Bright Lights On the Bayou: How Louisiana’s Film Industry Got a Leading Role
Written out in giant, white letters across the Santa Monica Mountains, Hollywood has been synonymous with the film industry since the early 20th century. An unlikely rival, however, has emerged as a formidable player in the industry. Though it may lack the iconic sign of its West Coast counterpart, Louisiana saw 18 major motion pictures filmed within state lines in 2013 – 3 more than California.
Why are so many more movies being filmed in Louisiana? Its success luring filmmakers can be traced in large part to state funded tax incentives enacted by the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (LED) and its Office of Entertainment Industry Development Division (OEID).
“When a filmmaker comes into Louisiana they have a great incentive package that’s been stable since 2002,” Chris Stelly, the executive director of Louisiana Entertainment, told Free Enterprise. “You have a great crew base, a great infrastructure and great film-friendly communities.”
Those incentives include a 35% transferable tax break for productions that spend a minimum of $300K on in-state products and services, and a 5% tax discount on payroll checks addressed to Louisiana residents.
According to the 2013 OEID Program Impact Report, such state-sponsored tax credits and incentives generate economic gains that reverberate across the entirety of Louisiana’s economy. In 2012, the sector provided more than 6,000 jobs, the report found, with nearly 9,000 more openings resulting indirectly from money spent by production crews who filmed within the state.
With spending by crews continuing to grow, the sector’s indirect economic repercussions are significant. In 2011, film crews spent $1.1 billion within Louisiana state lines, OEID researchers estimated, up from $900 million in 2010. Considering that the state’s filmmaking industry is still in its infancy, its impact is especially noticeable, argues Stelly.
“From the standpoint of building a new industry, what it has brought to the state has been immeasurable,” he says.
The incentives have helped attract many major productions over the past decade including “G.I. Joe Retaliation,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” and the HBO hit, “True Detective.” They’ve also made it possible for studios like Moonbot—the brainchild of Pixar vet William Joyce and his colleagues Brandon Oldenburg and Lampton Enochs—to set up innovative companies on Louisiana soil.
“LED has been instrumental in Moonboot since the very beginning,” Enochs told Free Enterprise. “When we were in early discussions about forming this company and creating an animation studio in Louisiana, which is something that hadn’t been done yet, LED really stepped up to the plate and helped us develop our first project.”
That “project” is none other than “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” which notched an Oscar for the new studio in 2012.
“Moonbot has been growing its footprint since we started the company back in 2010,” Enochs explains. “Our ambition has always been to produce feature length films here in Louisiana,” a feat that he admitted would not have been possible before 2002.
Despite being a Louisiana native, Enochs started his own career in California and spent 15 years on the West Coast. “I certainly never thought that I’d be able to pursue the career that I wanted to pursue in my home state and my home region,” he says.
Spurred by its early success, Moonbot has grown into a beacon of opportunity for professionals seeking work in the domestic film industry. What’s more, it offers these workers a new option in regards to location.
The state of Louisiana was not satisfied with spurring relocation or new business on its soil, it also wanted to ensure that studios could create opportunities for more residents.
LED’s FastStart program has made hiring and training new talent more affordable, which Enochs says proved invaluable when the studio began integrating its work into iPad apps.
“The digital media incentives have also been very helpful to us. The strength is that the state has taken a holistic approach to the whole creative industry,” he adds.
Compared to the current job climate in Hollywood, “the ability to get jobs (in Louisiana) is much greater,” Enochs says. Stelly was quick to praise Moonbot for seizing the opportunity to hire aggressively, saying that LED was “very proud” of the studio.
With nearly 12 years of LED incentives in the books, it’s clear that the government’s decision to boost the local media and entertainment industry has benefitted the state as a whole– something Enochs can personally attest to.
“I cannot tell you how many local vendors have come up to me and told me that the amount of local business we’ve brought to them (while filming) have saved their jobs, saved their workforce,” he says. “The strength is that the state has taken a holistic approach to the whole creative industry.“
“We’re competing globally and internationally for a lot of projects,” agrees Stelly. “The industry’s impact has been tremendous.”