Is “Hollywood South” Dead?
Just three years ago, more movies and television shows were being filmed in Louisiana than in any other state in the U.S. The film industry was so big here, that the Pelican State was dubbed "Hollywood South." As the old adage goes, "Fame is fleeting," and our state's fame could be gone for good.
In 2002 the legislature passed the Louisiana Motion Picture Tax Incentive Act which provided a 30% tax credit on qualified motion picture expenses, no matter how big those expenses were. In addition the statute provided a 5% payroll credit for salaries paid to Louisiana residents. The only requirement was that filmmakers had to spend at least $300,000 in Louisiana. Simply put, the act was designed to be a boon to our economy.
The first crack in the foundation of the bill came in 2015. Because of ongoing budget issues, the state slashed its annual incentives budget to $180 million – down from $222 million the year before. That was a 19% reduction which resulted in a 75% drop in jobs for union film crews. As you can imagine, the film-making in the state came to a screeching halt.
Now the Tax Incentive Act is in danger of being repealed altogether. According to LSU economist Loren Scott a recent study shows that for every dollar the state spends on incentives, we only get 23 cents back. If that analysis is correct Louisiana has lost millions of dollars in the program. As a result, Alexandria Senator Jay Luneau is making plans to initiate legislation that will eliminate the Incentive Act.
Not everyone agrees with this dire assessment. Patrick Mulhearn, Executive Director of Celtic Media Studios in Baton Rouge, says that Scott's study is flawed. By Mulhearn's calculations, when you combine the money going into the state treasury and local economies, the return is $4.62 for every dollar spent by the film industry.
And so the debate continues. The bottom line is that the film-making industry will never be what it once was in Louisiana. The question is, will it be here at all.