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Bobby Jindal adviser suggests reining in ‘very expensive’ film tax credit program

Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret suggested there’s a need for changes in the way the state doles out incentives to lure the movie-making industry here.

Moret stopped short of calling for an outright cap or offering any specific suggestions for reining in film tax credits during a budget hearing Thursday, but the topic dominated most of the discussion on LED’s budget.

“It generates a lot of results, but it’s very expensive,” Moret told lawmakers, fielding several questions from them about the increasing size of the program and its costs to the state. “I definitely think it would be constructive to make changes.”

Such changes aren’t a part of the budget recommendation Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has proposed for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Moret, who is leaving his position as Jindal’s key economic development adviser in May to lead the LSU Foundation, cautioned that altering the film tax credit would not be a panacea for the $1.6 billion shortfall Louisiana faces in the coming year.

“You need to look at the whole picture,” he said, but he didn’t shy away from discussing its pitfalls.

Louisiana’s lucrative film tax credit program generates about 20 cents in state tax revenue for every $1 the state hands out in incentives.

“It definitely represents a net loss in revenue,” Moret said, noting that most other incentives generate more than the state pays out.

The Jindal administration has been critical of the film tax credit program in the past, and the governor showed he’s at least open to changes in tax credits in the coming year. His spending plan proposes scaling back other tax credit programs by $526 million.

But the executive budget recommendation doesn’t touch film tax credits.

Meghan Parrish, spokeswoman for the Division of Administration, said the administration isn’t opposed to changes in the film incentive, which lawmakers have been increasingly eyeing.

“We are open to working with legislators on tax credits — any of them — if there’s an appetite for that,” Parrish said. “Our budget is just a starting point.”

The tax credits paid out about $240 million last year and about $150 million the year before that, Moret said. Jindal’s budget recommendation includes about a $211 million gap in funding for higher education, which relies on the inventory tax credit scale back. If that proposal falls through, then the hit to higher education would swell past half a million dollars.

“I am not suggesting you eliminate the (film tax credit) program, but I do think we are in a situation today, with the size of this program relative to the challenges you are facing with the state budget, that it is now in direct competition with some other state priorities,” Moret said.

Jindal has been firm in his position that any tax increase would have to be “revenue neutral.” It’s unclear how changes to the film tax incentives would need to be offset to meet his requirement.

The state has no cap on film tax credits. Several lawmakers are proposing legislation that would cap costs and eliminate certain subsidies.

“We hear constantly from people in the building that the film credit doesn’t have a return,” said state Rep. John Schroeder, R-Covington.

Moret said the program has had positive effects on Louisiana.

“In terms of building and sustaining an industry, it’s been a huge success — there’s no question,” Moret said. “It’s brought a lot of attention to our state.”

But legislators, faced with the threat of deep cuts, said they are now weighing how much that notoriety is worth.

“I know it’s good to say we are filming more movies here than anywhere else,” said state Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge. “But that’s not as important to me.”

Moret said both the industry and the state need predictability.

“That’s the most important thing,” he said.

He also suggested two ways that the state could curb fraud and abuse: regulate accountants who audit the film industry and eliminate related-party payments.

“There’s no question that we have faced significant challenges in attempted fraud and abuse and sometimes successful fraud and abuse,” Moret said.

(Courtesy of advocate.com)

Louisiana short film competition to host social in BR with free libations

The “coolest film festival on the planet” returns Oct. 2-4, and south Louisiana filmmakers are encouraged to participate in the fun.

Join NOVAC Baton Rouge — an independent film resource — and the Louisiana Film Prize team Thursday to learn more about entering in this year’s competition at The Break Room at IPO, 421 Third St. in downtown Baton Rouge.

The social is 6-8 p.m.

This year is going to be bigger and better than ever before, organizers said.

“Last year proved that the Film Prize is of national importance, and we cannot wait to bring our competition back and invite filmmakers from all over the country to northwest Louisiana and see what we’re all about,” executive director Gregory Kallenberg said.

 

The short film competition has one rule: shoot a live-action, narrative film in northwest Louisiana. Over the past three years, it’s attracted independent filmmakers from across the country, including many from south Louisiana.

New Orleans filmmaker Chris Ganucheau and his crew won last year’s $50,000 cash prize — one of the largest for a short film — for “True Heroes.”

Acadiana residents may recall it from the November Southern Screen Festival in Lafayette.

Ganucheau said he’d been eager to show what he could do in “True Heroes” after entering the 2013 festival only a couple days before the submission deadline. His 2013 film “El Gato” won a $3,000 Founder’s Circle grant he put toward entering in the 2014 contest.

If learning how to win $50,000 isn’t incentive enough to drop by Thursday’s social, know there’s also free libations and Film Prize swag.

(Courtesy of theadvertiser.com)

The United States of Film: Louisiana

The United States of Film: Louisiana

 

There’s the South, and then there’s Louisiana. Many would argue the state is its own country, if not universe, especially when you approach the New Orleans city limits. Marked by an exceptional cultural gumbo of French, Spanish, Native American and African populations—not to mention strong Italian, German, Irish and Vietnamese communities, and dialects including Cajun, Creole and Yat—the state’s renown as a melting pot only begins with its sometimes balmy, sometimes blistering subtropical conditions. In Louisiana, where counties are referred to as parishes and to go shopping is “to make groceries,” everything’s just a bit different. No more apparent is that than in the Big Easy, a destination known as much for being a port city as a party city. But there’s much more to the state than the Mardi Gras mecca of New Orleans, as witnessed in the best onscreen representations of one of the most richly storied and influential parts of the U.S.

Many Louisiana-set films trade on the slow-drawl, slower-smarts stereotypes of the Deep South (The Waterboy, ahem, Fletch Lives). Others take a cue from the area’s humid, corrupt and tawdry charms (No Mercy, Wild at Heart, Heaven’s Prisoners and its sequel, In the Electric Mist) or street-smart M.O. (Hard Times, The Cincinnati Kid). The melodramas (Passion Fish, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, Lady from Louisiana) are as plentiful as the magnolias (Steel Magnolias, of course). So, too, for a state where headlines precede it, are the movies centering around prison and poverty: The Green Mile, Dead Man Walking and Monster’s Ball, among them. And then there’s the scandalous politics: Consider the original All The King’s Men, inspired by the life of controversial Louisiana governor and state senator Huey P. Long, and Blaze, the Paul Newman-starring fictionalization of Huey’s brother, Louisiana’s 45th governor, Earl Long, also the uncle of U.S. Senator Russell Long.

Also omitted here are Spike Lee’s outstanding post-Katrina documentaries for HBO, When the Levees Broke and If God is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise, and, believe it or not, a pair of Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles (Universal Soldier, Hard Target). Still, from campy thrillers (Hatchet, The Alligator People, Cat People, Candyman, Swamp Thing) to buddy movies (Delta Heat) to exploitation fare of varying degree (Live and Let Die, Pretty Baby, Drum), certain common threads emerge: a deeply atmospheric sense of climate—physical, psychological, moral, oft times supernatural; communities where everybody knows everybody else’s business; lusty appetites for… everything; and, of course, accents of dubious authenticity.

Read on for 15 quintessential Louisiana films, where even though it’s not always possible to “laissez les bons temps rouler,” these times, after all is said and done, couldn’t be set anywhere else. As they say in dem parts, yeah you right.


15. Little Chenier
Year: 2006
Director: Bethany Ashton

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Billed “A Cajun Story” (right down to its sometimes subtitled dialogue), this barely post-Katrina-made film is as noteworthy for its production as for its hyperlocal narrative. Just three weeks after the hurricane devastated the Louisiana coastline and inland areas, another name storm, then Category 3-strength Rita, hit the city of Lake Charles and other parishes involved in the film shoot, which had just wrapped. The area was completely destroyed, what left writer-director Bethany Ashton’s film as a monument of sorts to the region and its way of life.

The plot itself casts Jonathon Schaech (That Thing You Do) as Beauxregard Dupuis, a bait fisherman who lives in the titular swamp country on a houseboat alongside his mentally-disabled younger brother. Beaux pines for his ex, who’s now married to the unscrupulous town sheriff, who in turn has it out for the siblings. Cue the soapy deceptions, and the Of Mice and Men clichés. The expected notwithstanding, Louisiana native Ashton has an affecting way with the rote daily business of the bayou and a Southern Gothic approach that works more often than not.


14. The Skeleton Key
Year: 2005
Director: Iain Softley

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A fine cast elevates B-movie hokum in this effective thriller. Kate Hudson stars as New Jersey-to-New Orleans transplant Caroline, a hospice nurse who signs on at a coastal plantation manor. Though initially skeptical of all this local talk of superstitions, she grows to believe—the operative word here—her new patient, stroke victim Benjamin Devereaux (John Hurt), is in danger from the century-old spirits of two former servants. As Hudson’s character learns more about the house’s matriarch, Violet (Gena Rowlands), and the practice of Hoodoo folk magic still in play throughout the haunted mansion, the movie conjures up creaky scares and guilty pleasures, alongside a NOLA-centric soundtrack (Rebirth Brass Band, The Dixie Cups). Here the south is drenched, quite literally, in spooky meteorological clichés: lots of foreboding thunder and rain, wind-rattled doors and windows. Filmed at the historic Felicity Plantation on the Mississippi River—also a location for 12 Years a SlaveThe Skeleton Key is an old-fashioned ghost story that makes the most of its antebellum backdrop, and Louisiana’s rep as a hotbed for the paranormal.


13. The Man in the Moon
Year: 1991
Director: Robert Mulligan

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Shot in Natchitoches, the same town south of Shreveport as Steel Magnolias a couple years earlier, this languorous coming-of-age drama features the debut screen performance of Reese Witherspoon. The New Orleans native shows presence beyond her years as Dani Trant, a 14-year-old tomboy who whiles away summer days on the family farm in Elvis-crazed 1957. She idolizes her beautiful older sis, Maureen, with whom she is close, disobeys her overprotective but loving parents (Sam Waterston and Tess Harper), and steals away for dips in the neighbor’s pond. But the arrival of handsome Court, the 17-year-old son of the widow next door, complicates things. Director Robert Mulligan’s last film—his career included an adaptation of another Southern tale, To Kill a Mockingbird—unfolds like an afternoon breeze, reveling in the textures of the season, and the rural South: screen porches and front swings, swimmin’ holes and fishin’ trips, crickets and songbirds, thunderstorms and first kisses that jolt like lightning. The Man in the Moon is an organic, unforced portrait of adolescence, as vivid as Dani’s daydreams.

12. Louisiana Story
Year: 1948
Director: Robert J. Flaherty

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This naive piece of propaganda, which the Library of Congress in 1994 tapped for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry, was often mistakenly referred to as a documentary. But the last feature by writer-director Robert J. Flaherty—he of the likewise fictionalized tale of man vs. nature, Nanook of the North—was funded by the Standard Oil Company and has the onscreen spin to prove it. Produced on location in the marshlands with a local cast of amateurs, the film follows the simple life of a Cajun boy (played by Joseph Boudreaux) and his pet raccoon. Drama arrives when oil men seek to drill on his family’s property—that, and the appearance of a giant alligator (really). It’s as quaintly idyllic as it sounds, and the petrol people, despite a rig incident gone awry, come off as upstanding folk whose concern for the environment is matched by their desire to help the community. So yeah, totally believable. Issues of plausibility aside, Flaherty’s direction is characteristically lyrical, as is Virgil Thomson’s score; based on field tapes of indigenous Acadian musicians, it won a Pulitzer. A visually poetic document of another time, and a prophetic glimpse of man-made disasters to come, this Story reflects reality more than you’d think.


11. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Year: 2008
Director: David Fincher

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Though far from David Fincher’s best work, his typically painstaking attention to detail and shrewd decision to transplant the original F. Scott Fitzgerald short story from Baltimore to New Orleans nab this film—the second shot in the Crescent City after Hurricane Katrina (after the 2006 Denzel Washington vehicle Déjà Vu)—a spot on the list. Fincher was motivated to move the production thanks to Louisiana’s generous tax incentives for filmmakers—the state isn’t called “Hollywood South” for just its versatile locations. But by setting Brad Pitt’s aging-in-reverse timeline from November 1918 through the sirens blaring of the storm’s August 2005 landfall, he and screenwriter Eric Roth (in full Forrest Gump mode again) mine a fantastical metaphor of a city that’s as old as it is ageless. “The circumstances of my birth were… unusual,” Pitt’s Benjamin Button begins—the same fate could be said of New Orleans, and everything of both since. (Pitt has become something of an ambassador for the still-recovering town through his philanthropic foundation’s efforts to help rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward.) The sprawling odyssey—Pitt called it a “love letter”—elegizes a city then barely three years removed from near destruction, its often sepia-cast vignettes showcasing the Garden District, Mid-City, the French Quarter and beyond.


10. Eve’s Bayou
Year: 1997
Director: Kasi Lemmons

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In an audacious feature debut, writer-director Kasi Lemmons (who also acted in Silence of the Lambs and NOLA-set Hard Target) delivers this under-seen gem of mood and genre that hinges on the reality of memory. The classic Southern Gothic concerns an affluent African-American family in a bayou enclave, named for a Creole slave woman, circa 1960. It’s summertime (natch). Samuel L. Jackson leads a terrific ensemble; the cast includes Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, Diahann Carroll, Vondie Curtis-Hall, and even saxophonist and Breaux Bridge, La. native Branford Marsalis. Jackson is a successful doctor whose bed-hopping comes to the unwitting attention of his middle child, 10-year-old Eve (young master of the side-eye Jurnee Smollett), and sets off a crisis in the process. The names ring true of the region: Batiste, Delacroix, Mereaux. So too does the atmosphere, with its hexes and voodoo, above-ground tombs, and Spanish moss that hangs in the trees as thick as the secrets below. New Orleans-born composer Terence Blanchard contributes a nuanced score that complements Lemmons’ deft way with the comic and the macabre. Filmed largely just across Lake Pontchartrain in Covington, Eve’s Bayou subverts racial, regional and class stereotypes in matter-of-fact fashion, turning the evils of the plantation house of yore on their head.


9. The Big Easy
Year: 1986
Director: Jim McBride

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Originally to be set in Chicago, this tongue-in-cheek crime drama transfers easily and convincingly to New Orleans. Dennis Quaid does Dennis Quaid as a cocksure N.O.P.D. lieutenant who romances the new district attorney (Ellen Barkin), despite mounting evidence of his unlawful behavior, police department payoffs and mob violence. The Big Easy may be a mystery, but it’s hardly a serious affair, which is why it gets away with so much. The characters are saucy—sample line: “If I can’t have you, can I have my gator?”—and as shady as the city’s labyrinthine courtyards and alleyways. Directed by Jim McBride and costarring Ned Beatty (check that crawdad “burl” attire), R&B great Solomon Burke and longtime Big Easy resident John Goodman, this flavorful noir gains cred for the appearance of local institutions including music venue Tipitina’s and French Quarter restaurant Antoine’s, plus soundtrack appearances by zydeco band BeauSoleil, legendary bluesman Professor Longhair and Aaron Neville. Funkier still, the judge in Quaid’s character’s case is played by Jim Garrison, the real-life lawyer and judge who, as New Orleans’ one-time district attorney, brought charges in the JFK assassination—you may recall Kevin Costner played Garrison in another film set in town. As one Big Easy resident deadpans, “New Orleans is a marvelous environment for coincidence.”


8. King Creole
Year: 1958
Director: Michael Curtiz

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There’s no leaving what is arguably Elvis Presley’s finest dramatic performance (and reportedly his personal favorite) off the list, even if much of the movie was recorded on a Hollywood soundstage. The first moments of the Michael Curtiz film, shot on a French Quarter balcony that remains a tourist attraction to this day, are nothing short of iconic, The King crooning that ode to the Louisiana seafood industry, “Crawfish.” Costarring Walter Matthau and Carolyn Jones (The Addams Family), King Creole casts Presley as a high school dropout-turned-singer in a Bourbon Street club who gets mixed up with local delinquents and pretty girls. “I’m not a hoodlum, but I am a hustler; I had to be for a very simple reason,” Presley’s character, Danny Fisher, explains early on. With a soundtrack infused with Dixieland and trad jazz, it’s an indisputable entry in the Louisiana movie canon—and one that almost didn’t happen: Not only was King Creole initially set to star James Dean as a boxer in New York, Presley, once recast in the Crescent City upon Dean’s death, had to request a 60-day extension from the Army draft board to make the picture.


7. Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
Year: 1994
Director: Neil Jordan

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Anne Rice’s 1976 gothic novel about bloodsuckers in Spanish Louisiana got the epic big-screen treatment almost two decades after its debut, and 200 years after its narrator Louis’ induction into the immortal realm. New Orleans—home to many “cities of the dead” or above-ground cemeteries, due in part to the plagues that ravaged late 18th century slums—is also the perfect setting for a grief-stricken, navel-gazing young plantation owner like Louis (played by Brad Pitt) to lose himself. Preening and stalking his way through the streets, Louis’ maker and lead vamp Lestat (Tom Cruise) embodies the almost otherworldly decadence and European sophistication of the city (the character still enjoys a zealous local fan club that hosts an annual ball). Director Neil Jordan, working with cinematographer Phillipe Rousselot and production designer Dante Ferretti, captures the nocturnal reality in hedonistic hues and the light of lanterns strewn throughout the French Quarter. From boudoirs to saloons to the banks of the Mississippi, it’s a universe that, as noted before, stands frozen in time. New Orleans is often described as the city that will never tell you “no”—that seductive and more-than-a-little-sad truism has, um, real teeth in the undead souls of Interview.

6. Down by Law
Year: 1986
Director: Jim Jarmusch

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It sounds like a joke: A DJ, a pimp and a tourist walk out of a prison. (Then again, that scenario’s just another morning in NOLA.) Of course, the jailbreak in Jim Jarmusch’s indie classic isn’t quite that simple, even if there’s little more to the plot. Rocker/actor Tom Waits plays the disc jockey, fellow musician and Jarmusch collaborator John Lurie is the hustler, and motormouth Italian Roberto Benigni is the foreigner. The trio—each member falsely imprisoned—make a reluctant, often farcical team as they escape and later retreat into the wetlands surrounding New Orleans. But like any Jarmusch film, Down By Law is less about story and more about atmosphere. Thanks to tremendous performances and Robby Müller’s camerawork, the film has that in spades—all the better to showcase the character of the region itself. Müller’s magnificently long, strolling shots feel no less colorful in crisp black and white; a leisurely intro pans past mausoleums and swamp shacks, shotgun houses and Victorian balconies before Waits and co. inhabit the space with casual nods to local radio station WWOZ, bluesman Earl King and soul queen Irma Thomas. Outside parish limits, their bayou adventures pulse with the sounds of wildlife and stark backwater imagery. Jarmusch’s oddball comic noir echoes the state of misfits in which it’s set.


5. Southern Comfort
Year: 1981
Director: Walter Hill

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An underrated entry in action veteran Walter Hill’s (The Warriors, The Driver, 48 Hrs.) filmography, this Deliverance meets Apocalypse Now survival thriller posits a National Guard unit on a weekend training exercise in the swamp that runs afoul of French-speaking locals. The entitled servicemen “borrow,” bully and taunt, and surprise, they lose whatever upper hand they thought they had—especially without the aid of live ammo. Once again, Louisiana’s evocative locales are the stuff of not-so-subtle allegory, this time around of the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam (the film is set in the early ‘70s, though Hill, whose prior Louisiana credits included the New Orleans-set Hard Times, shrugged off the metaphor). But look past the symbolism—and the stock bros and rednecks on both sides of the conflict—and you’ll notice stunning location work and cinematography that captures the beauty, mystery and, yes, terror of the bayou. Hill takes us deep into its murky waters, completely disorienting the troops (Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine and Fred Ward) and viewers alike from the outset. Ry Cooder’s twangy slide guitar-driven score and arrangements of traditional Cajun Indian music keep the suspense at a slow but ominous burn. Were it not for the grisly violence—and that ending—Southern Comfort is almost a tourism postcard. Almost. (Joel Schumacher’s 2000 film Tigerland mines similar terrain.)


4. Angel Heart
Year: 1987
Director: Alan Parker

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Voodoo again plays a prominent role in this Alan Parker film, part noir, part hard-boiled detective mystery, part horror movie. As gumshoe Harry Angel in 1950s Harlem, Mickey Rourke is at his best, hired by a devilish-looking man (Robert DeNiro) to track down a big band singer, only to be lured into the occult subcultures of Louisiana. As Angel’s investigation takes him south from New York City to the New Orleans neighborhood of Algiers—interestingly, a move suggested to Parker by the story’s author, novelist William Hjortsberg—the color-drained, highly stylized production reflects his descent into hell. Parker wrings the humidity and torrid filth from each frame, from the streetcars, second-line parades and clubs of Uptown and Carrollton to the rural plantations of Thibodaux. You can practically smell the pervasive overripeness and touch Angel’s sweat-crinkled suits. The feverish mood boils to the surface, giving up bodies and body parts of assorted creatures. Lisa Bonet (The Cosby Show), as chicken-loving priestess Epiphany Proudfoot (yup), exudes a delta sensuality that got her in trouble with her then-TV dad, and the film with the ratings board, which required trims of her and Rourke’s blood-bathed sex scene. Headlines aside, Angel Heart is a wanton spectacle whose extremes suit the region.


3. 12 Years a Slave
Year: 2013
Director: Steve McQueen

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Brad Pitt makes his third appearance on the list—it’s no wonder “Brad Pitt for Mayor” t-shirts populate the streets of New Orleans—here as producer and actor (albeit, in a small but pivotal role). But this is Solomon Northrup’s (true) story. Chiwetel Ejiofor is quietly galvanizing as Northrup, a free black man in Upstate New York circa 1841 who is drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery. The next dozen years may as well be a million in English filmmaker Steve McQueen’s controlled, unflinching production, as Northrup adapts to survive from plantation to plantation, master to master. McQueen and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt employ a fluid, formal aesthetic that contrasts the hypocrisy of Northrup’s owners, such seething inhumanity cloaked beneath their genteel, Bible-quoting propriety. It sickens on a visceral level. Lingering on the daily routines of slave life in the Deep South, 12 Years spares no sight. The film immerses viewers so thoroughly in the ugliness of history that the plain grace of its environs—as when Lupita N’yongo’s Patsey crafts corn-husk dolls in the cotton fields—is almost lost. A wide shot of moss canopies and children playing, scored by singing birds and chirping crickets, would be bucolic were it not for the man slowly being lynched from one of its giant oak trees. Shot on several properties throughout Louisiana near the real Northrup’s enslavement, 12 Years is a reminder of unchecked depravity whose vestiges resonate in more ways than one.


2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Year: 2012
Director: Benh Zeitlin

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Fantasy meets reality in this apocalyptic coming-of-age fable whose art-imitating-life—or is that vice versa?—production put it in immediate contact with the BP Deepwater Horizon; the oil rig exploded the first day of filming just offshore of New Orleans, in Terrebonne Parish. Newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis—one of many cast members culled from bayou country—is extraordinary as 6-year-old Hushpuppy, a force of nature in the fictional, self-sustained fishing isle of “The Bathtub,” so named because of its below sea-level, levee-created geography. Her hard-drinking father Wink’s health is in rapid decline as a hurricane nears the community—along with prehistoric creatures newly unfrozen from Arctic waters. As Hushpuppy and her dad (played by fellow non-actor Dwight Henry, who like Wallis would later appear in 12 Years a Slave) face peril both internal and external, Beasts becomes surreal post-Katrina folklore, and unforgettably gorgeous lore at that. Director Benh Zeitlin, who co-wrote the screenplay with playwright Lucy Alibar, offers a mythic observation on climate change and the disappearing coastal wetlands, a fast eroding natural barrier against storm surges that, along with levees in various states of disrepair and outright neglect, pose an ongoing threat to the state. But it’s hardly sociopolitical soap-boxing. Told through Hushpuppy’s POV of fright and awe, the film is a powerful testament to the abiding resilience of the region and its residents—joyous to live, defiant to return, proud to remain, home.


1. A Streetcar Named Desire
Year: 1951
Director: Elia Kazan

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As if there were any doubt, let’s look, for starters, to the perennial “Stella!” and “Stanley!” shouting contest in New Orleans’ Jackson Square, part of the annual Tennessee Williams Festival. Elia Kazan’s masterful screen adaptation of the 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning classic nails the essence of the singular charisma of the Crescent City, and Louisiana at large—aggressively raw, effortlessly refined, old-world and urgent, exotic and altogether American. Despite how, like King Creole, the film was largely shot on a Hollywood soundstage, Streetcar is so intrinsically tied to its milieu that its veracity has made it an enduring cultural landmark. Amid the Southern Gothic drama of delusional aging belle Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh), her burly lout of a brother-in-law (Marlon Brando), and put-upon sister Stella (Kim Hunter), the French Quarter throbs with Williams’ censors-baiting prose and Alex North’s steamy jazz score. Even the opening line namechecks several NOLA landmarks: “They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields.” Adapted for the screen by Williams himself, Streetcar was tamed considerably by the uptight folk behind the Hays Code, yet its primal heat is not sacrificed. The characters exist in a sultry summer haze of fan-cast shadows and ramshackle surroundings, stripped down to their base passions (and, frequently, various undergarments). The cumulative effect is as Method as leading man Brando himself, intense and spellbinding. “I don’t want realism, I want magic,” Blanche says late in the film. Streetcar, like its setting, is both.

(Courtesy of pastemagazine.com)

Zombie movie to film inside state Capitol this week

The independent action-horror flick “Navy SEALS vs. Zombies” will be filming inside the Louisiana Capitol this week.

According to an email to Capitol staff, the shooting will take place Thursday and Friday from the committee level (or ground) floor through the fourth floor — home to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office.

“Expect to see actors carrying weapons and gory props,” the email cautions. “We have been assured that no firearms will be discharged.”

The zombie movie also filmed in and around the Capitol last weekend. Production crews have been set up at the old insurance building parking garage for several days.

Details have been sparse about the movie, so far, but based on a tweet from director Stanton Barrett, track athlete Lolo Jones and actor and former NBA player Rick Fox will at least make appearances.

No legislative hearings are scheduled at the Capitol the rest of this week.

(Courtesy of blogs.theadvocate.com)

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

young-and-restless-filming-city-park.jpg
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)