Austin benefits from local film scene, experts say

The city of Austin might be more than just the “Live Music Capital of the World,” according to Austin Film Commission Director Brian Gannon.

“At least every other week, there’s a film festival here,” he said, pointing out that Austin is home to nearly 30 film and television festivals, some of which are more well-known—such as South By Southwest Conference & Festivals and the Austin Film Festival—and others that may fly under the radar, such as the Austin Polish Film Festival.

Gannon’s job involves marketing Austin to potential filmmakers and production companies. He said he frequents trade shows and film festivals around the country, inviting producers, directors, screenwriters and actors to choose Austin and its diverse set locations, ample sunshine, experienced local crews and monetary incentives over another city.

When a film is shot in Austin, the city benefits economically because the cast and crew are staying in the city’s hotels, frequenting local restaurants and bars, buying film equipment from local vendors and using the local production studios’ spaces, Gannon said.

“We want [productions] to come no matter what the size [of the film],” he said.

Gannon and the rest of the team at the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau—the city’s marketing entity—also use the local film festivals to draw both tourists and film industry professionals to the city.

AFF founder and Director Barbara Worker estimates more than half of the people who attend her festival each October come from outside the region.

She said the festival brings two distinctive audiences to Austin: industry professionals and people who love watching movies and learning from the people who made them.

“We definitely introduce a lot of new people every year to Austin,” she said, adding the economic impact of the festival to the city last year was between $11 million and $12 million. An estimated 12,000 attendees slept, dined and played in Austin during the festival.

She said her festival, which was held for the 23rd time from Oct. 13-20 in different venues around the city, would not be possible without two essential elements: writers and the culture of Austin.

“People recognized right away there was a different mindset in this town,” she said.

Morgan said she knew Austin was a town rich with screenwriters and filmmakers when she started the festival 23 years ago.

“We decided to take advantage of that timing and work with the [Austin] Film Commission and try to draw an audience from the industry,” she said. “People were coming here to meet writers, and they were coming from [Los Angeles] and New York because we just had this big conglomeration of writers. In that way, we’ve become a tourism event and an industry event.”

But Morgan said the Austin filmmaker and screenwriter population has changed over the years.

“There’s a lot of talk, and rightly so, about how we are losing those people because it’s just too expensive here, and that’s true,” she said. “But I don’t think we are losing them in droves yet. We’re losing really great people, but in the process of losing, there’s still people coming in.”