For the better part of the new millennium, the film industry has flourished in Louisiana. But in the past year, “Hollywood South” has slowed significantly. One organization that has been active throughout this period and has served as liaison to these productions both big and small is The New Orleans Video Access Center. In 2013, NOVAC decided to expand to Baton Rouge due to an increase in production. The organization’s current program manager, Jillian Hall, met up with DIG to discuss NOVAC, Louisiana’s tax incentives and the film industry.
DIG: For those who are unfamiliar: What does NOVAC do?
Jillian Hall: We do workforce training for adults looking to get into the film industry or to just beef up their production skills for their own projects. Then we work to place them for jobs. NOVAC also has other programs related to other demographics and groups in the community.
DIG: Are these programs and classes free?
JH: Yes. All free. Access is in our name so we try to make things as affordable or free and accessible as possible.
DIG: Are the classes film-related only?
JH: Initially we were offering pretty specific film industry department based workshops, but since the downturn in production we’ve tried to expand our course offerings to be related to more creative digital mediums.
DIG: I noticed on the website y’all also have equipment available for rental.
JH: Yes. It’s good because there aren’t a lot of places to rent gear here in Baton Rouge so we’re trying to help fill that void. My goal is to have a basic camera package: a nicer DSLR, with a nice lens, some Lav mics, a Zoom recorder and a boom pole. And some lights too.
DIG: What’s a big project you’ve been working on?
JH: The latest is a documentary web series project called “BetteR.” We started that in response to the worst summer ever in Baton Rouge. We wanted to highlight all the good that was happening and the people that are doing things across racial lines and economic divides in the city to make it a better place.
DIG: Where do things stand currently in the local film industry in terms of production?
JH: The changes in legislation have scared away some bigger productions from coming to town. They froze the release of tax credits. I believe folks will be able to apply again for tax credits starting next summer. So until then things are likely going to stay as they are – with little to no larger budget productions here in Louisiana. There are still some independent films being made here, which is great. I know that the film industry community here wants to see an indigenous film industry that’s sustainable.
DIG: Aren’t they making strides in that direction?
JH: Yes. They lowered the minimum budget you can apply for to $50,000. And you can get extra incentives if the script is written by a local, and the actors and music are local, so you can end up getting a large portion of your budget back, which makes it very affordable. The barrier to entry is that there’s a $5,000 application fee, which is pretty cost prohibitive to what we consider to be local independent filmmakers. I know there’s been talk to renegotiate that and look at other ways to make that actually accessible, because that would be wonderful. There still is an incentives program. At $180 million that means that several large productions can come here. The main issue is more of a marketing problem. And the fact that out of town people consider the market to be unstable because of the changes that happened.
DIG: You came over from Austin which has a reputation for a very active creative community. Do you think Baton Rouge can become more like Austin?
JH: In many ways I hope it doesn’t (laughs). I can’t afford to live the quality of life in Austin that I can in Baton Rouge. I’m glad to be here largely because of that. I think the local Louisiana culture is something to be valued and treasured and Austin doesn’t have that. That makes this area unique and that should be taken into account when considering development of the city.
DIG: Is there a project you have coming up that we should know about?
JH: We have our free monthly meetups every last Tuesday of the month (“Creative Connect”) at The Parlor in Beauregard Town. That’s a good way for folks to come out to see presentations by local artists. We offer free beer. You can come hang out and meet other like-minded
people in the community.
DIG: Do you have a personal goal as the local chairperson for NOVAC?
JH: I’d like to help bring people together to create cool stuff locally.
DIG: How can we contact you or find out more information?
JH: Our website is novacvideo.org. There’s a tab for Baton Rouge which has all of our classes and events. We also have our Facebook page and a newsletter you can sign up for on the website, and you can contact me at Jillian@Novacvideo.org.