The fate of Lousiana’s film industry


The Louisiana film industry is in a transformation state, but the end is not near.

In the big picture, the legislative session ended with a vote to cap the Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit at $180 million last July. It’s caused uncertainty for the future of films in Louisiana. Previously, a limit didn’t exist to what many call a “generous” credit.

Since then some in the industry said they saw a “mass exodus” of film productions set to shoot in Louisiana that opted to find a new location.

“We have not experienced and studio closures that I am aware of, but I know a number of Louisianians who have been employed in the industry are heading to Atlanta, which is capturing a lot of the business that would be coming to Louisiana,” said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.

The incentive allows eligible productions to receive compensation for productions filmed in the state.

The tax credits are used in states across the country — such as Georgia, California and New Mexico — to entice filmmakers to bring their productions and labor to the state. It’s a competitive market and incentives are a major contributor in the studio’s decision.

Many big budget films eligible for the credits are in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, but it’s a domino effect when it comes to Shreveport-Bossier City.

Husband-wife team Mindy Bledsoe and Rob Senska, brought their independent production company Bledska Works to Shreveport in 2008 at the end of the region’s post-Hurricane Katrina film boom. Many films from New Orleans moved north in Louisiana, creating a new film community, but since New Orleans’ rebuilding fewer big budget films have come to the area.

“Even though we don’t work on the big movies, when they go away there’s less stuff underneath it and less interest in making films and other projects,” Senska said. “It’s like when the community knows it’s a film community more things happen on every level. It’s all drying up a little bit.”

As a result, they are planning to relocate out of state to a place with more opportunities — something they’ve seen other industry workers do, especially around the time of the legislative session.

Cam Owen, a Minden native, worked as production asssistant for the locally-filmed WGN’s Salem and Hank Williams biopic “I Saw the Light.” In July, Owen moved from Shreveport to New Orleans for a job on a major production, but before starting the job was told it wasn’t coming to Louisiana. It was during the time of the legislative vote and Owen said he wondered if the decision was made in result.

“I went down to New Orleans with a job and paid my first month deposit and then the show canceled,” he said. “I never really got a reason why. It was right around all the tax incentive drama.”

But Owen was able to bounce back by reaching out to his network of industry workers and worked on several projects, but will return to Shreveport for Salem.

“The legislative action in 2015 did not limit the number of film and TV projects that have access to Louisiana tax credits under the program. The Legislature sought to provide fiscal certainty for the state in the short-term by limiting the total amount of tax credits that can be claimed this fiscal year and the following two fiscal years to $180 million annually,” said Christopher Stelly, director of Louisiana Entertainment.

But the dominoes continue to fall around the local economy.

The film industry brings jobs to local workers from the talent and crew themselves, but also businesses not directly inside of the film industry, such as catering and security companies, studios and artists.

In 2014, the tax credits generated 12,107 jobs in Louisiana, according to Louisiana Economic Development report on the economic impact of Louisiana’s entertainment tax credit programs.

The industry puts money into local hotels, restaurants, real estate and other businesses during the weeks, months and sometimes years spent in the area. In the same year, $727.8 million was generated in household earnings.

To incite the economic boost, the state invests in the tax credits.

So far in 2015, an estimated $750 million in expense reports has been approved for credits, Stelly said.

To get to a stable place where the film industry is not just maintained but in a place where it can continue to grow, changes will need to be made. Currently, the film studios don’t know how much they will be credited until after their production is complete, which becomes an issue with budgeting the project.

“Right now the credit isn’t identified until after a production has been made, so the state is asking that the business decision be made after the fact and that has created a disincentive to bring productions to Louisiana,” Dardenne said. “You wouldn’t learn whether or not you’re getting the credits until after you’ve spent the money, and that’s not a reasonable policy for business people. They need to know on the front end if they’re going to be eligible for the credits.”

A special legislative session to make amendments to the law would have to be called by the incoming governor to address the issue, he said, and a vote would have to be made to pass it.

Major motion pictures and mid-to-small scale independent projects continue to come and remain in the state, but in order to compete with Georgia and California more work is needed to secure Louisiana’s film fate.

Film tax incentives by the numbers, according to a Louisiana Economic Development report:

LED certified nearly $750 million in audited expenditures in 2015 compared to $727 million for 2014.
As of Oct. 21, 81 applications were received by the LED compared to 87 last year.
More than $10 million has been claimed by film studios, with around $170 million in potentially eligible claims.
Business sales from the film industry topped $1 billion in 2014.
Household earnings by Louisiana residents exceeded $700 million in 2014.
More than 12,000 jobs were supported in 2014.

The number of jobs generated indirectly by certified film industry production in 2014:

Health care and social assistance – 1,113
Retail trade – 1,042
Real estate and rental and leasing – 805
Construction – 710
Food services and drinking places – 560

Film tax incentives by the numbers, according to a Louisiana Economic Development report:

  • LED certified nearly $750 million in audited expenditures in 2015 compared to $727 million for 2014.  
  • As of Oct. 21, 81 applications were received by the LED compared to 87 last year.
  • More than $10 million has been claimed by film studios, with around $170 million in potentially eligible claims.
  • Business sales from the film industry topped $1 billion in 2014.
  • Household earnings by Louisiana residents exceeded $700 million in 2014.
  • More than 12,000 jobs were supported in 2014.

The number of jobs generated indirectly by certified film industry production in 2014:

  • Health care and social assistance – 1,113
  • Retail trade – 1,042
  • Real estate and rental and leasing – 805
  • Construction – 710
  • Food services and drinking places – 560

http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/entertainment/2015/10/30/fate-lousianas-film-industry/74273936/

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