News from the greater SA film industry
I was perusing a by-region, release-date list for indie purveyor Sony Pictures Classics the other day, and was struck by a disparity I have always sort of peripherally recognized and accepted (if grudgingly), but hadn’t ever really seen — or rather, been forced to notice — in writing before. San Antonio, as far as Texan film-market totem poles go, is well, let’s just say we’re not the spread-winged, eagle-thing perched regally atop everyone else’s head. Neither are we the weird-faced fellow with bared teeth, crammed in just below said aquiline topping. No, there’s only so much room on a totem pole, and then you start running out of animals. Meantime, Dallas, Houston, and Austin sit, wooden and immobile, atop our collective noggin.
Take, for example, the upcoming bit Who Killed the Electric Car?. True enough, it’s an environmentally themed documentary, and many at-large moviegoers may not pitch much of a fit at its delay, but viewers in Dallas, Plano, Houston, Austin, and Fort Worth will have the chance to blithely skip over it at the box office before San Antonians do. The film opens in the River City on the same date it gets its red-carpet Frisco and Grapevine debuts. I’ll repeat: Frisco and Grapevine. And it’s like with just about anything that doesn’t open wide; that is, flicks that don’t get the “In Theaters `Absolutely` Everywhere” tag. I had to go to Austin to see Sundance darling and Special Jury Prize-winner Brick, and the upcoming Quinceañera opens in Plano before doing so in the city which, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, has the largest percentage of Hispanics among Texas cities whose populations exceed 1 million. Further, of the 16 film and television productions listed by the Texas Film Commission as having been filmed in Texas in 2005, one — a TV movie for the FX Network — lists San Antonio as one of its locations.
All right, let’s take a breath. There may be good (or at least better) news on the horizon.
Friday, June 16 saw the first statewide meeting of the nascent Texas Motion Picture Alliance — what amounts essentially to an developing coalition of the various film commissions of seven Texas regions (Amarillo/Panhandle, Austin, El Paso/West Texas, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Rio Grande Valley/Brownsville and San Antonio), assembled to gently cudgel the state legislature into creating financial incentives that would pull more productions Texasward (and thus, San Antonio-ward?). The nominal agenda for the meeting, which convened in the bowels of Austin’s Capitol building, was to select a 15-member board of directors to guide operations for the Alliance. This number was swiftly voted up to 21 members by the gathered 150 or so bodies, which included about 40 each from Austin and Dallas, 24-ish from Houston, and a somewhat-lagging 12 from you-know-where. We had a far better showing, though, than both El Paso and the Valley, which failed to break double figures, and Amarillo, which mustered not a one. (Aside: An intrepid, ponytailed dude from Corpus Christi showed up, asking that his region be granted a spot, but was voted down `possibly to be considered later`. Doing his town proud, though, Mark Sullivan, president of the fledgling San Antonio Film District, invited him to hang with our twelve, so he wouldn’t feel left out.)
At final count, SA took some lumps (a discussion of “major Texas film cities” mentioned only Dallas, Austin, and Houston), but claimed four board seats: Nicky Young, president of Prima Donna productions, was named regional rep; J.R. Flournoy and Roger Castillo nabbed at-large spots; and San Antonio Film Commission director Drew Mayer-Oakes was elected Texas Film Commission Association rep. The 21-member board (or 20, as Amarillo’s seat remains vacant until filled) then adjourned to a room to elect an executive board; as a result, actor/film lobbyist/forum favorite Hector Garcia of Dallas is president, Mayer-Oakes is veep.
What does all of this mean? Well, it means that we’re not there yet, but we’re organizing.
“We don’t do as many feature films as Austin does, certainly,” says Mayer-Oakes, who has worked for the Texas and Houston commissions and, for his part, seems enthusiastic and well-liked by his peers. “It is a concern, but I feel that the director of the Texas Film Commission has that on his agenda, and on his radar.” Mayer-Oakes says SA’s “texture” is its greatest asset: “What really distinguishes us is our specific location and our people. Those are the two things that producers comment to me about when they leave.”
Now, if we can just get to the point where they’re telling that to other producers, on their way in.