Fort Worth’s expanding film industry, which has already pumped an estimated half-billion dollars into the local economy, is expected to surge toward more dramatic growth on the strength of a quadruple increase in state movie incentives authorized in the just-ended regular legislative session.

Lawmakers authorized $200 million in a state incentive program designed to boost movie and TV production in Texas, delivering a major victory to Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker and other regional leaders who pushed for the increase. Previously, $45 million was allocated for promoting the film industry through its Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program.

“It’s going to be a real real game-changer, not just for the whole state but certainly for Fort Worth,” said Fort Worth film producer Red Sanders, who helped found the Fort Worth Film Commission in 2015.

Mattie Parker
Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker

Mayor Parker designated expanding the film industry as one of Fort Worth’s top legislative goals when she made an appearance at Austin’s Paramount Theater in early February to pitch lawmakers on the requested boost in film incentives.

“Investing in local film productions has an incredible return on investment,” Parker said in a statement released by the Fort Worth Film Commission, “and in Fort Worth we’re ready to capitalize on their opportunities.”  

In addition to the boost in funds, lawmakers also approved a bill by Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, to encourage large film production companies to come to Texas by lowering the percentage of Texas residents required on certain production crews from 70% to 55%.  

A separate Goldman bill to create enterprise funds to boost the film industry passed the House but died in the Senate.

The increased film incentives were included in a $321.3 billion two-year state budget that lawmakers sent to Gov. Greg Abbott over the weekend before Monday’s adjournment. The governor then called the lawmakers back into a special session to deal with his unmet priorities.

“We will be seeing more film and television production in our city, county and state and most importantly, we will be growing our workforce in this industry,” Goldman said in a statement about the approved incentives. 

Abbott has yet to sign the budget and could strip some provisions through item-by-item vetoes, but he has shown no signs of unfriendliness toward the film incentives, which were supported by the Texas Film Commission, an arm of the governor’s office.

“It’s an unprecedented allocation of funding,” said Paul Jensen, executive director of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance TXMPA, whose organization was part of a statewide lobbying campaign to secure the $200 million to boost Texas’ ability to land production crews and compete with other states.

Jessica Christopherson, vice president of marketing and film commissioner for Visit Fort Worth, said the expanded incentives give Fort Worth and Texas more muscle to lure out-of-state filmmakers away from other states, including neighbors like New Mexico, which offers $100 million in movie rebates.

An even more formidable competitor is Georgia, which offered $1.2 billion in tax credits as of 2022.   

“In Fort Worth, we’ve lost productions to Oklahoma and Ohio and Canada in recent years,” Christopherson said.  With the increased state dollars, she said, “more productions come to Texas, the workforce will continue to build and grow, resulting in more jobs and opportunities.”

Attracting movie and TV production companies results in a hefty boost throughout the local economy, according to Christopherson and other proponents, citing increases in retail, construction, hotels, food and beverage sales.

Sanders, who is president and producer of Red Productions and Backlot Studios, said the incentives will be a boost to a production he plans to begin shooting in the fall, called “Fruitcake,” based on an $18 million embezzlement at the Collin Street Bakery of Corsicana.

“The first key piece was getting the incentives passed,” he said.

Fort Worth’s reputation as a regional film and TV production capital has steadily grown in stature through hundreds of projects both big and small. 

Two of Taylor Sheridan’s acclaimed Fort Worth-based productions are “1883” and “Lawman: Bass Reeves.”  Others’ film projects include “A Ghost Story,” “The Old Man” & The Gun,” “Miss Juneteenth” and 12 Mighty Orphans.”

Fort Worth’s Western heritage and historic architecture have been a compelling draw for movie and TV producers. The History Channel’s “Pawn Stars” shot an episode at Billy Bobs in the Stockyards. National Geographic also has filmed in the Cultural District.

Christopherson said the increased incentives will enable Fort Worth to boost marketing to bring film, television and commercial projects to the region, including through advertising in trade publications and attendance at trade shows.

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David Montgomery is a longtime journalist who has served as an Austin Bureau chief for the Dallas Times Herald, Austin and Washington bureau chief for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, and Moscow bureau...