Economy, Technology Shape Moving-Image Industry In N. Texas; DPA, TXMPA Push State to Improve Production Incentives/Rebates

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The moving-image industry in North Texas -- movies, commercials, corporate and music videos, animation, television programming, gaming, etc. -- makes an estimated $128 million annual economic impact on the region. Maintaining that pace will depend on the economy, technology, changing consumer tastes and the staying power of more than 220 production firms and their vendors, says Clayton Coblentz, President of the Dallas Producers Association, which marks its 30th Anniversary on Dec. 2. The DPA and the Texas Motion Picture Alliance, which it helped found, are lobbying the Texas Legislature to improve grants (a.k.a. rebates, incentives) from 5% to woo more film and commercial makers back to the Lone Star State.

In my view, our regional industry's long-term prospects are very encouraging, with changing technology being the X-factor

The moving-image industry in North Texas -- movies, commercials, corporate and music videos, animation, television programming, gaming, etc. -- makes an estimated $128 million annual economic impact on the region1.

"Maintaining that pace, however, will depend on the economy, technology, changing consumer tastes and the staying power of our more than 220 production firms and their vendors," says Clayton Coblentz, President of the Dallas Producers Association.

On Dec. 2, the Dallas Producers Association, founded in 1978, marks its 30th anniversary at the Hotel Palomar in Dallas. A host of past DPA presidents and industry dignitaries will be on hand to salute the historic occasion with food and drink, presentations and proclamations, reels of historic work and a lot of insider chatter. (Open to members and non-members, $20 and $25. RSVP to 972-869-7714 or http://www.dallasproducers.org/events.htm )

"But the hot "buzz" will be on the industry's economic outlook," says Coblentz, a producer with Fusion Productions in Irving which is currently in production on three TV series.

"I believe that production in North Texas is in for an exciting ride and is on a growth curve that will have more ups than downs in the ensuing years," stated the 18-year veteran of the business.
"North Texas leads the state in the quality of talent, crews and production facilities. The industry here has a lot of good positive days ahead of it, and we expect DPA membership to grow," he emphasized. "But the current economic situation will likely be a double-edged sword, affecting smaller companies and larger companies alike. Here's why: The entertainment industry has traditionally been an 'economic bellwether' business, because people often want to escape the reality around them. Consumers may go to a $6 or $8 movie or buy a $50 video game just to get away from it all."

DPA... 'Producer'... Employment:
The DPA is a professional trade association representing the interests of producers in North Texas. It provides promotion, advocacy (legal, business and political, education and networking for its membership.

"Consumers typically understand the terms director, make-up artist, camera operator," he says, "but 'producer' can be a hard term to define. We hire the crew people and buy or lease office space and equipment," he explained.

"If not a work-for-hire situation, we raise the funds that get the projects off the ground. In addition to the critical task of finding financing, we also handle logistics, budgeting and scheduling. Producers are responsible for just about everything production related."

Movies have been produced in the Metroplex for almost 90 years, and national commercials have been created in great numbers in more recent decades, thanks to the presence of firms like AT&T, American Airlines, Frito-Lay, Exxon Mobil and Southwest Airlines.

"Quality and innovation are hallmarks of the North Texas industry," Coblentz contends, from animation pioneers of the '60s to developers of the Studios at Las Colinas in the '80s. From movies like "Blade Runner," "Benji," "Robo Cop," "Leap of Faith" and "Silkwood," to long-running TV series with worldwide impact, like "Dallas," "Walker Texas Ranger" and "Prison Break," to name only a few.

"Our production community also is very accessible. We've been reaching out to people of every age who want to make this their career, particularly individuals willing to pay their dues and work their way up. Frankly, there are a lot of menial tasks involved with production, but they are necessary to being effective in our industry," said Coblentz.

"Some newcomers have stars in their eyes and envision a red carpet with celebrities. But it's also about being married with a family, living in Texas and still supporting the industry professionally. This is definitely not a nine-to-five world we (producers) live in!" Coblentz said.

Recently, DPA has been involved with the University of North Texas and the Thin Line Film Festival - exclusively for documentaries -- in Denton. It provided professionals and other support for their seminars and workshops.

TXMPA . . . Production Incentives

The DPA also helped create the Texas Motion Picture Alliance (TXMPA), which successfully lobbied the Texas Legislature a few years ago to offer financial incentive to firms creating moving images in Texas. From June 2007 through October 2008, the State's grant-based program has paid out $9.8 million for more than $220 million in new production, notes David S. Friedman, a partner in Dallas Audio Post Group and a TXMPA Board member representing North Texas.

Friedman, commenting on the economic impact of moving-image production in Texas, estimates "a $1.30 to $1.50 multiplier effect for every $1 spent for wages, plus the creation and retention of local jobs." Wages can comprise up to 50% of a production budget. For Texas, that amount would have been as much as $172.5 million in 2007.

A business school in another state2 estimated the multiplier effect or image industry supplies (construction, food, lodging, real estate, rentals, retail, services) at $3.68 for every $1 in grant (rebate or incentive) money. In 2007, Texas media industries (film, TV, commercial, animation, video games) spent a total of $345 million. That number reflects 3,087 permanent businesses, 12,562 permanent jobs and 5,306 temporary jobs for Texas.

The Texas Comptroller's Office, which is conducting a current impact study, has previously estimated that for every grant dollar spent by the State, the State received a dollar, making the incentive program "revenue neutral."

The DPA recently raised thousands of dollars for the TXMPA to help convince lawmakers in the next session to improve those incentives from 5% to a more viable, more attractive level.

"Texas ranks dead last among 42 states offering cash or tax rebates," Coblentz emphasizes. "We must bring production back to Texas from states like Louisiana, Michigan and New Mexico, which offer incentives up to 42 percent. Our industry needs a more competitive, more level playing field. And Texas needs the multiplier effect of those dollars spent in our communities."

Technology and Image Delivery:
"In my view, our regional industry's long-term prospects are very encouraging, with changing technology being the X-factor," said the DPA exec. "Remember, Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian philosopher and communications theorist who coined such expressions as 'The medium is the message,' and 'the Global Village' in the 1960s?"

"While the actual craft of story-telling - the core of what we are all about - has not changed, traditional media production has been dramatically altered by interactive capabilities and delivery systems that will stimulate new demand," Coblentz said.

"Video games, for example, are now more movie-like. Entertainment products are being bundled with Internet, phone service and TV programming, and yet still customized to meet consumers' preferences," Coblentz noted.

"Our product is now delivered 'at the curb' to communities and to consumers via high-speed cable, fiber optic services and satellite or even to a consumer's own personal communications device. One has to wonder, just how far away is hologrammatic entertainment playing right on our desks or in our living rooms?!" Coblentz exclaimed.

Sources:
1 "The Texas Film Commission 2007 Regional Impact Chart"
2 Moore School of Business for South Carolina (Feb. 2008)

FOR MORE INFORMATION OR INTERVIEWS:
Clayton Coblentz, President, Dallas Producers Assn., Dallas, TX, 972-869-7714

Preston F. Kirk, APR, Kirk Public Relations, Austin TX, 830-693-4447

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Clayton Coblentz

PRESTON F. KIRK, APR
Kirk Public Relations
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