By Nick BeJeaux
With the Fantastic 4 running around Downtown Baton Rouge, the cast of Pitch Perfect 2 spotted all over LSU and the most acclaimed film of 2013, Twelve Years a Slave, being filmed everywhere in Louisiana between Vacherie and New Orleans, it’s no wonder the Bayou State has earned the moniker “Hollywood South.”
However, out of all the cities of the state – even New Orleans – Baton Rouge is poised to reign supreme over the film industry in the South. This is due, in no small part, to the Celtic Media Centre, one of the largest film studios in the country tucked between Bluebonnet and I-12.
“If you would have told me in 1994 that Baton Rouge would be home to one of the largest studios in the country, I would have told you to drop the crack pipe – that’s crazy,” said Patrick Mulhearn, director of studio operations at the CMC, during a briefing at the Press Club on Monday. “But it’s true – it’s right here in the middle of Baton Rouge. The progress we have made in the last 20 years and the compliments the industry here gets shows how far we’ve come.”
Mulhearn explained that Louisiana is no stranger to a film industry and has been a destination for directors since films became possible for the same reason they do today: money.
“The first scripted feature shot in Louisiana was a production of Doctor Faust. It was shot in New Orleans in 1908,” said Mulhearn. “The reason why it was shot here was financial. Back then, Thomas Edison held a patent on moving pictures, so if the patent lawyers saw you shooting in New York, they would make you pay more money.”
“Producers today know it’s cheaper to shoot in Baton Rouge because they don’t need to fly anyone in. The crews and infrastructure are already here.”
“If you would have told me in 1994 that Baton Rouge would be home to one of the largest studios in the country, I would have told you to drop the crack pipe – that’s crazy. But it’s true – it’s right here in the middle of Baton Rouge. The progress we have made in the last 20 years and the compliments the industry here gets shows how far we’ve come.”
The industry remained strong through the 1990s, during which over a dozen films were shot in the state, like JFK, Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Steel Magnolias.
“We’ve had some pretty impressive films shot here, especially in New Orleans,” said Mulhearn. “More often than not, New Orleans is the star of the show, not the actors.”
However, around 2000 there was a sharp decline in Louisiana’s film industry, and the large crew base that relied on the industry for work was out of a job.
“It’s just like that ‘South Park’ song ‘Blame Canada,’” said Mulhearn. “They came up with an incentive system that was so appealing, any runaway production outside of California went strait to Vancouver or Montreal. We’re still dealing with that.”
To compete with Canada and California, Louisiana began to develop its own incentives for directors with the Motion Picture Investment Tax Credit Act, which passed in 2002.
“That changed everything,” said Mulhearn.
Since 2002, the industry has made over $1 billion in sales, created a persistent skilled workforce of about 14,000 people a year, and on average about 100 film projects, big and small, are shot in Louisiana.
“The quantity of films here has led to quality,” said Mulhearn. “Last year Django Unchained and Beasts of the Southern Wilds were nominated for Best Picture. This year it was Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years a Slave, which actually won Best Picture.”
That quality Mulhearn was talking about apparently has also seeped into homegrown television. Louisiana is also positioned to sweep in the Emmys this year between “American Horror Story: Coven” and “True Detective,” both holding a combined 29 nominations.
Mulhearn said that even with Louisiana’s rich film history and sophisticated infrastructure, the competition to attract investors, directors and producers has still been tough. However, keeping the industry here attractive helps diversify an economy defined for decades by oil and gas.
“This has been an oil and gas petrochemical state for as long as anyone can remember, and I would think that the demand for oil over the next 20 years is hard to predict,” he said. “But worldwide demand for American entertainment is only going up, and Louisiana is ahead of the curve. Why not keep it there by extending it the same credits as oil and gas?”
It’s not just about fiscal capital, either. There’s intellectual and creative capital at stake, too.
“The film industry is helping Louisiana retain its creative class,” Mulhearn said. “We’ve had an outward immigration problem for a long time. Film jobs are great paying jobs. They only add to our tax base. But especially, there’s an amazing amount of talent right here that we need to encourage and preserve. We’re already the Hollywood South, no question; but we’ve only just scratched the surface of our best resource: our people.”
For more information on the CMC or sign up for a tour of the 240,000 square foot facility, visit www.celticmediacentre.com.