The State of Hollywood South

The State of Hollywood South

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Three years after FilmLA, a non-profit industry insider, proclaimed Louisiana the film capital of the world and a year after Baton Rouge found itself named America's No. 1 small city to live and work in the movies, things in Hollywood South have grown quiet.

Celtics Studios, which sits on 40 sprawling acres in the heart of Baton Rouge, reported that business is down 80 percent in the current fiscal year. Celtic is the largest designed built studio in the Gulf South. The biggest as far west as Albuquerque, New Mexico and as far east as Atlanta.

"For Celtic to be sitting empty is a shame for the film business and the whole community," said Patrick Mulhearn, executive director at Celtic.

Baton Rouge and the state had reaped the benefits from the generous cap free tax incentive devised in 2002.

"It was really going to be how we diversified our economy and it did that," said Jay Dardenne, former lieutenant governor and current commissioner of administration.

Louisiana put itself on the world filmmaking map, producing more than 300 films since 2006. At Celtic, work had been nonstop, especially since 2009, when "Battle LA" became the first movie based and shot in Baton Rouge in three years.

The cap-free incentives came to an abrupt end though as budget problems mounted in the state. In June 2015, former Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law a $180 million cap on those film tax credit incentives.

Since August, Celtic reported that no film projects shot at its studios. On March 31, less than a year and a half after it opened, the The FilmWorks production studios in New Orleans East closed because of the reversal of fortune.

Louisiana Economic Development, which oversees the industry, shows about a 75 percent d rop in film activity for the first 10 months of the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with $310 million dollars spent compared to $1.2 billion the previous year.

Aquiles Montalvo, who works as a location scout, said he worked nonstop until the law changed. Since then, to make ends meet, he's been driving
for UBER. Montalvo is Louisiana born and raised and doesn't want to leave the state to work in the industry. If he had the ear of lawmakers, he said he would tell them to "look at the people working in the film industry in Louisiana and the lives now being affected by the change in law."

Mulhearn said the film industry employs 13,000 people in Louisiana, but the jobs have become scarce. He blames the massive d ropoff in work though not so much on the cap, but in how the new law also caps the number of credits it redeems instead of the number of credits it issues. He said legislators could fix this in 10 minutes.

"The state should limit the number of promises it makes, not the number of promises it keeps," Mulhearn said. "That would bring confidence and stability and work back."

Mulhearn and Jan Moeller, of the political watchdog Louisiana Budget Project, agree that the state needs to regain lost trust by honoring its promises made. Moeller thinks offering film tax credits has become unaffordable as the state finds itself drowning in red ink. He would lower the cap slightly, but said Louisiana should figure out a permanent plan that is upfront and leaves no questions of instability.

The question that remains is will legislators have a special session and address the problems thrust upon this state industry.

"I just know it's important, to tourism.  It makes a difference bring money into the state," said Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser.

Copyright 2016 WAFB. All rights reserved.