Hillwood property eyed for possible movie studio, Fort Worth film hubOctober 18, 2013
A. Lee Graham
The first step in making Fort Worth a motion picture capital could transform Hillwood property in north Fort Worth into a major film studio.
Though no deal has been reached, some hometown residents and a former Hollywood movie executive are discussing that possibility with the land developer as they hope to boost the city’s economic allure and make Fort Worth a hub for feature film production.
“I want this to be a new digital Hollywood, a film mecca in Fort Worth,” said Tabitha Russell, a former Fort Worth video producer and actress currently overseeing her own video production company in Long Beach, Calif.
Sharing Russell’s cinematic dream are Peter and Rudy Pulido Jr., her Fort Worth cousins using their respective insurance and real estate backgrounds to study the plan’s economic potential while currying local support.
Though better known for their family’s namesake Mexican restaurants, the Pulido brothers hope their latest vision makes their hometown even tastier for film crews looking for location shooting sites.
“What we’re looking to do is bring some major films out here,” said Peter Pulido, aware not only of the sales taxes that could be generated by film crews patronizing area restaurants and shops, but also property taxes that a major industry could bring from home sales.
To that end, the Pulidos and Russell are seeking land for a major film studio. They have discussed the idea with Hillwood, though no deal has been reached.
“They have specific land that is of interest to us,” said Russell, declining to provide further details until a potential deal is reached.
“From a developer’s standpoint, it [the Hillwood property] can hold soundstages and expand into a potential studio complex. I want to bring it to Fort Worth – my hometown – and to Tarrant County because Tarrant County doesn’t have that,” said Russell, referring to mammoth the mammoth structures used in major film productions.
The film promoters have shared their plans with several city, county and state officials as they pursue possible land transactions and tax abatement requests.
“It sounds like a pretty big deal,” said Tarrant County Precinct 3 Commissioner Gary Fickes, who met with Russell and Pulido at their request to learn about the project.
“Something like that could be a tremendous economic boom if they could do it,” said Fickes, wondering where funding would originate.
While declining to specify project costs, Russell pointed to private and public dollars as funding sources. Private investors also could help pay the bill.
“We have four feature films we want to bring here and a few online series, too,” Russell said. “The potential is huge.”
Yet the state lags California in terms of financial incentives despite offering its own advantages. Through the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, the state provides cash grants based on the percentage of a film project’s eligible Texas expenditures, including wages paid to Texas residents. The state also offers sales tax exemptions on items rented or purchased for use in film productions, as well as refunds of the 6 percent state occupancy tax on hotel rooms occupied for more than 30 consecutive days, according to the Texas Film Commission, operated through the governor’s office.
Despite such resources, Texas lags California, New Zealand and other states and countries that allocate more film funding.
“In Texas, we have to see how we can compete more effectively,” said Russell, determined to build a bigger local film industry, one providing more employment opportunities for students earning film degrees from area universities.
Establishing a Fort Worth film commissioner position is another part of the plan.
“It’s the bridge between the community and the motion picture industry,” said Russell, pointing to Dallas and other municipalities as employing such an individual to connect local businesses with movie productions, promote economic development through motion pictures and work with universities and private investors to promote the industry at a city level.
Russell is no stranger to North Texas media. Before establishing Coconut Media Productions LLC, a video film production company in Long Beach, she served as a broadcast training producer for Radio Shack Corp. in Fort Worth, among other area positions.
“There is great potential in Fort Worth, and I’m excited about what’s ahead,” Russell said.