Film industry expresses concerns about Jindal tax proposal

The people who make their living in Louisiana's growing film industry are expressing their worries about a proposal in Governor Bobby Jindal's new tax plan.  That plan calls for new limits on some tax exemptions, and some fear that could shut out big stars and, in turn, a lot of local jobs.

To be sure, the Louisiana film industry has become a job-producing juggernaut.

Will French with the Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association said, "When we first started there were about 200 people working in the industry. Now it's grown to about 14,000. That's the same number that works in the seafood industry."

Thousands of people, such as Mark Lowry, have gone from menial work to lucrative employment with health benefits.  Lowry works for Spectrum Effects at G Street studios in Elmwood, helping build sets and special effects at an old, Katrina-ravaged produce warehouse.

Lowry said, "To me, it's meant everything."

Matt Kutcher is the boss at Spectrum Effects. He moved his company from California two years ago, and has set up the special effects shop permanently in Harahan, employing up to 80 people at any given time.

Kutcher said, "Right now we're working on special effects for 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' and 'True Detectives.'"

Now, many in the industry worry that a proposal to cut some of the credits could keep big productions away.

The governor is now talking about disallowing certain costs from coverage by the state's film tax credit. His administration has also proposed capping the amount that can be written off for actor salaries at $1 million per person.

"That's going to be payments to cast members like Tom Cruise or major actors," said French.

Industry boosters say the proposal couldn't come at a worse time for an industry beginning to reach adulthood.   French said the industry is just coming into it's own. "It would be like emancipating a 10-year-old.  We're 10 years old now, but to cut us loose it would be like emancipating a 10-year-old."

The people who make their living in Louisiana movies say that, while the million-dollar limit on tax credit limit may sound good, a similar plan has not done well in North Carolina.

"North Carolina proposed a similar one-million cap and they've got less than 10 percent of the work Louisiana has on an annual basis," said French.

States such as New Mexico and Michigan saw big dropoffs, too, after they reduced tax credits.

Kutcher said, " As soon as they hiccupped, the local studio went into bankruptcy."

Those who have found work in the film industry are hoping that state officials don't mess up their dream factories.

"For the past eight years it's been great. I love what I do for a living," said special effects worker Jason Ebark.

The film industry will watch closely as lawmakers consider changes in a production tax credit which has garnered rave reviews.  The Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association says concern over tax credit changes could cause a six-month interruption in film productions, as producers try and assess the impacts.

The LFEA says Louisiana currently ranks fourth in movie productions nationwide, behind California, New York and Georgia, which has a slightly more lucrative tax credit.

And there's this statement from Chris Stelly, the executive director of the Office of entertainment industry development.

"Regarding Louisiana's Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit, we are seeking to improve the return on investment of the program for state taxpayers while continuing to aggressively support the film industry. We want to focus more credits on in-state activities and provide fewer credits for activities that have little impact on Louisiana's economy. Our goal is to sustain a program with continued strong support of film productions that will retain and grow the industry in Louisiana."