Georgia has been the recent center of Hollywood consternation, as the entertainment industry tries to balance its majority disdain for new restrictive abortion legislation there with its desire to keep business going in the bustling production hub.
But fellow Southern filming locale Louisiana is now coming into focus as a secondary, albeit smaller, battleground for the issue, after lawmakers voted in late May to ban abortion after the detection of a so-called fetal heartbeat.
The major film and TV studios that have since spoken up have largely taken the same approach to Louisiana – and the swath of other states rolling back abortion rights – as they have to Georgia, with many falling back on previously issued statements that indicate they would reconsider their decision-making should the laws go into effect.
So far, no productions have left Louisiana over the issue, according to Chris Stelly, the executive director of Louisiana’s Office of Entertainment Industry Development, who says the agency is well aware of the matter.
But that doesn’t mean that an exodus would not happen. “NCIS: New Orleans,” which was just renewed for a sixth season, might pull out of its namesake city if reproductive rights are threatened.
“As the show continues production in New Orleans this season, we will monitor developments and wait to see how this plays out in the courts,” “NCIS: New Orleans” showrunner Christopher Silber told Variety in an exclusive statement. “Should the legislation take effect, it would be unconscionable to me to continue production in a state that enacts a draconian law putting women’s health and rights at risk.”
Director Tate Taylor and exec producer John Norris of the upcoming series “Filthy Rich,” starring Kim Cattrall, indicate that they’ll choose to advocate for women in a different manner. The series begins filming there in September.
“While we appreciate anyone’s right to bring attention to this cause and create momentum to protect this constitutional right, our choice is to do it through creating jobs and protecting the families that live here,” said Taylor and Norris in an exclusive joint statement to Variety. “We think both paths lead to the same goal, and respect everyone’s right to choose how they join the fight.”
The film and TV industry created about 7,400 jobs in the state last year, according to a joint report from Camoin Associates and Louisiana’s economic development agency, adding nearly $946 million in new spending. That’s a fraction of the 92,000 jobs and $9 billion in economic impact that Georgia reported for 2018. Louisiana is currently home to about half as many productions as Georgia, with approximately 18 projects in progress, including “Queen Sugar,” “The Purge,” and “Bill and Ted Face the Music.”
For locals who live and work in the area, however, the size of the market there has no bearing on its significance to their livelihood, and leaving isn’t necessarily a viable option.
IATSE Local 478, the labor union that represents industry workers in Louisiana, southern Mississippi and Mobile, Ala., said it supports women’s rights, but hopes producers don’t abandon business there.
The group “encourages a ‘Stay and Fight’ stance for concerned producers and union members who want to add their voices and economic power to efforts against the recent attacks on women’s reproductive rights,” it said in an exclusive statement to Variety. “Any threats to pull work out of state will only punish the hard-working crews here, who have no control over these bills that will be tied up in the court system for years to come.”
Like many others, the local IATSE chapter is in wait-and-see mode as the legal battle moves on to appellate courts.
Both Local 478 and New Orleans Film Society executive director Fallon Young encouraged Hollywood to find alternative ways to support women, such as supporting non-profits that advocate for reproductive rights.
“Studios should continue to choose Louisiana for its skilled workforce, new infrastructure, diverse locations, and a long-term commitment to growing a blossoming industry,” said New Orleans Film Society executive director Fallon Young via email. “I hope that studios will consider how any decision to move production would directly affect women who live in Louisiana and work in the film industry.”
She does not see the benefit in pulling productions out of Louisiana.
“Women, including those who work in film, are facing something unprecedented, and they are at the heart of our industry,” she said. “Why would Hollywood studios choose to reduce their economic opportunity by refusing to do business in a state where women in the industry would suffer as a result?”
Louisiana’s popularity as a filming locale has already taken a hit in recent years, according to locals, in the wake of revisions to the tax incentive system that had producers fleeing to other states instead.
“The news on the abortion front is more disappointing in the fact that the business is just starting to come back,” said Greg Milneck, the founder and president of Baton Rouge-based post-production facility Digital FX, who said that it seemed like the industry had packed up “overnight” and moved to Georgia after the tax-credit changes. “Really, I’m seeing a market increase in requests for quotes in the last six months, and now this is over us.”
Should another exodus happen, Milneck says his business, which handles mostly commercial production, wouldn’t be as greatly impacted as, say, feature film studios with out-of-state projects. But he finds the legislation concerning more from a personal level than a professional one, calling it “disappointing.”
“Time will tell what the ultimate impact is; hopefully we don’t get to that stage,” said Milneck, who has two daughters, 19 and 34. “Hopefully this law is never enacted. I’d hate to live in a state where my daughters have this over them.”