AUSTIN, TX – Will it take the Supreme Court to kill ‘Machete Kills’?
Producers of the gleefully vulgar and violent exploitation satire are mulling over whether to take up the Machete again after the Fifth U.S, Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled Texas could deny them taxpayer incentives because the movie presents “Texas or Texans in a negative fashion.”
Brett Myers, a Dallas attorney who filed paperwork in the latest lawsuit, told Watchdog that representatives for Machete Productions LLC are mulling the option of asking the Supreme Court to consider their plea.
A federal court early in 2015 decided the Texas Film Commission’s decision to withhold funds from the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program did not violate the First Amendment speech rights of the film’s producers.
Austin attorney Eric Storm, who filed the original lawsuit, told Watchdog his clients did not ask for a specific dollar amount. According to program guidelines, Machete Kills would have been eligible for as much as $2.25 million based on its $10 million budget.
This bit of good news for the Film Commission follows a past session in which the Legislature took a figurative machete to a $95 million biennial budget for 2014-15 and hacked it back to $32 million for 2016-17.
House conservatives were unsuccessful in passing a bill by state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, that would have killed a program that has provided almost $200 million to film, television, commercial and video game projects over the past five years.
Before the current budget cuts, Texas was considered competitive but not aggressive in what has become a kind of national sweepstakes for film crews, headed by Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Pennsylvania.
All but 11 states offer taxpayer-subsidized incentives to lure filmmakers. State incentive programs have for about a decade been doling out between $1.5 billion and $2 billion a year.
The Texas Legislature in the past session took cues from economists who have said film incentive programs are, not unlike municipal stadiums, a relatively awful way to stimulate the economy, create jobs and return an investment to taxpayers.
The appeals court had nothing to say about the economic equation. Nor did its ruling clarify what is was about Machete Kills that presented the state and its people in a bad light.
The case for the original film before the government-sponsored film commission wasn’t helped by a main character who happened to be a right wing Texas senator fanatically opposed to illegal immigration.
But without spoiling anything for the hundreds of millions of people who didn’t see it, Machete Kills is equallty devoted to showing Mexican drug cartels, vigilante groups, beauty pageants, lucha libre wrestling and very sharp hand-held farm implements in a negative light. As well as Charlie Sheen, or should we say, Carlos Estevez.
One way to measure how dangerous the satire of Machete Kills is to the good name of Texas is the $8 million it did in domestic box office. By comparison, the four Spy Kids films earned a total of nearly $350 million.
Rotten Tomatoes considers Machete Kills a rotten tomato.
Instead, the court ruling supported the subjective view of the Film Commission in much the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart viewed pornography in 1964. “I know it,” Stewart famously said, “when I see it.”
Calls to Heather Page, director of the Film Commission, requesting comment on the Appeals Court ruling and the commission’s decision were not returned.
While it’s hard to see how refusing to subsidize a film deliberately film done all in great obscene fun stifles free speech, Storm, who is no longer involved in the lawsuit, said he believed it was worth a shot.
“I believed in the case,” Storm said. “I believed we were on the right side of the law and the Constitution.”