Enlighten Me

The Hill Country Studios is coming to San Marcos — what does this mean for the community and our beloved river? TXST experts weigh in on the ripple effects this growth can have on San Marcos and beyond.

Creators & Guests

Edward Sanchez
Rodney Crouther
Joshua David Matthews

What is Enlighten Me?

Education is more than the accumulation of knowledge. It’s the growth we experience when digging deep into the topics, systems, and ways of thinking that give flavor to life. Enlighten Me is dedicated to bringing listeners into the world of the unknown and providing meaningful insights into issues that affect us all. In each episode, we bring in researchers and experts from a wide range of fields to discuss a topic and how it relates to their industry.

Part of the TXST Podcast Network: https://www.txst.edu/podcast-network.html

Rodney Crouther (00:07):
Hi, welcome to Enlighten Me. I'm Rodney Crouther.

Eddie Sanchez (00:10):
I'm Eddie Sanchez.

Rodney Crouther (00:11):
Hey, Eddie. Have you seen that show, "Last of Us"?

Eddie Sanchez (00:14):
I haven't, but I've played the video game before.

Rodney Crouther (00:16):
Ah, I haven't played the game. I only watched this show, and I like, was really hyped when I watched the first episode 'cause it starts off set right here in San Marcos and Austin.

Eddie Sanchez (00:24):
Yeah, I saw that. And I was wondering if they filmed that here.

Rodney Crouther (00:27):
Yeah, I was wondering that too. So I went and looked it up, and man, they filmed that in Alberta, Canada. They made a fake Central Texas in Canada.

Eddie Sanchez (00:35):
Oh man. I wonder why they didn't film it here.

Rodney Crouther (00:37):
Yeah, I don't know. There's been other movies and TV shows shot here, like "Piranha" was shot back in the ’80s, that horror movie with the killer fish was shot right in Spring Lake. And like "Friday Night Lights" was shot around here. Steve McQueen back in the ’70s shot a movie here. So like, it's not like it's new for Hollywood to come out here.

Eddie Sanchez (00:54):
Did you know that theres actually a film studio being built out here in San Marcos. So I imagine that there's going to be a lot more filming taking place.

Rodney Crouther (01:00):
Oh yeah, I heard a little bit about that, but I haven't gone into the details of it.

Eddie Sanchez (01:04):
It's called the Hill Country Studios, and it's being built on 200 acres close to the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.

Rodney Crouther (01:11):
Wow. That's probably gonna get some people's attention. We are very protective of our water resources here.

Eddie Sanchez (01:16):
Yeah, definitely. I think there's a lot of questions that the community had about what this meant for the environment, for the economy, for the community in general. And those were a lot of the same questions that I had. So I actually had the opportunity to talk to a couple of our faculty members from Texas State University to get some insight on that.

Rodney Crouther (01:33):
Oh, great. Who'd you talk to first?

Eddie Sanchez (01:35):
So the first person I spoke with was Dr. Robert Mace from the Meadows Center.

Robert Mace (01:38):
My name is Robert Mace. I'm executive director for the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment. I'm also a professor of practice in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies.

Eddie Sanchez (01:48):
And he provided me with some pretty interesting insights and he definitely alleviated, I suppose, some of my concerns that I had. So could you tell us a little bit about what your role entails as the director for the Meadows Center?

Robert Mace (02:03):
Sure. So I run the center. So there's administrative tasks, oversee a excellent team that does research on watersheds, water supply, water quality. A lot of that work is in the Hill Country, as well as along the Texas coast. We've got a group that runs the education programs that we have on site. So we run the glass-bottom boats and education programs for school kids. And then we also do just quite a bit of research including on climate change and its impacts on water resources.

Eddie Sanchez (02:43):
That leads into what I wanted to talk with you about today. We have the Hill Country Studios, which is a $267,000,000 project being built on 209 acres. What sort of potential environmental or systemic issues could arise with that development?

Robert Mace (03:04):
Well, anytime somebody builds on property that's not been built on before, that was natural before, has an impact. You're putting a, you know, footprint of a building, parking lots, roads, sidewalks that is impervious cover essentially. So you've covered up the local area, depending on how the land owner, you know, interacts with the landscape, that could have some impacts. For example, if they're applying a lot of fertilizers and things to kill bugs and bacteria, you know, that can have impacts on surface water, you know, if it washes off during rains, or on the aquifers, if it's infiltrating into the soil and deeper into the ground. There's, you know, wastewater, we have to deal with with that. So depending on where wastewater's going, if it's going to a septic system and that septic system isn't working as it should, then that can introduce contaminants into groundwater, which ultimately could come out its surface water through springs such as San Marcos Springs.

Rodney Crouther (04:24):
OK. Yeah, we definitely do not want wastewater running into our like clean, pure river. So how are they gonna stop it?

Eddie Sanchez (04:31):
I actually had the same question, and so I asked Dr. Mace about that.

Robert Mace (04:35):
You know, one of the things that we pride ourselves on here at the Meadows Center is like helping organizations, builders to, you know, minimize their environmental footprint, whether it's environmental impacts or impacts on water resources. And so, when, I guess soon after the controversy broke out, I did reach out to them to see if there was, you know, a way that we could help them achieve their goals and minimizing the footprint. And in talking with them, they were you know, doing a number of things to achieve, you know, minimize their footprint. You know, the plans at that time had them putting their buildings kind of in a dense area and then having quite a bit of green space around them. They had mitigation of stormwater runoff. So, you know, runoff that comes off of parking lots and things like that. So rather than just running that into a creek that then might leak into the aquifer, you know, they're collecting that. And there's a kind of bioremediation that occurs through these engineered systems.

Eddie Sanchez (05:51):
Could you explain what bioremediation means?

Robert Mace (05:54):
That's using the natural environment, like naturally occurring bacteria and things like that to treat water. So, you know, if a parking lot, if you look real closely at water runs off a parking lot, you know, somebody's leaking oil, you'll see the sheen. You know, that can go into some engineered soils that then uses bacteria in the soil to naturally remediate and attenuate those contaminants, you know, before they go deeper into the ground, into the aquifer.

Eddie Sanchez (06:27):
There was a quote that I read from the Sun Marcos assistant city manager. There was something in particular that they said that I wanted to see if you could maybe explain that to us, 'cause when I read it, I really didn't know exactly what they were talking about. But anyways, their quote is, "The studio is promising its design provides 48% impervious cover and stormwater recovery mechanisms." Uh, are you familiar with what I guess, you know, impervious cover is and what some of these stormwater recovery mechanisms are? And if so, could you explain that to us?

Robert Mace (06:57):
So first on the stormwater recovery, that's kinda like that bioremediation stuff I was talking about. So rather than pushing stormwater off the site as quickly as possible, which is traditional development, you know, it'll be retained, which has a benefit to minimizing downstream flooding. But then also there's that, you know, remediation effect, letting solids fall out. And depending on what methods they use, it could be the bioremediation component. The impervious cover is related to structures, concrete that covers up the ground. It doesn't allow rainwater that falls to percolate and touch the ground. So that percentage is saying how much of their total land area is going to be covered up and not accessible to rainfall. My sense is that's on the lower side. You know, if you go look at some of the big box retail stores where it's just a field of concrete, you know, that impervious cover there is surely much higher than that what 50% that you quoted. And that comports with, you know, the plans that I saw where they were congregating their buildings into the center and then building a buffer around the outside. And I think also that's a good design for them because it's like sound studios and things. And so they wanna minimize outside noise from affecting what they're doing inside the buildings.

Eddie Sanchez (08:32):
In consideration of all the growth happening here in Central Texas and in San Marcos, how can we better balance the needs of the greater good while doing our best to avoid negatively affecting the population and environment?

Robert Mace (08:43):
Great, great question. You know, one method that folks have used across the state, including on the recharge zone for the Edwards Aquifer and other parts of the aquifer is conservation easements. So buying the development rights to allow the recharge zone to remain in its natural state. If you can't do that, 'cause you have to have a willing seller to do that, plus you gotta have the cash to be able to buy that, and it's very expensive to do that, particularly you get close to a community like San Marcos or a city. The next best thing is to develop in a way that minimizes the, you know, the footprint of the building, both literally but then also, you know, the footprint in terms of like water use, how much water it's shedding downstream that that could amplify floods.

Eddie Sanchez (09:41):
Would the runoff potentially affect Spring Lake?

Robert Mace (09:46):
Um, it could.

Eddie Sanchez (09:48):
Is Spring Lake a protected body of water?

Robert Mace (09:52):
Um, kind of

Eddie Sanchez (09:57):

Robert Mace (09:58):
The species that are in Spring Lake, some of those are designated by the federal government as endangered species. Those are protected, and so to a certain degree, Spring Lake and the springs are protected to protect those species. So that's why I answered it the way it is. There is no direct protection of the springs and Spring Lake. They continue to flow because of the Endangered Species Act, and the endangered species that live in them.

Rodney Crouther (10:35):
OK. Yeah, I've lived in this area around 20 years and, you know, I've always enjoyed being out on the river or hiking on the trails. And of course, you always see, if you've ever been out there, you're never out there alone. There's always other people paddle boarding or tubing or cycling or doing whatever. People love the outdoors here. It's a huge part of like why people come here. So, you know, any big development comes to town or anywhere in this region, I know it gets a lot of attention from people who wanna protect the environment. So, did Dr. Mace share any of his perspective on the protests that have surrounded the studio? I

Eddie Sanchez (11:09):
I definitely got Dr. Mace's input on that.

Robert Mace (11:11):
Well, it's, you know, it's great that people are expressing their concern about development and expressing their concern about particularly development over the aquifer. Which, you know, very well could have an impact on the springs and the river. I'm a fatalist at heart , and so, you know, my personal opinion on that is like, well, you know, it's private property. There hasn't been a third party to come in and buy that property, preserve it. And given that that hasn't happened, then, you know, it is the right of that owner to develop that property. This is gonna sound awful 'cause it's like, well, you know, it could have been a junkyard with that, you know, recycles PCBs or something. Or it could have been a big box store. My understanding is the zoning would've allowed much denser development on the property. And, you know, it seemed like the folks that are developing the property, you know, were aware of the concerns and were doing some things to minimize their impact. I've dealt with developers who are like, they're real clear. It's like, "You can't tell me what to do. I'm gonna do whatever the hell I want." So these folks just seem much more open and recognizing that there's an impact there and seeking to minimize it.

Eddie Sanchez (12:32):
Is there anything that I can do when I go home to help with water conservation, to help with protecting the waterways in my area?

Robert Mace (12:40):
Just, you know, making decisions to minimize your water use and your water footprint. In that, that can be actually really easy. You know, having WaterSense rated fixtures, Energy Sense rated appliances will automatically decrease your water use. And then making choices on your outdoor landscapes, so going more towards xeriscape and natural landscaping, will minimize the need for you to irrigate outdoors. I think also being aware of where your water comes from. Most Texans don't know where their water comes from. And then being attentive to those water issues and then building that information into the decisions you make when you go to the voting booth. And go to the voting booth. You know, voting is, you know, it's the folks that we elect that hold various parties accountable, make the laws that turn into the rules that govern how our world works. And so, voting is key as well.

Rodney Crouther (13:59):
Dr. Mace makes a great point. Everybody being involved is the best way for us to protect our, like, unique environmental resources here. And when it comes to voting, you know, the other issue that really gets people out to the polls is the economy.

Eddie Sanchez (14:13):
Yeah. And I actually took that into consideration when fleshing out this topic because I know that it wasn't just about the ecological effects that this studio would have in the region, but also what that would mean for the community economically. And, you know, if there are opportunities that would arise with the growth and development of the studio.

Rodney Crouther (14:31):
Yeah. With the great business school we've got here, I bet you could find somebody who had a little more information about what kind of positive impacts we could have from this.

Eddie Sanchez (14:39):
Oh yeah, definitely. And I actually reached out and spoke with Dr. Joni Charles from the McCoy College of Business.

Joni Charles (14:44):
I teach a number of classes. I'm a microeconomist, so I teach the introductory level of economics, Principles of Microeconomics. I also teach a course called Environmental Economics.

Eddie Sanchez (14:57):
Oh, what is microeconomics? I think Dr. Charles can explain that a lot better than I can.

Joni Charles (15:02):
Yeah. So it, you know, most people are familiar with the macroeconomics. So you hear things about the economy in a broad sense, inflation level, employment level. And what microeconomics does is it looks at the decisions that consumers make within the economy, households make, and also the decision making process of firms within the economy. And then the way that firms are organized within the economy.

Eddie Sanchez (15:29):
I know that you focus on groundwater, right? Mm-hmm. . So is there a tie in between that and I guess microeconomics, or how do you tie that in your own work?

Joni Charles (15:39):
There is, because a lot of times you hear groundwater in terms of what it means with respect to hydrogeology, and I'm always interested in what's behind the decisions that people make when they use groundwater. And so my most recent research, what I did was to conduct a survey, not only to find out what people's perceptions and attitudes were toward groundwater, but also I collected some survey comments about how they felt about the administration of groundwater. And then I've also done research when I've gone around to different groundwater conservation districts and talked to those who are responsible for the governance of groundwater, the professionals that are responsible for it. So micro has to do with looking at individuals and what motivates their decisions and the implications of those decisions. So that is how my teaching interests ties into my most recent research work.

Eddie Sanchez (16:42):
Talking about the paper that you had done, I actually read through that and I saw that quite a few people have a belief that there should be enough groundwater to sustain us for the next, you know, 50 years. We're seeing a huge population growth here in Texas. And I just thought that was kind of interesting that it seems as if people might not realize how challenging it can be to ensure that water needs are met by municipalities and industries and all those things.

Joni Charles (17:07):
Sure, yeah. And there were two aspects to respondent's comments. One was that people seemed to be pretty optimistic about there being enough groundwater. Now this was done maybe five years or so ago, but people were really optimistic about groundwater meeting the amount of groundwater and how it would meet needs currently at both the state and local level, but they were less optimistic about the future. And so the question was, I think in the next 25 years, how do you feel about our ability to meet the needs with respect to groundwater supply?

Eddie Sanchez (17:46):
And how do you feel about the future in regards to, you know, groundwater?

Joni Charles (17:51):
Well, I tell you, after the last three weeks when we've had a lot of heat and a lot of drought, , I think it'll make anybody less optimistic, because of course we haven't had that much rain. We had quite a bit in May. It seems like I was on vacation then, but since then, very little. And so of course, um, groundwater is recharged by what happens on the surface, and without very much rain, it seems like that rain may have helped to recharge the groundwater levels. But, you know, we still have July and August to go, so.

Rodney Crouther (18:24):
Note to our listeners, as you're hearing this, it is now probably late August, early September, it is still bone dry. It's over a hundred degrees. Just ask our farmers in Texas, the drought is real.

Eddie Sanchez (18:37):
Is there anything that kind of grabs your attention about, I don't know, issues that might arise, you know, down the road with the growth of the studio?

Joni Charles (18:45):
Yeah, and that's a very well put question because I think there are definitely some challenges. So going back, like I said, there are tremendous opportunities. First of all, with San Marcos, it's gonna bring a diversity to the types of jobs that are gonna be brought to the area. As you know, San Marcos has been able to attract sort of warehouse and industrial type of jobs. And this is gonna be more a knowledge-based opportunity for people in the area. The people that will be employed, all along the line, not just involved in media and film, but also in the various service industries. What goes on in that complex is gonna be state-of-the-art. So that's gonna be important as a collaborative space for not only business professionals, but industry professionals, those who are involved at the university. It's gonna be good for people who have curious minds, who have enterprising minds. And it also could be a tourist destination, I think.

Eddie Sanchez (19:51):
Oh yeah. Hadn't really thought about that yet.

Joni Charles (19:52):
Down the line. Yeah. Now we have to be careful about that, and I'll get to that in just a second. And then they've promised to hire, and we'll see how this pans out, but they promised to hire a number of full-time, well-paid employees, and additional contract workers, and then provide internships. So those are the opportunities, just a broad array of different benefits that it brings.

Rodney Crouther (20:17):
Oh, I hadn't really thought about tourism as a possible benefit to this.

Eddie Sanchez (20:20):
Yeah, I honestly hadn't either. And so when she mentioned it, it really sparked my interest. And so she talked about this aspect of the studio.

Joni Charles (20:28):
You know, anytime a movie's being filmed, it attracts attention. And so, once these facilities are built and finished, I can imagine that if there's gonna be a shoot at any particular time, tourists in the area are gonna be attracted to come to that. But also just knowing that there's a film studio, just like if you go to Florida, it's gonna attract people to come and want to visit there. And so very often tourism, the impact on tourism is cited as one of the areas that are going to contribute to the benefits of having something like that in the area. The question is whether or not that is going to be a destination for tourists or, whether or not visiting Hill Country Studios is just gonna be something on the way to the river, you know?

Eddie Sanchez (21:22):
Oh, so talking about the benefits and opportunities, there's an amount that is associated with the project. So it's said to cost $267 million. How much of that money actually comes into the city? How much of that actually comes into the region? I guess, you know, how does it actually affect the people of San Marcos in the Central Texas area?

Joni Charles (21:42):
There's a lot of potential in $267 million. That's the value, the cost of the building. But in terms of how once that project is finished, how will the benefits trickle through the local and regional economy? And, you refer to that as the economic impact. And so some of the questions that arise when you're thinking about that is when you build that $267 million facility, what is the impact of a dollar spent on jobs that are created? On goods and services that are produced? On income that people who are involved in interacting with that complex, the income that they make? When you hear someone talking about, "Oh, it's great to bring something like this to the local region," the question is how are you gonna measure, I mean, there's some ways of measuring, but what are the details of what you're going to include in assessing what that dollar benefit is of everything that's spent in that industry? And as you know, not only do these production companies come to Texas because it's basically a low cost state, but that's a very critical question to ask if they're coming in with the expectation that the labor that they're gonna hire is not going to cost as much as it would in California or on the East Coast, like in New York.

Rodney Crouther (23:10):
Well yeah, I did read that, you know, San Marcos was giving some pretty interesting tax incentives and tax breaks to the developers to attract the studio here, but I'm not really sure how that's gonna play in the long run and still benefit the city. Did Dr. Charles have any insight on how that issue's gonna work?

Eddie Sanchez (23:27):
Yeah she definitely talked about that point.

Joni Charles (23:29):
The important thing to consider is what kind of incentives are offered. States are competing with each other to attract the movie and TV industry. And some have thrown a lot of money at these industries. One example that's very often touted is Georgia. And, you know, they've been criticized for going overboard in giving incentives, now they'll say it's paying off. But the question is, what form do those incentives take? Is it going to be tax breaks? Is it gonna be subsidies? Is, if more credits or subsidies are given than the production company or industry actually uses, does the state get a refund of those? Any unfunded, I mean, unused tax incentive or credit, will the company be able to sell those to other entities? You know, there are lots of ways where incentives are good, and that can be used by the company to defray some of the expenses of setting up. And of course, no one's gonna argue with that. But the question is, is the state or the local government gonna be able to actually see the payoff from those incentives? So all those are important when assessing what's the impact of those tax incentives and what it's gonna cost when companies are incentivized to come to a local area. The question is how does it impact the local community and neighborhoods around that area?

Eddie Sanchez (25:12):
Um, and to take it back a little bit, you had mentioned about the city providing, tax breaks, you know, potentially for this development. There is a statistic that I read, or a number that I read, and I was just curious how this works with tax breaks. So the city will reportedly receive $11.5 million in taxes over the course of a decade from this construction. You know, if we're giving them tax breaks for the first five years, I'm assuming that means that we don't get a single dollar until that five-year break is over. And then I'm just curious, how does that work?

Joni Charles (25:45):
Well, you know, there, so there'll be less tax revenue that the city will get because they're not paying certain taxes like property taxes. And then over the five-year period, less and less of those tax breaks will be given to the company, and then the company is still required to pay school taxes.

Rodney Crouther (26:09):
OK. So I see how San Marcos used incentives to help get the studio here, but, really, I'd really like to know what's the upside long term for people who already live here?

Joni Charles (26:20):
Well, the local San Marcos resident is a taxpayer. And so the assumption that the city council is making is that even though they are sacrificing some tax revenues for a certain amount of time, there are spillover benefits. And that, residents in the local area will benefit from having this kind of facility that is going to provide jobs. And they will be, they'll need transportation. They will be ordering food, they will be looking for accommodations. And so that, you know, the average Joe or Jane Blow will benefit from, you know, the location of the studio. They saw an estimate of how many jobs will be provided, both, high-paying jobs and contract workers. The assumption is that, and the hope is that many of those contract workers will come from the area, but if that means that a lot of workers are brought from outside of the area into San Marcos, then that might displace some local residents, or it may push up the housing costs for local residents. That's important to consider. If those jobs stay here and are created within the San Marcos community, then I think most taxpayers will be happy with that.

Eddie Sanchez (27:47):
How do we balance the economic growth that we're seeing, you know, in San Marcos, in Central Texas, in this, Austin-San Antonio corridor? How do we balance that growth with our ecological and environmental concerns?

Joni Charles (27:59):
Very carefully, ,

That's how I'd answer that. You know, there are so many definitions of sustainability, but I think one common thread that runs through all of them is that sustainability means you have to balance your economic activity, which includes things like growth, with the impact that it has on your natural environment and then the environmental services that that natural environment provides. And so, I think it really requires not only attention to keeping that balance, but also being honest and transparent about what the trade-offs are, and then addressing any negative impacts as quickly as possible.

Eddie Sanchez (28:55):
Is the ecological aspect, does that kind of make you more concerned than anything?

Joni Charles (29:00):
I'm excited. I'm excited not only for the opportunities to my students, but also I'm excited that San Marcos is looking to diversify and take advantage of the growth and complement the economic growth in the area with opportunities that are being given to residents who need those economic opportunities. I think from my perspective, what needs to happen is, like I said, constant vigilance and a recognition that it's not just water, but there are all kinds of resources that are being used that will be used, and attention to the environmental impact is going to have to be addressed from multiple perspectives. I'm just happy that when the topic of incentives given to the Hill Country Studios was brought up, that apparently there was a lot of interest generated. And I hope to continue to see that, that the city of San Marcos and its residents are paying attention. They're not just excited about the prospect of jobs and employment and income being generated, but they are aware that their quality of living depends on asking hard questions. And they did that at the city council meeting, they organized, but I think it's incumbent upon everyone listening that they continue to ask hard questions, that they be observant, and that will make a successful partnership between the studios and the city and region and even the university.

Rodney Crouther (31:00):
We'll be right back after this. That's great that she brought up the fact that Hill Country Studios is gonna have a chance to partner with the university. I mean, right here we've got Live Oak Studio, we've got a sound recording technology department, we've got one of the best theater departments in the country, and I know they have like, students that do a lot of behind-the-scenes work. There's just like so many students who could benefit from having that resource here.

Eddie Sanchez (31:24):
So I actually had the opportunity to speak with Dean Fleming from the College of Fine Arts and Communication.

Dean John Fleming (31:29):
This is my 20, about to start my 25th year here at...

Eddie Sanchez (31:32):
And he broke down exactly how our Bobcats would be able to benefit from the opportunities that are going to arise with this development. How excited are you for the Hill Country Studios to be coming here to San Marcos?

Dean John Fleming (31:42):
Very excited. This is a game-changing opportunity for San Marcos and for Texas State. They're planning on building, you know, one of the largest film and TV production studios in the country. And it will have 12 sound stages, two of them for a virtual production like you do with, Star Wars Mandalorian. And right now they've got a plan for two different phases. So they'll build about half of it and then another half. And they have some of the truly top talent in the country in terms of film production studios involved.

Eddie Sanchez (32:13):
Could you explain to me what the virtual production is? 'Cause that's the first time I'd heard that term.

Dean John Fleming (32:17):
Yeah, virtual production, I said the plan is like two of the 12 sound stages, and it's a giant LED wall. So everything is projected. Star Wars Mandalorian is the best known example, but there's about a dozen other films and TV shows that do it. And so it really changes production in that it's all done on giant LED walls. And so you don't have to go to different locations. You don't have to worry about the weather, and from a technical standpoint, it changes that you do everything upfront. Whereas normally you'd hear people say, oh, we'll fix it in post, fix it in post production. Instead, you're doing it all upfront and getting all that digital world up there. And I was up, actually testified in front of the legislature about virtual film production institutes, and one of the other persons that noted like, "Hey, you could, in the morning, you could, you know, be filming Washington D.C., the Capitol, and then an hour later, you flip the screen and now you're in Paris," and different things like that. And so it is kind of, again, it's creating the virtual world via the high-end LED, and it's really a direction the industry is gonna be moving more and more.

Rodney Crouther (33:23):
Oh man, that would be so cool if we could get Disney to start filming at Hill Country Studios here. Like season four or whatever they're up to in the Mandalorian now, maybe get a Boko rescuing baby Yoda. That would make my day, seriously. But the technology available now seems like a real game changer for the filmmaking industry. So what's that gonna mean for our students?

Eddie Sanchez (33:47):
That was the very next thing that I asked Dean Fleming.

Dean John Fleming (33:49):
They knew they wanted to partner with us at Texas State. They deliberately picked San Marcos as the location for it. Uh, they knew we had a kind of a rising film program. And so we've had some brief conversations about involving our students, whether it be internships, using some of their facilities. Even, their new chief operating officer, Kevin Bar, came over from Netflix, when they were interviewing Kevin, they brought him down to Texas State to tour our new Live Oak film and TV studio. And so it's been kind of this idea of some type of partnership as we go forward. At this point, they gotta finish getting their whole business, you know, up and going before we can really get into it. But they know that we have a set of vibrant film and TV program, and that we place a lot of students in the behind-the-scenes jobs that have been happening all throughout Texas.

Eddie Sanchez (34:41):
What does that mean for the region in general? I mean, do you see this becoming like the new Hollywood almost?

Dean John Fleming (34:48):
Again, when I was at the legislature, there was some of the legislators said, "Hey, we really should be kind of the new Hollywood." To get those major productions you need to have a film incentive program. That's why Atlanta took off and Pinewood Studios there, Albuquerque, things like that. And so this past legislative session, the legislature approved $200 million for this film incentive program. And it had, that's about a 400% increase from the last legislative session on it. And they have estimated that they'll spend about a billion dollars in Texas film production in the next year via this incentive program. And one of the things they did is they did make it that 55% of the crew has to have a Texas residence. So, basically they built it in that you had to have a, you know, a majority of the people working on it to be Texas residents.

And where this really comes into is, I've got between my theater and fine arts, probably 2-, 300 young alums that are working in the film and television industry. Most of them are from Texas. Most of 'em would prefer to stay in Texas. Where do they live? Atlanta, Albuquerque, LA because that's where you had more of the film and TV production. And it's one of these things, in this incentive, it really becomes the equivalent of a full-time job. You know, how we give, you know, tax incentives to Samsung, Apple, whatever. It's the same thing. As long as there's enough consistent work, people will stay in Texas to do all these behind-the-scenes jobs that are out there. And again, just an example, HBO's "Love and Death" filmed up in Austin recently. We had 14 young alums that worked on that. "Walker, Texas Ranger," the reboot that's been filming here, again, over a dozen young alums working on that. "Fear The Walking Dead" is filmed here quite a bit. Again, a number of alums working on that. So again, we've got a lot that are doing it. And so the idea is if we could have those, like you said, those multiple studios permanent here, then there's steady work for people on all those behind-the-scenes jobs.

Eddie Sanchez (36:51):
Is there any advice that you could give students right now that are interested in getting into this industry? You know, how can they take advantage of these opportunities that are starting to arise?

Dean John Fleming (37:00):
Again, our film program is run by Johnny McAllister and Annie Silverstein. And they're very well connected into the film intelligence industry. And just as a little bit of a background, 15, 18 years ago when I first became chair of Theatre and Dance, Tom Copeland was the longtime head of the Texas Film Commission. And when he — and he was a Texas State alum — so when he retired, he came back to work with us over in theater. And his goal was to build a film program. And Tom knew everybody in the industry. Again, he'd worked on over $3 billion worth of films. And so he was always very good at helping place students into these different internships. We had students who worked on Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life" that, you know, won Palme d'Or at Cannes, was Academy Award nominated, or a variety of other films and stuff like that.

And so then Johnny has helped pick that up to help really place students into these different things. So we've got a network out there. And again, just as an example, Johnny and Annie, their most recent film, "Bull," premiered at the Cannes Film Festival that there's only, they were in the, in certain regards, kinda the emerging filmmaker category. There's only 16 films across the world selected, and only three from the U.S., and one of those was by two Texas State film professors. And on it, they had six alum, actually six at the time was current students working on the film, do it. And then Annie's a recent Guggenheim winner, again, they're well connected right now. They're writing for Ava DuVernay has a new TV series on Starz coming up. And so they've been writing for that.

And so, again and again, we also then have a bunch of part-time 75, 50% of filmmakers that are on our faculty that are, again, more independent filmmakers. Some documentaries, some in, you know, straight films. And so again, it is working professionals that are the film faculty here at Texas State. And I've got two other young alums that were just working on Martin Scorsese's "Killers of the Flower Moon." And again, that was when one student got on it as a thing, and then they needed more help, and she said, "Hey, I've got someone else to recommend." And Scorsese and his team hired them, and that's Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, you know, film. And so again, they're getting in on the ground floor of these different things. And from the last 10, 15 years from Tom on through Johnny is that when a major production has come here, they would hire more of our students as interns than they would from say, UT.

Eddie Sanchez (39:21):
Are there any long-term partnerships that are in development or any sorts of programs or programming that you can kind of speak to?

Dean John Fleming (39:27):
We've talked about some different possibilities of, again, internships, actual job placement on it, some other training and use of the studios. And some of it, again, we've had preliminary conversations, but they really need to, I mean, they're hoping to break ground on the studio I think sometime this fall and really open late ’24, early ’25. And so we've kind of put some of those conversations on pause because they've gotta get the business up and going, you know, it's a $260 million project. And so they've got investors to answer to and they need to get those facilities up to really bring in these different production companies. And the other thing, you're, you're talking about all these different studios coming up. What's interesting is there is still a huge demand for studio space. I was just having a conversation a couple nights ago, Fred Post, he's on my Friends of Fine Arts & Communication board, and he was a longtime TV film executive and things like that.

And he was having a conversation with one of the top people at Apple TV, and Apple TV is desperately looking for more studio space to film their stuff. 'Cause as we all know, all these different streaming companies, they need these spaces. So, again, there's no saturation yet of these film and TV studios and it's a matter, again, of which ones fully get up and running. And so to me, they've gotta get their project up and going and then we'll be able to, you know, more fully partner with 'em. But the fact that they brought in the Netflix executive, Kevin Bar, to meet us as part of, hey, they're pitching and they were trying to recruit him here. He used to work for Pinewood in Georgia and then he was at Netflix, and basically he helps build out production studios. So they've brought him as their chief operating officer or some title like that.

Eddie Sanchez (41:10):
Where do you see San Marcos in five, 10 years with this industry coming in?

Dean John Fleming (41:15):
Again, this is very, very exciting. And again, partly their pitch to people is that, you know, we're at the heart of the Innovation Corridor. And so I think it will have a very good, positive economic impact on San Marcos. 'Cause again, you look at what's gonna be the residual impact on restaurants, on retail and stuff, because you're gonna have these different productions and different people in here, lodging. And so I think our position in between Austin and San Antonio, it will be a very attractive location for film production companies. 'Cause they said, you've got so many different possibility. I mean, now the Austin skyline is, you know, very impressive. So you need that establishing shot of the city. You've got that, you've got the rolling hills, you've got, you know, water and nature, you know, you've got a variety of different things all in a very close proximity as far as filmmaking's going. And then, you know, again, out at the studio, not only do they have the 12 sound stages, they're gonna have four workshops, which is where you build the sets and all the different things. And so they're gonna have all that support material for the behind-the-scenes things that you need. I mean, if this fully comes to be, 'cause there's two phases. Again, this will truly be a game changer for San Marcos, for Central Texas and for us at Texas State.

Eddie Sanchez (42:44):
So Rodney, what did you think about that?

Rodney Crouther (42:45):
Oh, I'm really excited, man. Thanks so much for choosing this topic for our first episode. You know, like after talking to Dr. Mace, I'm really feeling a lot better about how the environmental concerns are being managed. And I'm excited for the opportunities that our students are gonna have.

Eddie Sanchez (42:59):
Yeah. And what's even more exciting is that the final authorization was approved by the San Marcos council members while we were doing the interviews. So this is official, Hill Country Studios are coming to San Marcos.

Rodney Crouther (43:09):
All right. Progress happening.

Eddie Sanchez (43:11):
You got the next episode, what are you going to be talking about?

Rodney Crouther (43:16):
Oh, we're gonna be talking about jury duty. We're gonna show all of you how everything you know from "Law & Order" and "CSI" is not exactly accurate.

Eddie Sanchez (43:24):
See you guys next month.

Rodney Crouther (43:25):
Yeah, thanks for joining us.

Eddie Sanchez (43:28):
This podcast is a production of the Division of Marketing and Communication at Texas State University. Podcasts appearing on the Texas State Podcast Network represent the views of the host and guest and not of Texas State University.