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Austin Studios: If You Build It They Will Come

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By J.D. Alfone
The dotcom bust, 9/11 and the ensuing economic woes have hit Austin, Texas as hard as the rest of the country. Nevertheless, film, television and commercial production in Austin have recently shown signs of being on the upswing.
In 2000, in a unique public/private partnership between the city of Austin and the Austin Film Society, the city leased land and buildings for $100 a year to create Austin Studios. Production has been progressively ramping up at the facility, and the deal is starting to bear fruit. Centrally located on what was once the city’s old municipal airport, the 20 acres include a 10,000-square foot production office building with over 100,000 square feet of production space, which happens to be adjacent to the headquarters of Austin Music Network, the city’s 24-hour music channel. Five hangars double as areas for sound stages, set construction and wardrobe. Two other hangars accommodate 11 on-site vendors.
Studio director Suzanne Quinn sees Austin Studio’s mission clearly: “Since we opened, we’ve had 16 feature films shot here bringing in over $150 million dollars in direct expenditures to the local economy. Our main goal is to make sure the industry here is sustainable, and we recognize our biggest asset is the experienced crew. When you have that, along with the vendors and equipment all assembled in one place, it makes Austin competitive.”
Christine Chapman-Huenergardt, director of marketing and sales for Chapman/Leonard Studio Equipment, says the company’s bottom line has improved since moving into Austin Studios.
“We heard about the opening at Austin Studios after Miss Congeniality was shot at the airport in 2000. During a South-by-Southwest festival open house, Suzanne offered us great incentives to relocate here from Denton, Texas. Since the move, we’ve only gotten busier, primarily with motion picture and television. Our customers love our Texas field technician James Marks, [and they love] Austin because it is fun to visit.”
Craig Chartier, operations manager for the film/video/lighting/grip house GEAR, sees his company filling a niche where a void previously existed. “This company was started mainly because of the large volume of commercial and political work that was coming out of Austin. In the past, you would need to bring in equipment from Dallas or L.A.; that was just too costly. While we primarily focus on regional and national commercials, we do a fairly high volume of corporate work as well, and provide equipment for small indie features.”
Locations Catering owner David Long is hopeful about Austin’s draw, and sees the Austin Studios’ relationship with the city as a vital boost to the city’s film industry. “People seem to be moving out of L.A. into Austin. It’s one of the hot tickets in this country,” he says. “As far as the long-term future of Austin filmmaking, it depends on how bad the city wants the space.”
When Adam Wooley, owner of Relic Source, which leases and sells props, set dressing and architectural antiques, was looking for a place to move his company to from the town of Industry, Texas, he chose Austin. His prop inventory is based at Austin Studios. “We all work so naturally together, it sometimes seems like a large partnership.”
Upgrading the facility to make it more attractive to foreign productions is something Phil Schriber of Film Fleet, a company that provides of production trucks and trailers, would like to see happen.
“My business has grown two-fold in the last two years,” he says. “Production is level right now, but with the devaluation of the American dollar more production is coming back. The only thing the city can do to help out is securing funding to upgrade the hangars to true soundstages.”
Austin special effects artist Randy Moore of Great FX has worked on almost every major production shot in Texas over the past 20 years. “We’ve got everything in Austin. We want your productions shot here,” he says.

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