Baton Rouge Film Commission director Liza Kelso resigns: 'I have taken on a new opportunity that I cannot speak about at this time' _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Liza Kelso

Baton Rouge Film Commission Executive Director Liza Kelso has resigned her position to take another job.

Although news of Kelso’s resignation only became public on Thursday, through an item placed on the Metro Council’s agenda to fill her position, Mayor-President Kip Holden said Kelso notified him three weeks ago that she would be resigning.

The day before the news became public, Kelso held a news conference in her capacity as executive director of the Film Commission and advocated for film tax credits in Louisiana, alongside Holden.

“I have taken on a new opportunity that I cannot speak about at this time,” Kelso said when contacted by phone Thursday about her resignation.

Holden said he hopes to appoint Elizabeth Hutchison as interim executive director in Kelso’s place, based on a Metro Council agenda space request.

Hutchison is the Baton Rouge programs manager at the New Orleans Video Access Center, where she oversees a training program that includes classes for Baton Rouge residents to learn how to take on roles in film production.

“As a native of the city, I’m extremely passionate about the film industry and how Baton Rouge benefits from its presence,” Hutchison said.

Hutchison’s contract will be for $33,000 and she will start her job May 16 if the Metro Council approves the contact. The agenda space request says funding for Hutchison’s salary already exists in the Baton Rouge Film Commission budget.

Kelso declined to comment further on her time at the Film Commission.

“Our office is swamped with everything happening at the Capitol, and that’s what we’re focusing on right now,” she said.

The House passed a tax bill on Thursday that would cap subsidies for producers of movies and television shows at $200 million a year. The state spent $226 million giving out the tax credits last year.

Critics of the program have argued that taxpayers are investing too much money in the film industry and receiving too little in return, especially when the state budget faces a gap and higher education has taken repeated cuts.

Kelso and Holden said at a news conference on Wednesday that legislators needed to recognize the benefits the film program has brought to Baton Rouge. Kelso boasted that Baton Rouge received $180 million in direct spending from film projects last year and said she hoped to see similar spending levels this year.

Holden also said several television series and films shooting in Baton Rouge are expected to bring in more than 950 jobs during production. He praised Kelso on Thursday for her work at the Baton Rouge Film Commission.

“Baton Rouge has really progressed in the rankings in terms of movie productions, and she has been the spark that’s taken us to the next level,” Holden said.

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 got only about 12 percent of subsidies, according to the report that looked at credits certified from 2009 to 2014.