Louisiana’s scaled-back film tax incentives program put a huge dent in jobs for film crews there. Facing a severe budget crunch, the state last year slashed its annual budget for the incentives to $180 million – down from $222 million spent in 2014. That 19% reduction, however, triggered a 75% loss of jobs for union film crews.
“In April, we were down 75% from the previous April,” said Cory Parker, business agent of IATSE Local 478, the New Orleans film workers union. But things are improving. “We were down quite a bit, but we are seeing a bit of an uptick,” he told Deadline. “Since April, it’s gone up quite a bit. It took us up to 65% of our members who are working. We do have a lot of shows talking about coming. It’s looking like a promising fall. Our phones are starting to ring again. Our fingers are crossed, and hopefully we’ll be back to business as usual soon.”
Parker said that much of the downturn is due to the misconception that Louisiana’s incentives program is dead. “It all stems from that misconception,” Parker said. “Producers are realizing that it makes sense to come back to Louisiana. They’re going to realize what they’re missing out on. We’re here, and we’re ready to go to work. The incentives program is alive, and we’re getting momentum from that.”
Louisiana’s budget crisis – and the state’s fall from being one of the top filming destinations – is widely blamed on two factors: the reckless economic policies of former Gov. Bobby Jindal and the precipitous decline in the price of oil, which is one of the state’s major sources of tax revenue.
Louisiana’s filming loss comes at a time when several other states are increasing their incentives to keep or attract filmmakers. California tripled its incentives program in 2014 to $330 million, Ohio will double its program to $40 million in September, and Pennsylvania recently raised its by $5 million to $65 million.
Even so, Louisiana’s program is still nearly twice what California’s was only a year ago, and more than half of what the Golden State’s is now. Louisiana had also suspended its buy-back of the tax credits – at 85% of face value – for one year, but that suspension ended this month.
NCIS: New Orleans, which is about to start filming its third season, is among a handful of projects still shooting in Louisiana. “They understand the incentives program and love our crews,” Parker said. Universal’s Girl’s Trip, Sophia Coppola’s The Beguiled, Rob Reiner’s Shock and Awe and indie features Supercon and When We First Met are currently filming in the state.
Through it all, Parker said, his local’s membership has only lost about 30 members – down from 1,350 a year ago to 1,320 today. “There has not been a mass exodus of our membership,” he said. “We still have the crews and a really strong infrastructure.”
Said Gov. John Bel Edwards earlier this month: “Louisiana’s film industry has my full support. We remain open for business with one of the most attractive incentive programs in the world. We will honor our commitments. Louisiana will drive this process to create a smarter, sustainable model for the future. We will establish a modern, effective program that encourages companies to establish roots in our state.”
Chris Stelly, executive director of the Louisiana office of entertainment industry development, told Deadline: “Louisiana remains committed to the motion picture industry. We will honor our financial commitments and any project currently looking at filming here has nothing to worry about. We still have the best crews, infrastructure and tax credit program available.”
The MPAA, meanwhile, is hopeful that Louisiana will get its act together and again become a major player. “Production has dropped significantly primarily because of the volatility in the state’s incentives program,” said Vans Stevenson, the MPAA’s SVP State Government Affairs. “Were optimistic that stability will return. There is broad-based support in the Legislature to reinvigorate the incentives.
“The studios and networks are looking for more certainty,” he said, “and that lack of certainty made people back away, which is obvious from the fact that there’s not a whole lot going on down there right now. But the governor has told us that he is very bullish on business and wants to continue to attract film and TV production. So the future looks promising.”
The future, however, may have to wait until next spring, when the state Legislature returns to session. The governor could call the Legislature back into a special session before then to consider restoring the state’s incentives program to levels that had once made Louisiana “Hollywood South,” but insiders say that that is unlikely.