For the second year in a row, San Antonio is putting its best foot forward at Austin’s South By Southwest Festival, and according to Choose San Antonio’s Executive Director Meghan Garza-Oswald they’ve been successful at that. The non-profit's goal is to introduce the city to a broader audience so that it'll be seen as a viable place for outsiders to live, work, and play.
“We really took the messages from last year and tried to formulate a really strategic response,” she says. That meant everything from moving out of a 6th Street bar to a cozier venue near the convention center to concentrating on showcasing San Antonio through its music, culinary arts, and film.
“We had more people show up on Friday, March 10, than we had all weekend last year!” Garza-Oswald enthused. “It’s been a huge change. Twenty-one hundred to 2,500 on Friday alone.”
CJ Craig, a board member of Choose San Antonio, added a lot of international people stopped by the booth this year, both in the convention center and at their showcase venue. “I think San Antonio has really surprised a lot of people this year,” she said.
One of those surprises—for filmmakers—is the 7.5 percent production incentive the City of San Antonio passed last October. It certainly raised the eyebrows of filmmakers I spoke to, and panelists on Sunday night, including San Antonio Film Commissioner Krystal Jones, actor Jesse Borrego, and director/producers Kerry Valderrama and Fernando Cano, were enthusiastic about its chances for bringing new productions to the Alamo City.
“[The city incentive is] really unique in the country when it comes to municipalities and film incentives,” Jones said on stage. “We have the support of the city and city management when it comes to film in San Antonio. The state incentivizes 22.5 percent for San Antonio, as we are an underutilized area. Our 7.5 percent incentive brings it to 30 percent, which helps us compete with those states.” Some of those states being Louisiana and New Mexico, where the recent Texas-set Oscar nominee “Hell Or High Water” was shot, and where the San Antonio-based television series “The Night Shift” is made.
“It’s a very scary time when you have amazing films that are portraying Texas and San Antonio, and none of it is being shot here,” said Kerry Valderrama. “You have to realize that incentives are such a huge part of the decision making process when producers and studios are coming to that determination on where they’re going to shoot their next picture.”
Beyond incentives, though, panelists also seemed to play up San Antonio’s character, trumpeting the professional, hard-working crews that want to call San Antonio home.
Nevertheless, Austin still looms large in the state when it comes to the film scene—witness the tremendous success of the South By Southwest festival itself. But Jesse Borrego said Austin can also be a model for San Antonio. Recalling the forward-thinking director Richard Linklater, who founded the Austin Film Society in the 1980s, acquired vacant city airport property, and opened Austin Studios, Borrego said, “that’s the prototype” for the nascent San Antonio Film Society.