AUSTIN (CN) - Texas reneged on its promise of film incentives for Robert Rodriguez's film "Machete" due to pressure from anti-immigration activists, the producer claims in court.
Machete's Chop Shop Inc. sued the Texas Film Commission and its director Heather Page in Travis County Court.
They claim their application for a grant under the Texas Moving Image Industry Program was approved in May 29, 2009, and that former Film Commission director Bob Hudgins verified that the script complied with requirements that it not include inappropriate content or depict Texans "in a negative fashion."
"The approval of the qualifying application induced producers of 'Machete' to spend millions of dollars in wages and other production-related expenses in the state of Texas, which they did in reliance on the approval," the complaint states.
"Were it not for the approval, 'Machete' would have been produced elsewhere."
Gov. Rick Perry signed the Texas Moving Image Industry Program into law in April 2009 at Rodriguez's Trouble Maker Studios in Austin. Rodriguez announced there and then that the law would allow him to shoot films in Texas, including "Machete." Approximately $8 million was spent on the film in Texas, according to the complaint.
"If the content had been inappropriate, the Texas Firm Commission was required to notify the applicant at that time," the complaint states. "Instead, the Texas Film Commission approved the application because the content was not inappropriate."
But after a trailer for the film was released on Cinco de Mayo 2010, anti-immigration activists "inundated the Texas Film Commission with letters, faxes, emails, phone calls and other communications, all claiming that the content was inappropriate. Content that was not available to the general public," the complaint states.
Eight months later, deputy Film Commission director Carol Pine told the plaintiffs the film did not qualify for a grant because it portrayed Texas or Texans "a negative fashion."
That decision was ratified by new TFC director Page.
"No other film has had their application denied post-production," the complaint states. "Such actions represent an unconstitutional attempt by the Governor's Office to influence speech of movie producers in Texas. These actions chill freedom of speech, chill economic development, and do nothing to further the purpose of the Texas Moving Image Incentive Program (to bring business, jobs and economic growth to Texas)."
"The TFC, a division of the Governor's Office, approved the content of 'Machete,'" the complaint states. "Nevertheless, according to Dr. Ted Baehr of the Christian Film & Television Commission ministry, Governor Rick Perry got involved in the decision to deny the application."
"Machete" grossed more than $44 million at the box office. A sequel, "Machete Kills," is scheduled for release in October.
The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that denial of the grant denial is invalid and illegal, plus costs and damages.
They are represented by Robert Tyler with Tyler Casteel in Austin.