State officials shut down the Huey P. Long Bridge all day Sunday for work on a new film starring Halle Berry, marking the first time that the 79-year-old bridge has been closed for a movie production.
While the closure may have been an inconvenience for residents, it also marked the progress of a burgeoning film industry that has brought $88 million into Jefferson Parish in the past 10 years, Parish President John Young said.
“It shows we play in the major leagues, that we’re shutting down a major bridge,” Young said while sitting in the producer’s trailer on the film set Sunday afternoon. “It obviously shows we’re willing to work with the film industry.”
In the movie, called “Kidnap,” Berry’s character stops at nothing to save her child after he’s taken from her. Berry — who plays a suburban mom named Carla — follows kidnappers Margo and Terry through high-speed chases in traffic in order to make sure she never loses sight of her son, who is being held hostage in the couple’s car.
The film, slated to be released next fall, is one of several big-name movies that have been shot in Louisiana this year, helping boost the state to the No. 1 place in the world in terms of film production.
“Certainly the film industry in the state of Louisiana is a major growth industry,” Young said, praising tax incentive programs that have helped attract business to the area. In addition to Louisiana’s well-known tax incentive program, Jefferson Parish offers its own tax incentives that complement the statewide initiatives, he said.
Louisiana’s Motion Picture Incentive Program has been offering tax incentives since 2002. Production companies can qualify for up to 30 percent in credits, which apply to total in-state production expenditures, with an additional 5 percent labor tax credit for employing Louisiana residents.
Jefferson offers an additional 3 percent local cash rebate, according to the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau. The rebate requires that production companies employ parish residents and spend at least $150,000 locally. Additionally, the project must have either a production office, a soundstage or a filming facility in the parish.
The incentive has cost the parish $2 million in tax revenue, but Young said the investment has been well worth it, bringing money to local movie industry workers as well as to small businesses, such as catering companies and restaurants.
Young said Sunday that he hopes to keep the tax credits steady in order to promote continued growth, and he even wants to encourage a production studio to open in the parish. To that end, he said, he wants the Legislature to give more stability to the state incentive program rather than try to change it, as some have suggested.
“As they see a permanency to the tax credits, that investment would be here,” Young said about future partnerships with production companies, adding that any reduction to credits would mean a loss in high-paying jobs that parish residents have grown to rely on. “People don’t realize the ripple effects of the industry.”
Young wasn’t the only person excited about the cooperation seen between state and local officials and the production company, Di Bonaventura Pictures. The action sequence shot on the Huey P. Long Bridge is part of “a very pivotal scene in the movie,” producer Eric Howsam said, and shutting down the bridge was required to make it work.
“The reason we’re shutting down the bridge is that it gives a size of scope and an architecture to the whole scene,” Howsam said. “It’s an incredibly unique thing. Just the idea that we’re able to use this bridge is remarkable.”
More than 150 people, up to 60 vehicles and as many as six cameras were involved Sunday in making the scene happen, Howsam said. He added that his crew was working in a particularly high-pressure environment, because they had permission to shut down the bridge for only 14 hours, from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
“We have to get everything we need right now,” he said. “An enormous amount of planning went into shooting here.”
Young said he told parish residents about the closure ahead of time, issuing news releases through the Sheriff’s Office and speaking to local news outlets earlier in the week about the traffic inconvenience.
Howsam, who previously shot “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” in the New Orleans area, added that Sunday was the fifth of 20 planned days of local shooting on the new project, and so far everything was going as planned.
“New Orleans is an incredibly film-friendly place,” he said.