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June 8th, 2007:

Texas Film Commission bill signed

The State of Texas wants you to make your movie here.

Texas, a rejected suitor that has watched 32 film projects consider the state’s charms only to waltz away, taking big economic benefits with them, is putting millions into a film incentive program meant to lure the next blockbuster … and the one after that, and the one after that.

All looks bright.

But it’s the movie business, so cue the scary music.

The Motion Picture Association of America, a leading organization in the very business that Gov. Rick Perry is courting, last week urged him to veto the bill, saying the state was leaving itself open to a lawsuit.

Perry signed the $22 million bill into law Thursday with fanfare, joined by the rakish Dennis Quaid, a Houston native who is moving to Texas in a couple of years and wants it to become “the new Hollywood.”

But there’s a catch. Isn’t there always a catch?

However, the new law has a provision that allows film grants to be denied “because of inappropriate content or content that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion.”

Texas is the first state to enact such a provision as part of a film incentive program, said Vans Stevenson, senior vice president of state government affairs for MPAA, who wrote the letter and said it speaks for itself.

A letter from Stevenson said the provision would permit state government to review and approve motion picture scripts to be eligible for a production incentive, which it said “contravenes the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression, and it will discourage filmmakers from coming to Texas.”

“This provision is a direct indictment of the creative process and American values of free expression that are fundamental to our democracy,” Stevenson wrote. He added later in the letter, “Moreover, this legislation is subject to immediate constitutional challenge in federal court.”

Stevenson said Thursday that he still would have preferred that Perry veto the bill, but he applauds the governor and Legislature for wanting to create an incentive program. He said there are no plans at this time for litigation.

“I think our hope is that we can work to fix this,” Stevenson said. The next chance to do that would be in the 2009 legislative session, unless Perry calls a special session before then.

Gah, not the S word again. Bite your tongue!

When senators added the provision, one cited the film Glory Road about the Texas Western Miners from El Paso, a basketball team whose starting lineup was African-American. Texas A&M-Commerce, which during the 1960s era depicted in the film was known as East Texas State University, called for an apology for the unfavorable way it was portrayed.

Perry, who signed the measure before a stage backdrop of a lake at an Austin Studios hangar (it’s built on the old Robert Mueller Municipal Airport property), downplayed worries and played up the potential benefits of the overall package.

“There’s been a lot of misplaced concern about that provision,” Perry said. “Dennis and I were talking about it earlier, that some folks see this as a First Amendment issue.”

But Perry suggested the provision would be implemented judiciously: “Look, what we’re trying to do here is … trying to get the film industry to come and reinvest and invest in a big way in the state of Texas. And if the first thing that happens is we start seeing some type of censorship, it’s not going to happen.”

When I think of negative portrayals of Texas, I think of the old TV show Dallas. Quite a few of my high school classmates, upon hearing where I was going to college, invoked that show in some form. On the whole, it’s hard to say that the Ewing clan was a net negative for the state and its economy; its image is another matter. I guess the question is who gets to decide what a “negative” portrayal is? How does this thing get enforced, and how to avoid looking all the worse for it when it does?

In the end, it’s probably not a big deal. One presumes that with this provision or not, the commission was going to have some kind of latitude. It just seems a bit weird to spell it out so explicitly in the statute like that. The Observer blog has more.

The Beatles are coming!

To I-10 and Shepherd in the next few months.

Beatles statues are now up at Sculpturworx on Summer Street near Sawyer in west Houston and they were created by a man who’s left his mark on other parts of southeast Texas.

The Beatles are part of our musical landscape. Now, they are part of Houston’s physical landscape. At 36 feet tall, the concrete statues are instantly recognized by the smallest of observers.


The Beatles songs revolutionized the pop music industry in the 1960s. But it was the Sgt. Pepper period with day-glo military uniforms that stuck in the mind of local artist David Adickes.

“They’re creativity, their musicianship, their writing, their sense of portrait,” he said. “They’re just very creative guys.”

Adickes designed and built the giant cello outside the Lyric Center in downtown Houston — a musical concept he wanted to expand.

“I’ve always liked standing figures that are pretty abstract, so I thought I’d like to do that, and I thought three or four and the Beatles were the obvious choice,” he said.

Adickes has always thought big, designing giant presidential busts for a project in Pearland. And while the presidents are big, the Beatles are bigger — at least physically.

“Each one of those weighs about 7,000 pounds, so you’ve got 25-30,000 pounds,” said Adickes.

Any day with David Adickes news in it is a good day. Ken Hoffman has more. You can see some pix of these statues, plus other Adickes work, on this Flickr page. And yes, I’ll be by soon with my own camera. Can’t wait to see these babies in their eventual location.

Watts goes all in

I don’t know how Mikal Watts will do as a candidate, and I don’t really know where he stands on the issues (though this helps a little), but I see he’s serious about running, and that counts for something.

San Antonio trial lawyer Mikal Watts has launched his bid for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination by donating and loaning his campaign fund a total of $3.8 million — an amount equal to Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn’s cash on hand.

“I took John Cornyn’s first-quarter report and matched it to the penny,” Watts said.

“We’re going to start with a level playing field, and then we’re going to start raising money and see what the people of Texas have to say.”

Watts, 39, donated $1.9 million to his exploratory committee and loaned it another $1.9 million. He formed the committee June 1, and its paperwork was available Wednesday.

Millionaire businessman Tony Sanchez spent $60 million of his own money in an unsuccessful run as the Democratic nominee for governor in 2002.

“I’m no Tony Sanchez,” Watts said, “but I’m ready to and intend to put in the money it takes to close the deal.”

Anything above about $20 million is likely to have little marginal effect anyway. Even if Watts could write that kind of check for himself, the lesson we should have learned from Tony Sanchez is that unlimited funds cannot compensate for a limited candidate. If Watts is a good candidate, then the money will be there for him. Though, as my preferred candidate for the Senate points out, money isn’t everything.

Noriega said Thursday: “I am seriously looking at the race, but whether or not I get in or not, I have no intention of getting into a back and forth with a bank account. I do not want to reinforce the unhealthy idea that a candidate is judged solely on money.

“My focus would be the people of the state of Texas and whether (GOP U.S. Sen. John) Cornyn’s rubber stamp support for Bush, and the national leadership that has failed to provide a clear mission for our involvement overseas, is good for Texas.

“Washington politicians are making the decisions while Texas families are making the sacrifices.”

Amen. Now while Mikal Watts is not my first choice for the Senate, I’m going to hear him out, and as long as he isn’t doing stupid things I’m not going to be negative about him – he may emerge as our candidate in the end, after all. I like the idea of a high-profile primary race between two or more credible candidates for the right to stop John Cornyn. I don’t pretend that will be easy to do, but the point is that the perception is that it can be done. Not nearly enough people felt that way about taking out Rick Perry in 2006, so just a change in attitude away from the “Dems should just concede and wait till next time” thinking that’s still shamefully prevalent is a huge step forward.

Now if that same attitude can spread to some Congressional districts, too, then we’ll really have something. One step at a time, I suppose.

How would you run this marathon?

I don’t have the attention span to sit through a Star Wars marathon (never mind the free time for such an undertaking), but if I did I’d probably watch them in “chronological” order, which is to say Episodes I through VI. I’ve said before that I think The Phantom Menace was a far better movie than Send In The Clones, so I don’t feel like this would start it off with a dud, and if I were going to make this investment I figure I ought to at least see what the story arc was, assuming Lucas really had one (not a safe bet).

So that’s how I’d do it. Your mileage may vary. And may I just say, I’d rather go for the Kurt Russell-a-thon, too. It’s been too long since I’ve seen Big Trouble in Little China. How about it, Pete?

Temporary arthouse construction pictures

If I’d known that stina was going to find all these pictures of the temporary arthouse construction, I might not have bothered to take one myself. Well, okay, I probably would have anyway, since we all know I like taking pictures of stuff like that. So here’s the one I took yesterday:

I’ll see if I can sneak out and take some more today.

Why you should listen to your attorney

You know how people who are involved in lawsuits are advised by their attorneys not to say anything about the case while the litigation is pending? This would be the reason why.

It was a Perry Mason moment updated for the Internet age.

As Ivy League-educated pediatrician Robert P. Lindeman sat on the stand in Suffolk Superior Court this month, defending himself in a malpractice suit involving the death of a 12-year-old patient, the opposing counsel startled him with a question.

Was Lindeman Flea?

Flea, jurors in the case didn’t know, was the screen name for a blogger who had written often and at length about a trial remarkably similar to the one that was going on in the courtroom that day.

In his blog, Flea had ridiculed the plaintiff’s case and the plaintiff’s lawyer. He had revealed the defense strategy. He had accused members of the jury of dozing.

With the jury looking on in puzzlement, Lindeman admitted that he was, in fact, Flea.

The next morning, on May 15, he agreed to pay what members of Boston’s tight-knit legal community describe as a substantial settlement — case closed.

Let that be a lesson to us all. Thanks to Luke Gilman for the catch.