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Jindal's Tax Plan Caused Stir Within Local Film Community

William French_Color_0625As a native New Orleanian, Will French spent much of his life watching a sadly familiar procession.

“For most of my early childhood, adulthood, and professional career, I saw business leaving New Orleans and leaving Louisiana on a daily basis,” said French, president of both the Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association and founder of Film Production Capital

That all changed back in 2002, with passage of Louisiana’s Motion Picture Tax Credit Program, which gives an across the board, uncapped 30 percent tax credit for any money spent in Louisiana, plus an additional five percent for any local crew hire.

French watched the program draw film productions into the state immediately. “This was the first time that I actually saw something good coming into Louisiana, bringing money into the state, creating jobs in the state.”

Today there are approximately 14,000 jobs in the state directly or indirectly supported by the film industry, up from just one or two hundred in 2002. And Currently, Louisiana finds itself the largest film production hub outside of California and New York.

But it’s not just numbers.

“For a long time, Louisiana has been at the bottom of all the good lists, and at the top of all the bad lists,” said French, “and we lost jobs and we lost industry decade after decade after decade. The film industry comes along in 2003 and starts to reverse that."

“And what you’re seeing around town are these creative entrepreneurs who are just flocking to the New Orleans area especially and changing the whole perception of what it’s like to live and do business in LA and in New Orleans.”

So it’s not shock that, when Governor Jindal first announced his much talked about tax plan, the response from the film industry was less than enthusiastic.

The plan would have capped above the line salaries at a million dollars apiece, meaning that, if you wanted to hire Johnny Depp for 10 million dollars, the studio is only going to get a tax credit on that first million. That would send the big productions to states like Georgia, where their program remains uncapped.

But a funny thing happened on the first day of the state’s legislative session: the Governor shelved his tax plan. In response to our efforts to learn more, Louisiana Department of Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret wrote:

“As Gov. Jindal indicated…our tax reform package has been parked. That includes our proposed changes to existing economic development incentive programs, such as the Motion Picture Tax Credit Program, to improve their return on investment. We will be working with legislators as they consider alternative proposals to eliminate the income tax.”

“Well, I’m pleased, there’s no doubt about it, I have to say that I’m pleased,” said French, after the latest turn of events.

Pleased and, admittedly, a little surprised.

“But I think that goes to show that he really was finding opposition from not just the opposition groups, from not just the special interest, from not just the other party, but from everybody universally” said French, “and I think that a good governor does that; when they propose something that just doesn’t have support, really in any category, they take it off the table, and that’s what he did.”

While one would expect there would be rejoicing amongst the film community, French says that’s not the case.

“I think what the governor did was very meaningful and endearing, and it does not want to make you want to gloat or be proud or anything about the way that it played out,” said French. “But it’s important that he heard us and that he acted accordingly,
so there’s no gloating going on today, there’s no champagne corks that are popping, and there is this feeling of, well ok, he heard us, he acted reasonably, now we should reciprocate.”

With a replacement plan yet to be announced, however, French believes there’s still a lot to talk about.

“I don’t think it’s the end,” he said. “I think that a reasonable debate has started about how we can make sure that we’re looking after the state’s return on investment when it comes to the film industry, and that’s not a conversation that we as Louisiana film and entertainment association, the LA industry is unsympathetic to, in fact, we want to make sure, as I’ve expressed in the past, that the state gets a good return on investment.”

To learn more about the film industry in New Orleans, go to wwno.org.

Brian Friedman writes about New Orleans for NolaVie.