The Texas Film Commission has denied incentives for "Machete," the controversial immigration-related feature film from Robert Rodriguez's Austin-based Troublemaker Studios.
In a brief, formal letter dated Dec. 1 and released Wednesday by Katherine Cesinger , a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Film Commission cited part of a state code that says requests for film incentives can be denied "because of inappropriate content or content that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion."
The letter was signed by Carol Pirie , deputy director of the commission, and dated one day after former commission director Bob Hudgins resigned amid government findings that he sexually harassed female employees — accusations that he has denied.
The letter to Troublemaker did not detail why the commission made its findings, and Pirie did not have further comment Wednesday. But the movie, which was released Sept. 3, features a fictional Texas politician who is stoking violent anti-immigration fervor for financial and political gain.
A representative for "Machete" producer Elizabeth Avellán said Wednesday that Avellán and Rodriguez were traveling after recently wrapping up shooting on "Spy Kids 4" and that they were unavailable for comment.
Although exact figures aren't available, the production budget for "Machete" was estimated at $10 million by the Internet Movie Database. Based on that figure, Troublemaker could have received a grant of as much as $1.75 million for making the movie in Texas.
The letter from Pirie said that the commission's ruling "does not affect...other grant applications from Troublemaker, now or in the future."
Rodriguez is Texas' most prolific filmmaker, and when Perry signed legislation to beef up filmmaking incentives and bolster the state's industry in April 2009, he did so at Rodriguez's studios, with the director/producer at his side.
Rodriguez told The Associated Press at the time that without the bill he would have had to move the production of projects, including "Machete," to another state.
"Thanks to this bill, I don't have to go shoot out of the state," Rodriguez said.
When the debate on "Machete" incentives was raging earlier this year, Avellán defended the movie, saying: "There's always going to be a bad guy, and he's going to be from somewhere. It just so happens in this case the bad guy is a guy from Mexico who is in cahoots with a guy from Texas. The way Texas is portrayed is not bad at all; it's actually kind of fun."
She added, "Without incentives, it's really impossible nowadays (to make a movie in Texas) considering someone else a couple of states away is throwing money at you."
In May 2009, Hudgins told the producers of the feature film "Waco" that their script about the deadly Branch Davidian siege of 1993 was historically inaccurate and that they would not qualify for incentives if they filmed in the state. The commission's decision attracted the attention of the major Hollywood trade publications, raised First Amendment issues and led some to predict that the state's restrictions on incentives would end up hurting the industry. Others, including conservative talk show radio hosts who fueled controversy over "Machete," argued that the state has the right to deny funds to any movie that it deems inappropriate.
"I'm disappointed to see a wonderfully creative film denied incentives, a film that brought a lot of jobs to Austin," said Rebecca Campbell, executive director of the Austin Film Society. "I do continue to believe in the effectiveness of the incentives program. I think it's a great thing for Texas."
Austin screenwriter and author Si Dunn , who was one of the paid extras in "Machete," said Wednesday, "Texas needs to do a much better job of politically supporting its movie and television industry.... The notion that state legislators somehow can protect Texas' image from 'negative light' is just laughable — and sadly naive. Movies casting some aspect of Texas in a 'negative light' can be made with help from state incentives in Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma or almost any other state and then be shown in Texas theaters."
The ruling on "Machete" comes at a pivotal time for the state's film industry.
In the past year, film and television production in Texas has picked up, mainly because of the new incentives.
But early projections for the next state budget include a shortfall of at least $24 billion . In September, the governor's office proposed $9 million in cuts in film and TV incentives for the 2011 state budget, which will be debated at the legislative session that starts in January.