Project, recently took place, but were knocked for being poorly publicized.

The Film Commission’s strategic plan also recommends greater communication and marketing of local film professionals and their resources, development of local talent, and improved marketing of San Antonio as a community ripe with filmmaking opportunities.

Racca-Sittre said Thursday that the local film community should be able to use the city’s brand in its creative works, and that local businesses should work with local filmmakers however they can. The plan also calls for the Film Commission to be fully staffed and have an updated website.

“We want to build a film culture to where people come to San Antonio to visit a place where a film was made,” she said.

The City’s proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget will contain an additional $200,000 to implement the strategic plan and its objectives. Council members have commended the City’s initiatives to enhance the film industry.

“This is certainly an interesting opportunity for us, from an economic development perspective, to grow a cottage industry,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said last week, also praising the plan’s recognition of local school districts and higher education institutions that have creative arts programs.

City Councilman Roberto Trevino (D1) addresses the crowd at the the Strategic Plan release event at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Photo by James McCandless.
City Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) addresses the crowd at the the SA Film Commission’s strategic plan release event at the Guadalupe Theater. Photo by James McCandless.

At Thursday’s event, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said the plan will help the local film industry grow and help San Antonio to further realize its potential as a cultured community.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time. The resources are here, right in front of us – look around the room,” Treviño said. “We’re sort of seeing the city self-actualizing with lots of great activity happening.”

Local film professionals in the crowd were excited about the strategic plan.

“Every business needs a model to follow,” said Dagoberto Patlan, a board member with the San Antonio Arts Commission and local production firm CineVeliz. “The City, for the first time in quite a long time, is looking at the film community as an industry, not just as an arts community, putting its support into helping grow this industry. You can have an industry, but if you don’t have the citizens at large behind it, it’s kind of hard to grow it.”

Zachary Smith, owner and lead makeup artist at KAZ Creations Special Effects Studios, sees the plan as long overdue.

“The strategies they have finally come forward with are the right ones,” he said. “They’re finally going to boost our workforce and economy and employ more people.”


Top image: A member of the San Antonio film community considers changes to the SA Film Commission’s strategic plan.  Photo by James McCandless.

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Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.