Pandemic production: one year later … Austin’s film and television scene is back in full force, but can this comeback be sustained? – Screens

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by Jason Stout / Zeke Barbaro / Getty Images

A year ago, the future looked bleak for Austin’s film and television scene. Production ceased on March 13 on all of the big shows in town, and small productions didn’t have a clear path to start. When the the Chronicle spoke to a range of industry professionals living in the area – from HBO producers to prop makers, from studio directors to commercial directors – the future was bleak and dire, and no one knew if there would even be an industry on the other side of the pandemic.

Cut in July 2021, and a recording with Austin Film Commission director Brian Gannon paints a surprising picture. “There are just under two dozen commercial production houses in Austin, and they’re all booming. Every equipment supplier I speak to no longer has a portable toilet, there are no more anamorphic lenses. Our equipment is complete. , and the facilities get there too. ATX Studios is full, Austin Studios is full, Troublemaker has a number of productions lined up, and then a lot of mid and small production studios also have a ton of business, to the point that we are looking for warehouse space for. some of those bigger shows coming up. “

“It cost a lot of money, but our industry could teach a master class on how to operate in a pandemic.” – Austin Studios Director Martin Jones

It’s clearly still an uneven landscape, with the closure forcing many artisans to find other jobs, leave the state or burn their savings. But Texas, and especially Austin, are on a surprising streak. As one of the first states with significant production facilities to reopen for filming, studios have moved quickly to start production or, as in the case of Amazon Panic, conclude the shoot that they had been forced to suspend. Before the end of the year, there will be four major productions – including the return of the CW’s surprise smash. Walker, AMC’s trailing leviathan Fear the living dead, and Hitchcock inspired by Robert Rodriguez Hypnotic – filming in the Austin area alone. Gannon said: “It started to become evident last summer [that] there was a demand for content, they needed places to shoot it, and they needed to do it safely. What followed was “a coordinated effort to get everyone together to move forward.”

Obviously, when the governor’s office announced last June that production could resume, business was not going to go as usual as everyone was terrified that production would be halted by a test. COVID positive. Texas Motion Picture Alliance communications director Mindy Raymond explained, “We didn’t want to have a target on our back.” Nationally, the film and television industry moved quickly to create their own safety protocols: Craft Guilds (SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, Directors Guild of America and the Teamsters) drew up the Safe Way rules. Forward, and they did not hesitate to stop productions for violations. TXMPA and local film commissions became telephone banks, answering technical questions for productions dealing with a positive test, or filmmakers feared they would be blacklisted if they did not return to work immediately. Raymond said, “If we didn’t know the answer right away, we knew who to contact.” At the same time, she saw an incredible sense of camaraderie in the industry, like commercial producers coming together to make sure they did not interfere with each other in the bidding process. “They tied their arms even though they were competing with each other.”

This has been a challenge, especially as a network of local and state regulations has created a confusing, sometimes contradictory, work environment. Raymond said, “We would take three steps forward, then there would be a shutdown, or a new mask warrant, and a production would have to pivot to stay within guidelines.”

Austin Studios director Martin Jones presented the situation positively but bluntly. “It cost a lot of money, but our industry could teach a master class on how to operate in a pandemic.” And he wasn’t joking about “a lot,” as Gannon estimated that productions were paying a 25% pandemic premium to cover the extra costs, from constant testing to operating a completely sealed set. The reality is, this is the new normal, at least for the foreseeable future. “From everything I hear,” Jones added, “the COVID protocols will remain in effect for next year.”

But just because things look brighter than expected now doesn’t mean they will stay that way, and both Gannon and Raymond have looked at the continuing blockage of industry expansion: the Texas Moving Image Industry. Incentive Program, aka TMIIIP, aka state production incentives. During the legislative session, lawmakers earmarked $ 45 million for the next biennium: that’s a 10% drop from the current two-year cycle, which was lower than many feared in a crisis pandemic budget, but it will not last long. “We never have a problem spending it,” Raymond said. “We’re checking the couch, looking for extra pennies.”

Austin-based filmmaker Aaron Koontz was one of the independent producers who managed to deal with the pandemic’s budget constraints, but, he said, “We had to shoot everything outside of Texas because they weren’t would not give us our incentives. “

To support all of these great productions Austin needs more crews, but without incentives there is no guarantee that the work won’t dry up in a year, and incentives remain the main driver of show management. . “We’re painted in a corner,” Gannon said. “It can be difficult to develop the crew base when we might run out of incentives [before we get] throughout the biennium. “


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