By Nick BeJeaux
How Louisiana pays its bills has been a sticking point for legislators and accountants. This year, with the state facing a $1.6 billion hole, it’s open season on what bean counters call “efficiencies.”
One of the many subsidies and credits proposed for the chopping block during this year’s Legislative Session are the Motion Picture Investor Tax Credits, which guarantee a 35 percent tax credit on film projects with an in-state budget of over $300,000. Created in 2002 by legislation authored by Lt. Governor — and gubernatorial candidate — Jay Dardenne, the MPTCs opened the door for big productions in the Bayou State. But the possibility of their demise has industry executives, like Celtic Studio’s Patrick Mulhearn, on edge.
“It’s a competitive world and we have to compete with facilities all over the world, especially Georgia, New York, California, and Vancouver, who have all raised their incentives,” he said.
“If legislators talked to the people, they will realize that if these credits go away, the films will go away, the jobs will go away, and the people will go away.”
Louisiana is a unique state that is often imitated, but never replicated. But Mulhearn fears the state will not be able to skirt by on charm alone with financial incentives to support the film industry.
“My job is Salesman-in-Chief, so my job is to convince people that they should be filming in Louisiana and, more importantly, in Baton Rouge at Celtic,” said Mulhearn. “Charm is certainly not enough — a lot of places have nicer weather than we do. But cost of living and doing business in places like California are so high that they’ve seen their industry slip away. That’s why all these places all over the world have become film hubs; because California had essentially taken their position for granted. If we dial our incentives back too much and in the wrong way, we could lose to our competition. If the legislators go about this with a sledgehammer as opposed to a scalpel, they will certainly kill the industry.”
Elizabeth Hutchison has helped film flourish locally as the Baton Rouge Program Manager for NOVAC, a media-arts non profit that trains film industry workers for free, but she’s worried about the future. Hutchison says that if these credits went away, or were diminished, she and hundreds of people would be out of work, even though NOVAC does not directly benefit from them.
“”Plain and simple, we wouldn’t exist,” she said. “I have a strong hunch that we would not have any funding; 100 percent of it comes from the Office of Community Development attached to Mayor [Kip] Holden’s office. Without us, many people in Baton Rouge wouldn’t even be a part of the film industry without the training we provide.”
Last year, NOVAC trained 100 people in makeup, staging, costume design, and other areas in the film industry. Hutchison says that NOVAC has already trained 60 people this year and expects that number to grow, and she hopes Legislators will allow the industry to do the same.
“I have always wanted to be part of the film industry, but I, like the people we train, didn’t know where to start,” she said. “I’m a Baton Rouge native, and when I graduated from LSU, there was no industry, so I moved to Los Angeles. I moved back in 2009 when I heard it was picking up here, and I’m not alone. I think that if legislators talked to the people, they will realize that if these credits go away, the films will go away, the jobs will go away, and the people will go away. And that’s actually really sad.”
To help make their case, the film industry enlisted HR&A Advisors to study the impact the film industry has had on Louisiana’s economy. The research firm, which has offices in Washington D.C., New York City, and Los Angeles — all big film hubs themselves — have concluded that the numbers prove keeping the credits in place is a good long-term investment.
“There really wasn’t an industry in Louisiana before 2002; it consisted of only about 1000 people. But there is more happening now because of the credit,” said Shuprotim Bhaumik, partner at HR&A.
HR&A released a report on April 6 detailing how the film industry directly and indirectly bolstered Louisiana’s economy in 2013. According to the report, production spending associated with the MPIT credit for 2013 supported 10,800 jobs as well as generating $471.2 million in personal income and $1.6 billion in economic output.
“It also has the added benefit of exposing people around the world to the places people and culture of Louisiana, indirectly inducing a tourism influx in the state,” said Bhaumik.
HR&A conducted a survey of 1,381 individuals who have visited Louisiana over the last two years. Based on that survey, they estimated that 14.5 percent of domestic, out-of-state tourists chose to visit Louisiana because of something they saw on TV or the silver screen. The report says that that 14.5 percent alone supported 22,720 jobs and generated $766.6 million in personal income and up to $2.4 billion in economic output.
“Also we can see what films or shows contributed the most to drawing people to Louisiana, thanks to this survey,” said Bhaumik. “The survey asked a number of questions about specific productions and several come to the forefront as you analyze the data. Duck Dynasty, True Blood, Treme, Big Easy, and A Streetcar Named Desire were all very big draws.”
During a teleconference revealing the report, Louisiana Film and entertainment Association Executive Director David Tatman said this report confirms that holding on to the credits is not only vital to the future of the industry in the state but to the state itself.
“The big picture is that this industry is an important long term investment. If the credits were not working, we wouldn’t be seeing this level of job growth or revenue,” said Tatman. “Georgia is already surpassing us in spending and infrastructure; supporting our local industry is going to help us remain viable and competitive with other states.”