East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden and film leaders chided lawmakers on Wednesday morning for considering legislation that would reduce the size of Louisiana’s tax credits for film and television, a program crucial to the state earning the nickname “Hollywood South.”
Holden announced the production of several new television shows and movies that will film in Baton Rouge, including a remake of “The Magnificent Seven” that’s expected to include 500 local jobs and an MTV television show version of “Scream” that’s expected to create 200 jobs.
But while the tax credits have spurred film production in Louisiana, they have come under intense criticism for being the most expansive in the country, coming at a steep price for taxpayers. In addition, critics have wondered about the benefits, noting that the jobs created by movie and television production tend to be low-paid and temporary.
The state’s House Ways and Means Committee has approved three bills that are now waiting to be debated on the House floor, each of which would cap the cost of the tax credits to taxpayers at either $226 million, $200 million or $150 million annually. The House is expected to take up a cap proposal on Thursday.
But Holden sought to discourage Louisiana legislators from these changes.
“This, I hope, resonates with those legislators who want to virtually cripple the industry about tax credits and let them know Baton Rouge is a prime example of a city and its people that’s benefiting greatly from those who seek the tax credits, those who come in, those who hire people, those who do things with local vendors and those that are making a change,” Holden said.
Other productions coming to or already filming in the capital city include television series “Hap and Leonard” that’s expected to add 140 jobs, TV series “Underground” that’s expected to create 120 jobs and a new Web series called “Parallax.”
Liza Kelso, executive director of the Baton Rouge Film Commission, said Baton Rouge received $180 million in direct spending from more than 20 projects that the industry brought to the city last year. It is unclear how much money the city stands to gain from the shows and movies currently being filmed in Baton Rouge until after they finish filming and expenses are certified at the state film office, she said.
Kelso said she hopes the city will again earn about $180 million this year.
As for the jobs being created, each job is tied to the production of a television series or film. The end of filming means the end of a job.
Kelso said she would not term the jobs as temporary but instead referred to them as contract positions.
“We want to continue those people coming in, so as long as our tax credits are healthy and we’re marketing our city, we will have other projects come in,” Kelso said.
The state’s film tax credits program has been front and center in legislative debates this session, with lawmakers discussing how expensive the program can get, particularly with big-budget films. For example, the state gave away $35 million in 2011 for the filming of “The Green Lantern,” which is more than the state will give to the University of New Orleans this year.
A Louisiana Budget Project analysis shows that New Orleans, by far, benefits the most from the film tax credits, with films shot there earning more than 67 percent of the subsidies. Baton Rouge came in second, but productions in the metro region still only earned about 12 percent of subsidies, according to the report that looked at credits certified from 2009 to 2014.
A few of the people lured in by Louisiana’s generous tax credit program were at the news conference on Wednesday. One of them, Douglas Blake, said he moved to Louisiana from California in February and will start shooting his Web series “Parallax” this summer.
The series will play on Vimeo on Demand, and the science fiction storyline centers on people reacting to an asteroid heading toward Earth, Blake said.
As for the other movies and shows filming in the city, “The Magnificent Seven” will be a joint MGM and Sony remake of the 1960 Western film. The cast includes Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt.
“Scream,” which will air on MTV, will be an adaptation of the famous horror movie franchise. The first trailers have been released, and it should air June 30.
“Hap & Leonard” is a Sundance Channel show based on a Joe Lansdale series of novels that follows two best friends in 1980s East Texas. The Metro Council signed off in March on allowing the show to film in the old Woman’s Hospital for free.
“Underground” will be a WGN America series about slaves trying to escape their plantation and find freedom.
Pamela Turner, a production assistant on the show and a former Baton Rouge Community College student, applauded the film tax credits on Wednesday and said she was able to receive training to get her foot in the door of the film industry.
In addition, Vivid Ink Graphics President and CEO Stephen St. Cyr applauded the tax credits for helping his business to grow. He said the company sold more than $1 million in goods and services to the film industry and that enabled it to hire eight new employees.