By Zach Fitzgerald | LSU Student
Louisiana's film and entertainment industry is not only showcasing the state's biggest, better-known cities but, in the last year or so, has focused on smaller communities, heretofore under the radar.
Chris Stelly, director of Film Industry Development for Louisiana Economic Development, knows first-hand how the industry has changed. "I grew up in a small town called Grosse Tete, and it's safe to say that we've never had any motion picture activity in our little community."
Stelly also said people wanting to work in film are no longer limited by where they live because movie and television production in Louisiana has spread out.
"The entertainment industries touch every corner in the state."
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne's communication director, Jacques Berry, said reality TV has helped show the rest of the country a more complete Louisiana. "We have reality shows in (northern) Louisiana too now."
Berry said a recent survey of Louisiana tourists showed 32 percent of respondents cited reality TV shows as a major reason for visiting Louisiana. These shows include "Swamp People" in costal Louisiana, "Cajun Pawn Stars" in Alexandria, "Sons of Guns" in Baton Rouge, and "Billy the Exterminator" in the Shreveport area, just to name a few.
Berry said some people may think reality TV shows reinforce a stereotype of how Louisiana residents live. However, he said, many Louisiana residents are proud of state and want outsiders to see what it has to offer.
"This doesn't mean we all live in swamps with alligators," Berry said in obvious reference to History Channel's popular "Swamp People."
Louisiana's tax incentive program is the main reason that the film and entertainment industry has boomed since state legislators initially implemented the program in 2002. The program has allowed small cities and towns to have their time in the spotlight.
Stelly says that for every dollar spent in the state on a motion picture, live performance, digital interactive and sound recording production, the company or individual receives a 30-cent tax credit.
"We've really worked to make it simple," Stelly said adding that tax credits can be transferred or sold to a Louisiana taxpayer or sold back to the state for 85 cents on the dollar. The state made their tax credits permanent in 2009.
"We were one of the first states to look at motion pictures as an economic opportunity for the state."
Though many movies filmed in Louisiana have their headquarters in metropolitan areas, Stelly said much of their filming is done in smaller communities mentioning "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which was based in New Orleans, but filmed all along the Northshore.
The movie "Secretariat" was based in Lafayette but did most of its filming at Evangeline Downs in Opelousas. "True Blood" had its headquarters in Baton Rouge, but filmed in Clinton.
Donaldsonville, Folsom, Mansfield and Port Allen also have seen film production since the state began issuing tax incentives.
But, cautioned Stelly, the film industry is not "a fit for every area."
He said "every community has the opportunity" to see some production, but that does not guarantee producers will choose to film there.
Stelly said Louisiana's film and entertainment business has created well-paying jobs with the latest estimates indicating the average industry salary is in the mid-$60,000 range. But these jobs do not follow a standard work schedule. On most film sets, Stelly cautioned, people work 12-to 16-hour days
Even with the expansion of Louisiana's movie and television industry to include more cities, Louisiana's largest cities continue to see major film productions. "Twilight: Breaking Dawn," the two-part conclusion of the "The Twilight Saga" series, was filmed in Baton Rouge.
Berry said people stood outside the set "all day just to get a glimpse."
The HBO TV show "Treme" continues production in its third season in New Orleans, and Stelly said Moonbot Studios in Shreveport recently had a digital short nominated for a 2012 Oscar.
The state saw more than 100 films produced in 2011.
In addition to film production, Louisiana also has an abundance of sound recording and live performance production that also receive the same tax incentives the film industry receives.
"We have sound recording studios sprinkled throughout the state," Stelly said.
"You've got a live music mecca in New Orleans," Berry said.
Stelly estimates entertainment industry producers spent more than $1.4 billion in Louisiana in 2011 and expects to meet or exceed that amount in 2012.
"Typically, we would see a lull (in film and entertainment production) between December and January. We haven't seen that this year."