Colby Gaines, executive producer and founder of Back Roads Entertainment (50 Central, Big Bad BBQ Brawl), shares with Realscreen his reasons for returning to his Texas roots and setting up shop in Austin, Texas after years of being headquartered in New York City.
Austin is a creative town.
Musicians here call it “the live music capital of the country” for its nearly 250 music venues including the world-famous Austin City Limits.
Politicians and locals call it “the blueberry in the tomato soup” for its progressive bent in comparison to the rest of the largely conservative state.
Some entertainment industry creatives here have called it “Hollywood South” for its hilly topography, great weather (at least for eight months a year) and burgeoning TV industry.
The truth is that entertainment industry creatives have been working here for years.
Prolific film director Robert Rodriguez has produced most of his movies here including last year’s US$200 million feature with James Cameron, Alita: Battle Angel. Richard Linklater owns the not-for-profit Austin Film Society which has production facilities and offers education opportunities all over town. And AT&T-owned animation and content company Rooster Teeth employs about 150 animators alone in town.
So why did I choose Austin?
When I thought about the next chapter for Back Roads Entertainment, I thought as much about the evolution of my brand (comedy, lifestyle and general entertainment) and how I’d fit into a new locale with its unique competitors as where I could enjoy life more while keeping the same premium standard of quality production I achieved in New York.
Specifically, I wanted to answer two big questions. Could I recruit creative talent locally and/or easily convince others to move to Austin, or would I have to lobby hard and hope? And could I walk into an environment rich with studios, post facilities and equipment houses — all of the infrastructure to produce immediately — or would I have to build from scratch?
What I found convinced me that Austin is ripe for growth.
There are a number of successful unscripted production companies here including Texas Crew Productions, Arts & Labor, Onion Creek Productions and Megalomedia. Some of those companies have enjoyed casting the big characters in abundance in Texas. They also may have accessed production incentives through the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program. Eligible expenditures qualify for a cash grant of up to 22.5% and additional savings can be found depending on municipality.
There’s a slew of below the line personnel to support production, many of whom have gained experience on big unscripted shows in NY and LA like 60 Days In, American Idol and Guy’s Grocery Games. Austin has less work volume than those markets but that reality is softened by the fact that Texas has no state income tax.
Lastly, there’s entertainment infrastructure, and it’s growing. Post houses like TBD Post are delivering to Netflix and HBO, among others. ATX Film Studios is housing Fear the Walking Dead for the second season in a row. And New Republic Studios is building a creative campus east of town with multiple production facilities.
There are other considerable industry developments afoot as well.
Chip and Joanna Gaines’ new network (in partnership with Discovery) will be producing some (maybe most) of its content here. Homegrown tech companies such as Dell and VRBO are creating video programming departments – in this era of content consumption, everyone has to compete for eyeballs! And there are even whispers of Netflix building a studio here.
Over 150 people move to Austin every day and US News & World Report just named Austin the best city to live in the U.S. for the third year in a row.
Every week, I meet someone who has lived here or moved in, looking for the best quality of life, solid work opportunities and a dose of Southern hospitality.
As Back Roads Entertainment readies to produce multiple projects here including, among others, a studio-set, cooking competition for syndication and a sketch comedy series with Shaquille O’Neal, I feel confident that the next chapter in Austin will be bigger and better than the first – as creators of lifestyle and celebrity-oriented comedy, we are a unique puzzle piece in this marketplace already.
To borrow a phrase I learned from my friend Brian Meece: I feel like I’m “skating to where the puck is” and I look forward to growing the unscripted industry in ATX.