Study: Hollywood South surging past Hollywood in film production - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Study: Hollywood South surging past Hollywood in film production

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - When it comes to the production of feature films, Louisiana is on a tear – even bypassing traditional heavyweight California.

"I don't know what things are like out in L.A. right now. I hear it's a lot of reality TV. We are shooting feature after feature after feature," said Michael Russo, a sound engineer based in Baton Rouge.

Russo is part of a huge crop of film industry talent to set up shop in Louisiana, riding the wave of recent success.

A new study by the film office in Los Angeles shows Hollywood South surged past the original Hollywood last year. According to the report that analyzed a sample of 108 U.S. feature films released theatrically in 2013, 18 were produced in Louisiana compared to 15 in California.

"It's just a great acknowledgment of what we've built here in Louisiana and, specifically, New Orleans," said Katie Williams, Director of Film New Orleans, the city's film office.

Williams says five major motion pictures are set for production here this summer.

Still, some argue that with the industry's big tax credits, the success comes at too high a cost to the state.

"It's not a surprise that we're taking the lead in this industry, because we're paying this industry to come here," said Jan Moller, Director of the Louisiana Budget Project. "All we're saying is, instead of spending so much money, and more money year after year attracting the movie industry, we should be using it for the things we know will grow the economy over the long term like education, like infrastructure, like health care."

But those in the state's film industry point to the many positives it brings – especially employment opportunities.

According to a study commissioned by the state, in 2012, the industry brought in more than 14,000 jobs.

"It's a sustainable industry and one that is here to stay and one that is building, not only our locals and our crew base and our infrastructure and our businesses, but that is providing opportunities for people who have been working out in L.A. or New York who are from New Orleans and Louisiana to come home," Williams said.

"We're growing 200 or 300 members a year," said Mike McHugh, Business Agent for Motion Picture Studio Mechanics, a local union for film production professionals.

McHugh, who frequently made trips to Baton Rouge last year to fight proposed changes to the tax credits, says the growth he's seeing is part of a major success story -- one he'll continue fighting for.

"It's beyond my wildest belief," he said. "When I came home from Los Angeles in the early 90's and we made two movies a year, I always thought we should have a bigger presence than we did. I would've never dreamed it would go from two movies a year to 50 or 60. Anybody who is not satisfied with where we're at is going to be a hard person to satisfy."

As a result of their study, the Los Angeles film office is calling on California lawmakers to expand that state's tax credits -- expressing concerns over the California film industry's ability to hold onto jobs.

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