Locals are interested in state's film tax credit program bill

State focuses on film credit cap

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A lot of people are interested in how a bill dealing with the state's film credit program turns out.

While the legislation enjoys support from the Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association, some others in the industry raised concerns.

"The key to fixing the film credit program is not making it more generous, it's making it more stable," said State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.

With the state facing budget problems, in 2015, the Legislature capped the program at $180 million, and film and movie-makers started shunning Louisiana.

"We were down for 11 months, we had nobody here at this facility," said Jason Waggenspack with of The Ranch Film Studios in Chalmette.

Locals in the industry said the cap and the way it was administered was a perfect script for confusion that gave film producers pause about Louisiana.

"We've got some clients that are really calling in. We currently have a production here at our facility right now.  We do have a couple of pictures that are looking to come in this summer that are kind of wavering on what happens in this session," said Waggenspack.

Industry leaders in this area said while the 2015 legislation capped the amount the state would pay out each year at $180 million, it did not limit the dollar amount of tax credits that could be issued annually. Senator Morrell said his bill SB235 addresses the problem.

"Changing the back-end cap to a front-end cap and ensuring that anyone who gets a credit will be able to utilize it is important. Making sure that the credit itself is not as generous, to increase the return on investment is important," Morrell said.

"Yes, we would like to see it on the front-end versus the back-end so that there's not a log-jam of credits that are trying to pass through the pipeline each year," said Waggenspack.

Under the bill, the annual cap would be $165 million and the per-project limit $20 million instead of $30 million.

"We're okay with the reduction from $30 to $20. We would like to see obviously a little bit more, maybe in the middle at $25 especially on things like television which we know needs a bit more because they there a little bit longer and we love the return that they actually invest in this community when they come here," added Waggenspack.

The Louisiana Economic Development Department said under the proposal, each year five percent of the credits would be reserved for qualified entertainment companies that establish permanent operations and invest in full-time, high-paying jobs in Louisiana, and there would be other incentives, for instance, movies made outside the New Orleans area would be eligible for an additional five percent tax credit.

"I think everybody knows that we need a fix, we need to do something to right the ship. The thing is that the secret is not to give away more tax credit dollars to Hollywood companies, or the major studios. And then furthermore to require that anybody who gets a tax credit from Louisiana has to pay it back if their film is profitable.  There's been lots of profitable films made in Louisiana over the last decade, the state's never got one dollar back. It's time for that change." said Will French, President of Film Production Capital, LLC.

He does not like the bill in its current form.

"This bill is good for Hollywood, bad for Louisiana. If you give a higher tax credit rate to the Hollywood companies and the major studios, whether it's 35 percent, 40 percent, or 50 percent, they're going to flock into Louisiana and use it all up and they won't leave anything for the local companies to use," said French.

The union representing crews on productions said the economic worth of the industry should not be underestimated.

"The key is stabilizing the program and making it strong for both the state as well as the industry," said Corey Parker, of I.A.T.S.E Local 478.

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