Some see work in film industry disappear after changes to state’s tax credit program


NEW ORLEANS —Significant changes to Louisiana’s Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit Program were signed into law this summer, including the way credits are issued, transferred and warranted.

Just three months later, movie makers in New Orleans tell WDSU they can’t get work because production in New Orleans has vanished.

“It’s gone,” said scenic artist Laurie Fewell. “Six months ago, I had my pick of the litter. I could work on whatever I wanted to do, more or less. Now, there’s just not much out there. “

After years of steady work creating movie sets, Fewell said she started a few projects in July, but because of the uncertainty of when the state will hit a new credit buy-back limit, financing fell through. Then her phone stopped ringing.

“Somewhere about the end of August, I put a post on Facebook and said, ‘Hey if anyone needs anybody in any realm, even outside the film world here, I’ve got skills,’” Fewell said. “It just so worked out that over time I got permanent work, which is kind of priceless.”

Now Fewell is tending bar at Parkview Tavern in Mid-City.

“That regular work is at one of my favorite bars in New Orleans, so I feel lucky,” Fewell said.

Fewell said she hasn’t given up on film coming back to her hometown, but she’s also not holding her breath.

David Shapiro said he fell in love with the city when he was filming here. He wrote and directed the film “Missing People,” that is up for best documentary at the 2015 Louisiana Film Festival.

He was inspired by a local artist and came to New Orleans to bring the film to life. He used tax credits to cut costs, and sees the changing legislation as an insult to an industry that thrived here.

“New Orleans is so specific in its texture and history and culture. People want to work here for a number of reasons, and so I would think it would behoove the city and the cultural ambassadors of the city to make it easier, rather than harder,” Shapiro said.

He said losing artists like Fewell and the projects that they could have helped create is cheating the entire industry of talent and that intangible element that is New Orleans.

“It costs a lot of money to make a film anywhere,” Shapiro said. “You can change the texture, you can change the story, but if you want to shoot here for various reasons, and there are many of them: the specificity of New Orleans, the history, the culture, the look, the vibe, the feel, then most cities usually have a program where they help a filmmaker. … If doors are being closed as opposed to opened, then people are going to say, well, maybe it doesn’t have to be in New Orleans after all.”

Specific changes to the Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit Program are in effect statewide and include Acts 129, 134, 141, 142, 143, 144, 361, 412, 417, 425, 451, and 452.

Some of the changes include limiting the certification of individual salaries to $3 million, as applicable for tax credits; allowing a maximum of $30 million in credits to be certified to any single project (as structured over two or more years); requiring specific verification of reports effective Jan. 1, 2016; requiring projects to meet the minimum $300,000 threshold to participate with no more than three combined productions; limiting tax credit claims and transfers to the state (buy-back) to a total of $180 million each fiscal year beginning July 1, 2016 and ending in 2018 and suspending all tax credit buy-backs by the state from July 2015 to June 30, 2016.

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