2016 Louisiana Film Production Outlook Remains Strong Despite Changes

Posted on December 2nd, 2015 by Leonard Alsfeld

In spring and summer 2015, the panic was palpable among those in the Louisiana film and TV production industry. The state Legislature, wrestling with yet another budget deficit — and facing criticism over tax giveaways of all stripes — proposed capping its much-ballyhooed filmmaking tax incentives.

Over the previous decade, those tax incentives — which reimburse qualifying productions a generous 30 percent of their in-state costs — had built an industry that was the envy of many other states. It had lured big-name stars to Louisiana. It had generated Oscar-winning films. It had put thousands to work in well-paying jobs in a green industry, and it had landed the state on countless movie and television screens around the world.

Just two years earlier, and 11 years after the state first instituted its program, Louisiana in 2013 supplanted both California and New York as the filmmaking capital of the world, with more major-studio films shot in the Bayou State than anywhere else. Seeing that success, other states — from New Mexico to Georgia to Michigan — were quick to adopt copycat programs.

But state legislators had problems of their own, most notably a whopping $1.6 billion budget deficit. So they proposed capping the amount the program would pay out annually at $180 million. The film industry promptly freaked out.

If that proposal passed, critics said, it would create so much uncertainty as to whether a given production would qualify for reimbursements that the state could kiss its production industry goodbye. Producers, they predicted, would simply pack up their clapperboards and move on to a state deemed more film-friendly.

The cap passed anyway. As for the fears that it would sound the death knell of Louisiana’s production industry? Well, it would appear that they’ve passed, too.

“Yes, our program underwent changes,” said Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Entertainment, the state-run agency that oversees the filmmaking tax program. “But frankly, they’re good changes. They’ll help administratively. They’ll help stop fraud and abuse.”

In other words: The reports of the state film industry’s death, it appears, were greatly exaggerated. In fact, Stelly said, the $180 million earmarked for the filmmaking tax program will prove to be more than enough to cover all the films and TV programs that shot in-state in 2015.

“If you look at the numbers the Department of Revenue recently released (this fall), only close to $54 million has been claimed so far,” Stelly said. “That leaves another $126 million remaining to be claimed.”

Granted, the industry saw a lull in major feature film productions in the immediate wake of the cap’s adoption, which could account for those particularly manageable figures. But that lull also accounted for a significant amount of hand-wringing over fears that the industry had already made up its mind to set up shop elsewhere.

The evidence, however, suggests otherwise, Stelly said.

Although there wasn’t exactly a glut of major movies shooting in town this fall, the TV industry was firing on all cylinders, with major projects such as CBS’ “NCIS: New Orleans,” Fox’s “Scream Queens,” the History Channel’s “Roots” miniseries, AMC’s “Into the Badlands” and MTV’s “Scream: The TV Series” all whirring along. (The first four are based in the New Orleans area. “Scream: The TV Series,” which recently filed paperwork revealing its intention to return to Louisiana for its second season, shoots in Baton Rouge.)

What’s more, things are steadily gaining steam on the feature film front. Tom Cruise is currently filming the Paramount-backed sequel “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” in New Orleans. The independent feature “Camera Store,” starring John Larroquette and John Rhys-Davies, just wrapped production Nov. 20. Another indie, “Billionaire Boys Club,” starring Kevin Spacey, Emma Roberts, Taron Egerton and Ansel Elgort, starts shooting in town in mid-December.

There’s no real slowdown in sight, either. Early next year is expected to see Twentieth Century Fox and Channing Tatum set up their “X-Men” spinoff “Gambit” in town, as well as STX Entertainment’s “Bad Moms,” starring Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Christina Applegate. The list of major productions rumored to be scouting in Louisiana is even longer.

As Stelly sees it, if the changes to the tax program caused any sort of production slowdown, it’s not staying slow.

“I think we never really stopped,” he said. “We saw an influx of applications prior to the (legislative) session’s ending. We’re seeing more applications now. We were just hitting that cycle where things tend to be sporadic and uneven. We’ve got ‘Jack Reacher,’ which is of course a tentpole. We’ve got ‘Gambit’ coming in, which is exciting. It’s been an incredible year for TV.”

“People are very, very confident and comfortable with our program,” he said. “They also understand the fiscal situation we’re in.”

As for complaints from some quarters that the Legislature’s constant tinkering with the tax credit program only begets more instability, Stelly chalks it up as a regular feature of the legislative landscape — and one that won’t likely ever go away.

“Almost every other year since this program has been adopted, there’s been some modification and discussion on it,” he said. “If you look back at the history of it, in 2002 it was adopted. In 2003 it was changed, (as in) 2004, ’07 and ’09. In ’11, it wasn’t. In ’13 it was. This is the nature of legislation. It can always be tweaked to make it more economically substantive for the state.”

Looking forward, Stelly said there’s reason for optimism, predicting 2016 could very well bring the local production industry back to the Oscar red carpet and — given that wealth of TV projects — perhaps to the Emmy red carpet as well.

It’s also not at all outside the realm of possibility, he said, that Louisiana will once more reclaim the filmmaking crown, which it ceded last year to California.

And longer term? Say, 10 years down the road? Stelly says he’s hopeful the production industry will take that step to the next level and become a conduit for the local creative community — the writers, the directors, the actors who are so numerous in town but who have yet to make a lasting mark in the industry.

“In 10 years, we will be talking about a thriving local production industry with local content creators winning Oscars for best original screenplay, best adapted screenplay, best actor,” he said.

“I think we’ll see a lot of movement in the local growth for our residents. We’re starting to see it at the film festivals. It’s important to start those discussions and continue those discussions so we can build a great content creation base so we can continue this in the long term and be a creative hub for the world.”

 

This article originally appeared on NOLA.com