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Louisiana’s Tax Rebates, Reimbursements, Cajun Culture Pull in Movies, Shows

For more than a decade, Louisiana has maintained its status as top competitor in the film and TV production race in the face of a devastating natural disaster and a succession of worthy competitors, including New Mexico, Michigan and Georgia.

The Bayou State even bested California in certain respects, hosting a whopping 18 of the studio films released in 2013, while the Golden State had just 15.

Plus, dozens of indie films were shot in the Pelican State. Add all those numbers up over the years and it’s easy to see why Louisiana qualifies as a billion dollar location.

To be sure, the state has a well-established infrastructure of skilled crew and studio complexes, but it wouldn’t be called Hollywood South without its rich incentive, which boasts a base 30% refundable tax credit on in-state spend with 10% more for Louisiana hires.

But it isn’t just the size of the tax credit that attracts projects; it’s also its ease and simplicity.

SLASH PAD: “Scream Queens,” the new Ryan Murphy produced fall TV hit lensed in New Orleans. Courtesy of FOX

“Our program is very clear and easy to understand,” says Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Entertainment, the state agency that administers the incentive. “You come in, you spend your dollar and we’ll give you a tax credit. We’ve been consistent and very business-friendly.”

Herbert W. Gains echoes that sentiment, recalling how the city of New Orleans approved a last-minute request for a three-week daytime closure of a downtown street when he was producing “Green Lantern” back in 2010.

“We did it with just four weeks’ notice,” says Gains, who went on to co-found Big Easy Studios, a New Orleans production complex that has hosted such films as “Jurassic World,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “Terminator Genisys.”

Louisiana averaged 25 projects annually in the mid-2000s. Now the number is 100. Examples: the remake of “The Magnificent Seven,” starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt; Civil War drama “Free State of Jones,” starring Matthew McConaughey; Ryan Murphy’s Fox series “Scream Queens”; and CBS’ “NCIS: New Orleans.” Next up: Tom Cruise’s second “Jack Reacher” movie and “X-Men” spinoff “Gambit,” starring Channing Tatum.

“We’ve been consistent and very business friendly.”
Chris Stelly

But earlier this year Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a bill capping the state’s incentive program at $180 million per year, and also put a $3 million cap on the amount of individual salaries eligible for the credit and a $30 million cap on the credit available for each project.

Phil LoCicero, president IATSE Local 478, says it’s a little too soon to tell how the incentive tweaks will affect local production long-term.

“We have slowed up a little bit right now, but I don’t know if it’s due to (the changes),” LoCicero says.

Susan Brennan, president and CEO of New Orleans’ Second Line Stages, says her facility hasn’t experienced any slowdown in business due to long-term commitments from TV shows. It’s hosting “Scream Queens,” and in recent years it housed two seasons of “American Horror Story” as well as such films as “Django Unchained,” “21 Jump Street,” “The Butler” and “Get Hard.”

Another stage complex, Quixote New Orleans, an offshoot of Quixote Studios in Los Angeles, set up shop four years ago and has hosted such shows as “The Astronaut Wives’ Club” and “Don’t Mess With Texas.” “The recent tax credit legislation was bit of a hiccup but things have now stabilized,” says CEO Mikel Elliott. “Producers need to know there’s plenty of world-class studios, equipment and crew available. Louisiana is back!”

And New Orleans Event and Film Studios, across the Mississippi from the French Quarter, is newly improved with better AC, fresh construction and WiFi.

SODOM REBORN: An exterior set of the biblical city, left over from “Year One,” that is now marketed to faith-based movies. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Other states — most notably Georgia — compete against Louisiana with aggressive incentives, but Stelly dismisses them as threats. “There’s enough production out there for there to be multiple states involved,” he says. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

One thing that can’t be imitated is the hedonistic, combustible atmosphere in New Orleans, the city of Mardi Gras madness. This has encouraged the growth of firms to protect actors, sets and locations. “A lot of times people come here and they’re like, ‘This is a great shot,’ but they’re not really understanding the area,” says Dynette Burke, who runs Tectus Security with her husband, David, a former state trooper. “We know what alleys you don’t want to go down.”

But perhaps the ultimate in hedonism can be found in Shreveport, where a 7-acre exterior set depicting the ancient city of Sodom is left over from the 2009 comedy “Year One.” It’s now being marketed as a location for faith-based movies.

“(The Sodom set) hasn’t been used in a while,” says Arlena Acree, director of film, media, and entertainment for the city of Shreveport, which is also home to Millennium Studios, where the WGN series “Salem” shoots. “It’s a bit overgrown, so if somebody’s got an apocalyptic movie, it would be perfect for that.”

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