Bringing Hollywood to Houston: Update on publicly funded film commission

HOUSTON – Awards season is in full swing: Hollywood red carpets, filled with tuxes and gowns.

It's a time for beauty to shine as the entertainment industry celebrates another year of accomplishments.

What better time for Channel 2 Investigates to follow up with the Houston Film Commission and its Los Angeles representative Sharon Adams?

In October, we told you the commission was re-evaluating the "three-year pilot program" with Adams at the helm.

Her role? Bring Hollywood films and TV shows to Houston. Our investigation uncovered Adams' $175,000 annual salary, and we also discovered a $4,400 monthly stipend for her condo near Beverly Hills, as well as receipts for pricey meals and travel -- paid for with public dollars. But Houston has landed no big Hollywood films or TV shows in the past three years.

After our investigation, Houston First CEO Brenda Bazan wrote to Channel 2, stating, "we will conduct a review to determine the most efficient and cost-effective path forward."

In December, Bazan went before the City Council's Budget and Fiscal Affairs committee to lay out her plan.

She presented a balanced 2019 budget with major changes. Bazan told the City Council members present, "As a result, we eliminated positions which resulted in the 2019 personnel budget being reduced by over $1 million."

She also put the spotlight on Adams: "First, we have spoken in depth about the Houston Film Commission and the West Coast Initiative, the West Coast Initiative is in the 2019 budget."

In the midst of cutbacks and layoffs at the downtown headquarters, the agency is letting it ride with the costly West Coast pilot program and doubling-down on an initiative with nothing to show for in three years. Bazan told the committee, "We have heard you and we are going to take the next two years and see if we can bring it back, and if not, then we will consider it done."

This means Adams has two more years of living in L.A. on the public's dime. For now, the City Council has only approved the 2019 budget.

At one point during her presentation, Bazan told the council, "Despite the setbacks we experienced earlier this year due to negative publicity, we believe the projects most affected are salvageable."

It's not clear if one of the projects Bazan is referring to includes an alleged 20-film deal landed by Adams with Here Media, a deal our investigation revealed was far from concrete. Bazan told Channel 2 Investigates last May that, "We have a couple of scripts on the desk of the Houston Film Commission."

In December, Bazan informed council members one project was close but didn't materialize: "They actually were supposed to be filming a pilot in December, now."

Bazan made it clear future film projects in Texas rely on cities working together to lobby the legislature for better incentives: “State incentives along with our work on the West Coast will make us more competitive with our peers and will strengthen our ability to bring film projects to Houston."

Council member Mike Laster did express doubts about the LA initiative: "I would call for and encourage you to bring her home sooner rather than later."

Holly Clapham, the chief marketing officer for Houston First, tells Channel 2 Investigates that, “Houston First is collaborating with other state film commissions and actively lobbying the state in an effort to increase the incentive pool. We anticipate a positive outcome.”

Clapham adds that the Houston Film Commission held a conference call last week to discuss a “collective strategy” with other film commissions in Texas.

Channel 2 Investigates will keep an eye on how the LA initiative produces over the next two years.