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How do Louisiana’s filmmaking tax incentives stack up to those in other states?

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Crew members working on the 2010 drama ‘Welcome to the Rileys’ preps to shoot a scene in Mandeville. (File photo)

As Louisiana legislators consider changes to Louisiana’s much-discussed filmmaking tax incentive program, it’s only natural for locals to be curious about how the local incentives match up to those in other states. The problem is, with 36 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia all dangling a carrot of one form or another in front of filmmakers — ranging from rebates to tax credits to grants — getting one’s arms around it all is a daunting task.

Enter The Hollywood Reporter, which has done all the heavy lifting.

Just ahead of the Association of Film Commissioners International Locations Show, which is setting up shop at Los Angeles’ Hyatt Regency Century Plaza this weekend, THR has compiled an easy-to-digest accounting of each state’s tax incentives for its March 13 issue. The online version includes a Google-powered map as well (embedded below).

Although Louisiana’s 13-year-old incentives program is among the nation’s more generous — currently offering a 30 percent tax credit, plus 5 percent for the first $1 million of resident labor — as well as the most successful in terms of of the number of projects it has drawn, it’s got competition for the title of the most generous.

Puerto Rico, for example, offers a 40 percent tax credit on projects that spend $100,000 or more there. The District of Columbia offers a 42 percent rebate on taxed production expenses, plus 21 percent for untaxed expenses and 30 percent for below-the-line resident labor. Oklahoma offers a 35 percent rebate, plus 2 percent more if more than $20,000 is spent on music created in-state.

Several others — including Alaska, Illinois, New York, Washington State and West Virginia — offer incentives programs in the same 25-to-30-percent range that Louisiana’s program offers.

Regionally, Georgia offers a 20 percent rebate, plus 10 percent for screen credit; both Alabama and Mississippi offer a 25 percent rebate for expenses, plus 35 percent for resident labor; while Texas offers a stepped program that ranges from 5 percent back for films that cost between $250,000 and $1 million to make, to 20 percent back for projects that spend more than $3.5 million. Florida’s plan offers a 20 percent rebate on projects spending $625,0000 or more, plus 5 percent escalators for such things as “family-friendly” films and offseason production, as well as 15 percent for students and “recent graduates.

(Courtesy of nola.com)

Film and television industry actor training will be offered at Nunez Community College in Chalmette

Nunez Community College in Chalmette will hold a Professional Film and Television Industry Actor Training Program in April and May. This program will kick start several professional film and television industry workforce development training courses, programs, and events offered to students and the general public through the college.

A grant awarded by the Greater New Orleans Foundation will fund the initial program that will run in April and May. Twelve scholarships will be awarded to qualified St. Bernard residents who are 14 or older, and are seriously pursuing a career in the film and television industry.

This is a full inclusion program, and individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities are encouraged to apply. Anyone interested in auditioning for the program can apply by e-mailing their name, age, address, acting or theater experience/resume, and recent head shot or clear photo to jamielzimmer@gmail.com  Those interested should include a brief paragraph describing how the program will assist in their career aspirations. The deadline to receive completed applications is April 3. Qualified applicants with completed applications will be invited to audition for the program.

Dean West, a Louisiana resident who is a film and television actor and veteran acting coach will lead the program. Industry photographer Jackson Beals and make-up artist Jami Ross will also provide each participant with an industry standard head shot.

Future training and requirements will be announced at a later date, and will be available to all qualified Louisiana residents.

With the current film and television tax incentives, and rapidly growing film and television productions in Louisiana, there is a high demand for professionally trained actors.

Ryan Fink, Director of Film and Television for St. Bernard Parish, said that this program is vital to both local film productions and actors. “A  five percent tax incentive is given for every local hire, which is beneficial to everyone when a production casts Louisiana actors,” Fink said.

Nunez Community College Chancellor Thomas Warner said, “We are committed to providing industry standard workforce development opportunities to not only our residents of St. Bernard, but to all Louisiana residents who are seeking employment in this industry.”

Official supporters of the program include The St. Bernard Parish Office of Film and Television, St. Bernard Parish Government, St. Bernard Parish ADA Board, The Meraux Foundation, Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association, New Orleans Video Access Center, Louisiana Economic Development Department of Film and Television, THE RANCH Studio, State Senator A.G. Crowe, State Senator J.P. Morrell, State Rep. Ray Garofalo, and State Rep. Paul Hollis.

(Courtesy of nola.com)

Speaker highlights Louisiana’s film industry importance

Will French, president of Louisiana Film Production Capital in New Orleans, questioned whether Louisiana’s recent slot on the big screen is brining the film industry to the state on Monday at the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

French asked the audience a series of questions to get audience members thinking about the impact the film industry has on the state.

He said the film industry and its tax credits have recently been the face of dozens of news articles, but there is one ultimate question: Are the state’s films bringing people here?

“In Louisiana, we have incentives, we talk about tax credits, but we don’t know what’s happening in other states and how we compare,” French said.

French delivered a brief history of how the business of the film and television industry has changed, starting with the simple fact that “a camera isn’t the size of a motorcycle anymore.”

French said the industry is moving away from its origins in Southern California and relocating to new places in the south, particularly Louisiana.

Louisiana offers film production teams the best tax incentive in the country — a 30 percent cut. French said it’s imperative the state does not cut any sort of funding for Louisiana’s film program because it will allow other southern states that are close behind to take the lead.

French said the film industry, in addition to drawing the talent and business of the industry to the state, increases tourism to Louisiana.

“We started asking people, ‘What’d you do while you were here?’ and 68 percent of those people said they visited some place seen onscreen or took a movie tour,” French said.

French said the film industry is vital to the state because it diversifies the economic profile of the state — it doesn’t just draw in tourism revenue.

“Do you really want an economy that’s built solely on oil and gas?” French said. “This is an industry that can be somewhat economically resistant.”

French said the Film Production Capital is working to determine the number of individuals who work in the film industry and how much the state would lose in payroll if the industry lost funding.

Theatre freshman Nicholas Portier said he thinks the film industry in Louisiana has a lot of learning experience to offer students, but the amount of actual job prospects depend on what aspect of film an individual wants to be a part of.

“The Louisiana [International] Film Festival brings lots of filmmakers here and holds panels to interact with them and learn about the creative process of filmmaking,” Portier said. “Also, universities have lots of programs that can get film students internships at a production company.”

Portier said there is a lot of work in Louisiana for production and behind-the-scenes set work, but most major films get their “green light” out of state, so pre-production work, like choosing actors, is often done before it gets to Louisiana.

(Courtesy of lsureveille.com)

Bill drafts offer first look at changes to film tax credits in Louisiana

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Filming of a scene for ‘The Young and the Restless’ was photographed in New Orleans City Park in November 2010. (John McCusker, The Times-Picayune)

An overall spending cap, mandatory withholding taxes, revoking transferability and even a five-year guarantee for a scripted film series are among the possible changes Louisiana could see to its controversial motion picture tax credits. State Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, and State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, have presented drafts of possible legislation to be discussed at the March 4 meeting of the Entertainment Industry Development Advisory Commission.

Copies of Morrell’s and Stokes’ drafts were emailed to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Feb. 24, and they’re presented in their entirety below.

Morrell said in an interview last week that the overall goal was “comprehensive reform” of the current iteration of the film tax credit program, which in its current form works like this: a project becomes eligible for motion picture tax credits once its in-state budget exceeds $300,000 worth of expenditures. Once finished, the film receives a 30 percent tax credit for the purchase of eligible, in-state goods and services and a 35 percent credit on local labor. The credits are then refundable by the state at 85 percent or transferable.

However, the state does not currently budget for this credit, so how much cash the state is on the hook for it can vary from year to year.

“In order for the safety and future of a film tax credit program, there has to be substantial change,” Morrell said Feb. 19. “What we’re trying to do is make it predictable and solvent.”

In the lead-up to the 2015 legislative session, film industry leaders have so far been open to discussing changes to help make the tax credit program more palatable for all parties.

Morrell cautioned that the bill drafts were still in rough form, and that the specific verbiage is likely to change from now until March 13, the final date of pre-filing before the legislative session begins.

Here’s a quick look at what’s outlined in the drafts of Morrell’s bills:

  • To be eligible for any film credits in Louisiana, the above-the-line expenses for a project can’t be more than half the total budget.
  • A total cap on film tax credits would be set at $300 million, doled out on a first come, first served basis and anything of that amount left unspent by the end of a fiscal year would roll over into the next year’s budget.
  • Would guarantee film tax credits for a scripted TV series for five years if the studio agreed to build or construct production facilities for it.
  • Limitation on some qualifying expenses, so a project could not receive tax credits based on purchases of airfare, loan interest, finance fees or bond fees unless they were paid to an in-state financial institution
  • Film tax credits awarded incorrectly or illegally would be required to be returned to the state.
  • A system to verify that those who are reported on the application as Louisiana residents are, in fact, in-state residents.
  • A project could donate film memorabilia to the state in lieu of the first transfer processing fee associated with the transfer of film tax credits
  • Expenses between related businesses that qualify for tax credits would be regulated
  • Add a requirement that film tax credit brokers register with the state and meet certain requirements

And here’s a quick look at the changes outlined in the drafts of Stokes’ bills, some of which also refer to additional edits to other entertainment tax credits:

  • The tax credits would no longer be transferable, but the state’s buy-back would increase from 85 cents on the dollar to 90 cents.
  • Would require a mandatory withholding tax on certain employees. This draft is still “under development,” but in an earlier interview, Morrell indicated those employees would include the high-dollar actors, directors and the like.
  • Would require a logo for Louisiana appear on the credits of projects that use the film credits
  • Each project would be responsible for paying for an independent audit of the every entertainment tax credit application, including those for digital interactive media, sound recording investors, musical and theatrical productions and research and development
  • Each project would be limited to submitting only one application per production for film tax credits
  • A final sunset date of Dec. 31, 2015, would be created for applicants looking to collect on the motion picture investor tax credits, which sunset in 2009.
  • Additional administrative edits, including changing the credits’ “earned date” from the date an expense was made to the date the credit was certified.

(Courtesy of nola.com)

Boosters: Film, TV industry bring in more than 1 in 7 Louisiana tourists thanks in big part to tax credit program

About one of every seven tourists who visit Louisiana was spurred to come here by seeing the Pelican State on the silver screen or on TV — an overlooked benefit of the state’s film tax credit program, the president of the Louisiana Film Entertainment Association said Monday.

Will French, who is also a tax-credit broker, said that when film’s impact on tourism is considered as a benefit, the widely criticized credits likely pay for themselves.

Most studies have found that the state gets back less than a quarter in tax money for every dollar it invests in the film program, which gives filmmakers tax credits equaling 30 percent of the money they spend in Louisiana.

But French said a study by the LFEA found that about 15 percent of the visitors to Louisiana had their interest sparked by what they saw in a movie or TV show.

“That is a big percentage,” he said. “It is lots of new dollars coming in.”

French made his comments to the Press Club of Baton Rouge at a time when film and other tax credits are under intense scrutiny, especially with the state facing a $1.6 billion shortfall for the financial year that begins July 1.

The state has issued tax credits worth more than $200 million in each of the past few years.

“The problem is it is hard to quantify all the benefits,” French said.

However, he said, a survey of nearly 1,500 tourists by Federated Sample of New Orleans found that 66 percent had their interest in Louisiana and its culture sparked by films and TV shows shot here, and of those, 59 percent said it affected their decision to visit the state.

French said the survey showed that 71 percent of tourists said their awareness of films and TV shows shot in the state was either very important or important in opting to visit.

Exactly how many tourism dollars can be attributed to films is still being calculated, he said.

Some other officials, including Greg Albrecht, chief economist for the Legislative Fiscal Office, have expressed skepticism that the film industry should be given credit for generating much, if any, Louisiana tourism.

The number of tourists who visited the state in 2013, the most recent year for which numbers were available, was about the same as it was when the film program was in its infancy a dozen years ago.

But French argued that the alleged tourism benefits, along with other ripple effects, offer good arguments in favor of keeping the tax credits.

“This is an industry that can be resistant to trends like the price of oil or a national recession,” he said.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, chairman of a legislative committee reviewing the credits, said Monday that he could not respond to any poll findings.

Morrell said his panel is looking for ways to make film credits more transparent and predictable.

“It is hard to pull out and draw inferences from the poll,” he said.

Action on tax credits may be on the agenda for the 2015 Legislature, which begins April 13.

French said that while film tax credits account for just 2 percent of the state’s total corporate tax incentive mix, they attract 90 percent of the interest.

In part, that’s because the program has suffered from corruption.

Just last week, the state was directed to issue $6.5 million in tax credits to a lawyer who recently got out of prison after bribing the official who oversaw the film program.

And WVUE-TV recently reported on yet another film whose producers may have received tax credits far in excess of what they were entitled to.

But French downplayed the problems in the state’s film program, suggesting that the bugs have been worked out after some early hiccups.

“A lot of what you see in the press happened a long time ago,” he said.

(Courtesy of theadvocate.com)

State ordered to pay $6.5 million to lawyer convicted in tax credits scheme

A bribery scandal that rocked Louisiana’s burgeoning film industry in 2007 may cost state taxpayers another $6.5 million.

An independent arbitrator has ordered the state to fork over that amount in disputed film tax credits to Malcolm Petal, a former New Orleans lawyer who was convicted of paying off the state’s film commissioner in exchange for millions of dollars in tax credits based on inflated expense reports.

A Feb. 12 letter from the arbitrator directs the state’s Department of Economic Development, which oversees Louisiana’s film incentive program, to issue the credits to Petal within 10 business days.

Through his firm, LIFT Productions, Petal was a dominant player in Louisiana’s film incentive program after the Legislature set it up in 2002. He handled the tax credit applications for many of the films that used the program in its early years.

But in 2009, he was sentenced to five years in federal prison for bribing Mark Smith, who oversaw the film program for the state and admitted signing off on inflated expense reports submitted by Petal so that Petal would receive extra tax credits. Petal has since gotten out of prison.

Smith also admitted to taking a generally lenient view on approving film expenses at a time when the law governing the program was relatively new and unclear on some crucial points.

Smith had initially approved at least some of the credits in dispute, but the state disallowed them after further review, and Petal was never able to cash them in.

One of Smith’s liberal interpretations — encapsulated in a June 8, 2004, letter to Petal — appears to have played a key role in the arbitrator’s decision to award Petal the disputed credits. That raises the specter that Petal’s bribes, paid around that time, are continuing to pay him dividends today.

“So, if you bribe a public official, which Petal admitted to, you can still collect on the favors the public official gave you,” said Robert Travis Scott, president of the watchdog Public Affairs Research Council, who covered the film scandal as a reporter for The Times-Picayune. “Although the arbitration document unfortunately doesn’t address that question directly, that’s essentially the impact of its conclusion. This is a giant, unexplained, gaping hole in the arbitration document and, unfortunately, another sorry chapter in how this film tax credit program has been abused and has damaged the public trust.”

The central issue in the dispute is which version of the state law governing tax credits should be applied to two films — “Mr. Brooks” and “Pride” — and whether the millions of dollars spent to market and distribute those films should have qualified for Louisiana tax credits.

The law was amended in 2006 to make clear that such expenses do not qualify.

But an earlier version of the law was murky on that point, and Petal cited a June 2004 letter from a Department of Economic Development official that said such expenses would qualify. The arbitrator, Lawrence Saichek, quoted the letter in his ruling but did not identify the official.

However, a June 2007 Times-Picayune story mentioning the same letter — which also authorized the “double-counting” of certain expenditures — says it was signed by Smith and his then-boss, Don Hutchinson, who was secretary of the Department of Economic Development at the time. By then, the newspaper reported, the department had basically disavowed the letter; its executive counsel, Richard House, said Smith wrote it and “controlled the entire process, period.”

In his decision, Saichek wrote that the letter is a “written directive” that amounts to a policy interpretation and that the state should therefore be held to it. He also found that the makers of the two films in question had done enough work in 2005 to be “grandfathered” under the law as written then.

Saichek notes Petal’s checkered past, saying his word should not be taken at face value, but he writes that the state did little to rebut the lawyer’s claims about how the law should have been applied in this case.

“Mr. Petal’s credibility is certainly suspect, but it is hard for this arbitrator to reconcile that no one from the state could testify as to the specific criteria considered in December 2005,” he wrote.

It is unclear from the documents provided by the state to The New Orleans Advocate whether state officials tried to argue that Smith’s 2004 guidance had been influenced by the bribes he took from Petal.

State officials issued a prepared statement late Friday on the ruling.

“Prior to 2006, the state law governing the film production tax credit program did not expressly disallow tax credits for marketing and distribution expenditures,” said the statement, attributed to Chris Stelly, director of the state’s entertainment incentives. The state’s “consistent position has been that incentivizing marketing and distribution expenditures was never an intended purpose of the program. However, under the terms of binding arbitration that apply to LIFT’s projects, the arbitrator has directed issuance of tax credits for marketing and distribution expenditures despite LED’s objection.”

State officials did not answer questions about whether they can or will appeal the arbitrator’s ruling. Neither the state’s lawyer nor Petal’s lawyer returned phone messages left Friday.

Under the program’s original rules, a film could receive tax credits equaling 15 percent of its total cost as long as it was filmed in Louisiana. Current rules allow films to get credits for 25 percent of all costs incurred in Louisiana. The tax credits are transferable and have a cash value, typically between 80 and 85 cents on the dollar.

While the program has helped make Louisiana a filmmaking capital, it also has been a source of constant controversy, both because of corruption and because of questions about whether the generous nature of the subsidy makes the program a net money loser for the state.

The Legislature is expected to take up reforms to the program when it meets in April.

When federal authorities began scrutinizing the program in 2007, “Mr. Brooks” was one of the films at the center of the investigation, although it was never mentioned in any indictment.

The film attracted controversy because Petal sought credits based on expenses of $34.1 million, even though star and co-producer Kevin Costner said it cost less than $20 million to make.

Petal and Smith eventually both admitted that Petal paid $135,000 in bribes to an intermediary, William Bradley, who then passed half that amount to Smith. In exchange, Smith — who was sentenced to two years in prison — said he signed off on inflated expense reports for various films, allowing Petal to collect tax credits he didn’t earn.

Just how much the scheme perpetrated by Petal and Smith cost Louisiana taxpayers was never clear. Then-U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said at the time that Petal received “way more” credits than he deserved, but there was never an effort to account for all the missing dollars.

Petal was ordered to pay $1.35 million in restitution to the state.

Louisiana’s film program has been dogged by other scandals, some involving the sale of phony tax credits and others involving the issuance of unearned tax credits based on inflated expenses or the use of pass-through companies.

(Courtesy of theadvocate.com)

New Film Focuses on the Demise of Louisiana’s Coast

New Film Focuses on the Demise of Louisiana’s Coast

 

Writer and filmmaker Jon Bowermaster announced that his new film After the Spill, which focuses primarily on the grim after-effects of the BP oil spill back in 2010, will be finished in time for the fifth anniversary of the disaster. This feature is a follow-up to Bowermaster’s previous piece, SoLa, Louisiana Water Stories, which looked back at life before the spill.

The film will discuss the current state of Louisiana and highlight some of the dangers that the citizens are still facing. Bowermaster and his crew returned to the scene many times, cameras in tow, in order to capture the full story. Topics such as the economy, state of human and marine life and the overall truth behind the spill itself will be brought to light.

“The combination of the oil and gas industry’s excavations and canal-digging, the ravages of storms, misplaced attempts to corral nature and rising sea levels due to a changing climate is fast-devouring the lower-third of the state,” the filmmaker said.
Man-made messes, along with those created by Mother Nature, have contributed to the devastation of the Louisiana. Despite their unfortunate circumstances, however, the people of Louisiana remain hopeful.

In the film, New Orleans native James Carville suggests that if they can find a way to fight the rising seas, Louisiana may be able to profit from the newfound technology.

After the Spill is expect to be released April 20.

(Courtesy of pastemagazine.com)

Which State Has the Most Fifty Shades Fans? The Answer May Surprise You

Fifty Shades of Grey: The 'Kinkiest' States in the U.S.
Fifty Shades of Grey
REX USA

It’s time to get kinky, y’all!

The blockbuster film Fifty Shades of Grey heated up box offices across the U.S. – and got some extra action in the South and the Heartland!

Which states have the kinkiest moviegoers?

The online ticket platform Fandango analyzed its pre-sales history state-by-state, discovering that Fifty Shades of Grey sold dramatically better than average in Southern and Midwestern states including North Dakota, South Carolina, Iowa, Tennessee and Louisiana.

The Top 5: Alabama, Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas and, the number one hot-seller state, Mississippi, which showed a pre-sale number nearly four times the amount expected!

The racy sex scenes gave fans plenty to get hot and bothered about on Twitter, too.

West Virginia, Arizona and South Dakota were the top states to fuel the social media fire. The three had the largest proportion of Fifty Shades-related Tweets over the opening weekend, a Twitter rep told PEOPLE.

While the movie took the U.S. by storm, it may have been too hot in some places overseas, including Kenya, Indonesia and Malaysia, where the film was banned.

However, many countries – such as Germany, Hong Kong, Russia and Japan – screened the film, and international ticket sales proved strong ($173.6 million, Universal confirmed). In Argentina, the movie ranked as the largest opening day in history.

“I never bought the argument that the sexual theme would keep people away,” Michael De Luca, one of the film’s producers, told The New York Times.

“People are not that prudish anymore,” he said.

(Courtesy of people.com)

Spectrum FX creates visual effects for Hollywood South

Matt Kutcher provides the spectacle on projects from True Detective to American Horror Story

Spectrum FX filmed an explosion on location in Treme for the 2013 action thriller Homefront.

Courtesy Spectrum FX

Spectrum FX filmed an explosion on location in Treme for the 2013 action thriller Homefront.

Matt Kutcher is standing in the parking lot of the Harahan complex of G Street Films, where his special effects company Spectrum FX is located. His office occupies one-third of a trailer covered in posters for the movies for which he’s created visual effects. We’re about to enter one of his warehouses, when its massive sliding door starts to close.

“I think we’re going to blow up a car window right now,” he says.

We go up a ramp and see a crew getting ready to film a new gray Mercedes sedan with its front seat piled with explosive charges. It’s not for a movie scene; it’s just a test to show the director.

“They want to blow out the windshield so it’ll look like a guy with a shotgun is shooting it out,” Kutcher says. “The director wants a specific hole so the camera can go into the car. … Nothing is random anymore. [Directors] want very specific stuff. We have to comply.”

The detonation is loud, and it blows more than a dozen doubloon-sized holes in the center of the windshield. But they’ll need to make a stronger blast to get a single large hole for the camera to shoot through.

The complex is full of specialized equipment. There’s a fleet of police vehicles used in NCIS: New Orleans. One room looks like a gymnastics center, with padding, scaffolds and rigging to create the illusion of flight or people blown back by explosions (Spectrum did Blades of Glory, in which the studio did not allow Will Ferrell and Jon Heder actually to ice skate.). A storage area is stacked with heavy equipment from explosions in battle scenes of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It also holds pods mounted on top of the cars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey used in True Detective. The actors didn’t really drive in the show. A stunt man controlled the car from the rooftop pod while the actors focused on the scene.

After more than 25 years in the special effects business, Kutcher rarely sees a day without an explosion, car crash or technical illusion crafted by his company. But he’s in the middle of another exciting spree of events. On Feb. 4, his team won the Visual Effects Society award for “Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Photoreal/Live Action Feature” for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, much of which was shot in the New Orleans area. The team was up for the International Press Academy’s visual effect Satellite Award Feb. 15, and Apes is nominated for the visual effects Academy Award (to be announced on Feb. 22).

For Apes, Kutcher’s team’s more traditional stunts and effect work was fused with digital effects from New Zealand-based visual effects company Weta.

“People ask me how many monkeys we had on set,” Kutcher says. “We had none. We did have plenty of guys in black suits with tracking balls.”

Because the apes were digitally created, the studio wanted everything else in the scenes to be realistic, Kutcher says.

Some of the scenes of the movie’s human enclave were filmed in downtown New Orleans at the intersection of Tulane Avenue and S. Rampart Street. Scenes featuring a tank battle with gunfire and explosions were filmed there, and then Weta turned human figures into apes.

“The tank transport and the gunfire is real so the environment looks real,” Kutcher says. “The apes are interacting in a real space.”

Whether Apes wins an Oscar or not, Kutcher expects that he’ll be working on another Apes film.

Kutcher moved his company to Louisiana six years ago, partially because of film tax credits and partially because he grew to love the area. He first worked in New Orleans 20 years ago on the set of Interview With a Vampire.

“I wasn’t a big fan [of New Orleans] at the time,” Kutcher says. “I don’t drink. I don’t party. It wasn’t my thing.”

But as he returned to work on more movie sets, from New Orleans to Shreveport, Louisiana grew on the Encino, California native.

“[Moving here] was a huge leap of faith,” he says. ”But it’s paid off. It’s a whole better way of life. The people are kinder. It’s a different pace.”

Kutcher thought he’d spend the rest of his career flying to Los Angeles for meetings, but the opposite became true. Studio executives traveling to New Orleans to inspect sites and hotels for crews often want to see his studios and set up meetings with him, he says.

Kutcher often travels to remote filming sites from Mexico to Morocco, but much can still be done locally. Spectrum created the motion base for the lifeboats used in Captain Phillips. The moving base allows crews on dry land (like a Harahan parking lot) to film a boat that appears to be rocking on ocean waves. But scenes originally meant to be filmed in Louisiana and Alabama were shot in Tangier, using motion-simulating bases fabricated at Spectrum and shipped abroad.

While Spectrum has six full-time employees, including one of Kutcher’s sons, it assembles and manages crews of anywhere from 10 to 80 for film and TV projects (the crews are technically employed by the film studio). Kutcher says that the amount of filming being done in the area has attracted or developed deep talent pools so he can build crews locally, without bringing in people from the West Coast.

Kutcher isn’t going to Los Angeles for the Oscars. Instead, Spectrum is preparing for work on the next season of American Horror Story, its spinoff Scream Queens and upcoming film projects.

(Courtesy of bestofneworleans.com)

New Orleans film fest an Oscar-qualifier

It becomes one of 38 such festivals for documentary shorts, which means the film that takes the festival’s top prize in the category instantly qualifies for the corresponding Academy Award race.

A film can also qualify for the Oscar race through a seven-day run in either Los Angeles or Manhattan; or by winning the gold, silver or bronze Student Academy Award.

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reports festival organizers are also in the process of applying to become a qualifying event in the live-action and animated shorts categories as well. Final word on that, however, isn’t due until December — after this year’s festival.

The designation as an Oscar-qualifying festival further boosts the image of the New Orleans Film Festival, which has seen massive growth in recent years.

Recently dubbed the “top growing film festival” by Forbes, it has set attendance records in each of the past several years.

Its 2014 festival was its most well attended yet, drawing more than 25,000 festivalgoers — including 256 directors and producers — for its slate of 237 films at 12 venues across New Orleans.

Although this will be the first year the festival winner will automatically qualify for the Oscars, the 2014 winner of its top prize for documentary shorts — director J. Christian Jensen’s “White Earth” — earned a nomination this year anyway. On Thursday, the New Orleans Film Society, the organizing group behind the annual festival, will co-sponsor a screening of “White Earth” and this year’s other nominated documentary shorts at the Prytania Theatre. The program starts at 8 p.m.

The New Orleans Film Festival is now accepting submissions for its 2015 edition in the following categories: narrative features, documentary features, narrative shorts, documentary shorts, animated shorts, music videos, experimental shorts, Louisiana features, and Louisiana shorts.

•For details on how to enter, visit the New Orleans Film Society website.

(Courtesy of clarionledger.com)