Film industry attracted to Austin

Austin has garnered recent attention from big-name television networks and filming studios, but those in the industry do not consider the city to be the next Los Angeles or New York City.

Instead, many agree Austin is in a league of its own, and that is the reason why filming crews continue to use Austin as a backdrop. Local producer and screenwriter Hanz Wasserburger said he recently worked on a romantic comedy that was filmed entirely in Austin.

Film industry  attracted to Austin “Second Impression”—Cast and crew members of “Second Impression” walk down South Congress Avenue to film a scene for the movie.[/caption]

“It made a lot of sense [to film in Austin] given the film scene that’s here, and there’s a lot of things already in place. There’s … just a tremendous wealth of talent in Austin related to film,” Wasserburger said. “I can see why someone would choose to film in Austin because it’s such a vibrant scene. There’s so many different locations that are ideal for filming.”

Many of those in the film industry openly admit the work is strenuous. Judson Holt, who has held various positions on a variety of production crews, said the job eats up one’s entire life, but it is important to keep a good attitude. Breaking into the industry can be tough, but having a good reputation can keep you there, he said.

“When I first started [working in Austin] it took me about a year to get my first film industry job. I was doing odd jobs [in the meantime],” Holt said. “It’s hard to break into the film industry here, but it seems like, now that I’ve been doing this for three years, you see the same people over and over again.”

Films made in Austin do not always show the city in a picturesque manner. Filmmaker Jeff Mertz is finishing his documentary project, “Slow Burn,” which takes a look at barbecue businesses in East Austin and how gentrification has affected the community.

He said the filming process taught him a lot about Austin and showed him how easy it is to live in a bubble. Learning from the perspectives and sharing the stories of those who had been disenfranchised by historical racism made him even more passionate about the film and filmmaking, he said.

Film industry  attracted to Austin “Slow Burn” —Jeff Mertz interviews one of the owners of Sam’s BBQ, located at 2000 E. 12th St., for his documentary, “Slow Burn.”[/caption]

Mertz said Austin’s film industry can be very difficult for a filmmaker in his or her 20s to navigate or break into, but his advice is to ask nicely for help, such as filming in businesses or borrowing equipment in order to lower production costs.

Julio Quintana and Pat Kondelis of Bat Bridge Entertainment, the local production company that debuted their documentary series “High Profits” this year on CNN, said its best advice is to create quality content during a time when viewers are tired of trash television. Although many in the film industry are worried about the state Legislature’s recent cuts to creative content tax incentives, Quintana and Kondelis said they will continue working in Austin.

“Since Texas doesn’t have as competitive tax incentives, that does make it an uphill battle to convince people to spend large amounts of money in Austin,” Quintana said. “That being said, I think the benefits outweigh that particular setback. We have really good studios, we have the best rental houses—everything we could possibly need is all here.”

One advantage to filming in Austin instead of a city such as New York is there are rarely any filming conflicts, said Sweet Van Loan, a local actress and writer. Also, people in Austin who may end up in the background of a shot are typically more willing to be on camera than many people on the East Coast, she said.

David Colligan, manager of global business recruitment and expansion for the city of Austin, said a more even playing field could be reached in Austin if larger-scale studios were developed. Right now, however, most productions in the city are for commercials and television, he said.

“I think we have an identity as a film production location, and that’s those smaller productions. We would probably need infrastructure that better caters to larger productions, and by that I mean soundstages,” Colligan said. “Austin does serve as a great area for practical locations because we’ve got the look of many different types of cities.”
By Jennifer Curington
Jennifer covers Austin City Council, its various committees and local business news. After covering Florida's 2013 legislative session she graduated from Georgia Southern University and joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2014.


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