Film Industry Jobs are Turning Louisiana into "Hollywood South"


Bobby Long, Benjamin Button, George "W." Bush: Louisiana-based film production is contributing millions of dollars to the post-Katrina economy.



One of the tragic ironies of Hurricane Katrina was that it created indelible images of destruction in a state that had long been celebrated for its picturesqueness. Though it may have seemed trifling compared to the loss of life and the many poignant, harrowing, and often infuriating moments captured by the television news and subsequent films like Spike Lee's documentary When the Levees Broke, there was a genuine sense of sadness that much of the rich and decadent beauty that had been depicted in Louisiana-set films ranging from Hard Times to A Love Song for Bobby Long would be gone forever.


Yet amongst the many challenges of post-Katrina rebuilding, one of the economic and cultural bright spots has been the growth of entertainment industry jobs in Louisiana, particularly in film and television. According to figures from the Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry Development (LOEID), the state's film industry has grown at an annual rate of 23% since tax incentives were enacted in 2002. And since a 2005 law was passed that offered tax credits to production work that occurs only in Louisiana, the number of films produced in LA has risen from 26 in all of 2006 to 50 during the first half of 2008. Louisiana now ranks third in film industry spending behind California and New York and eighth in number of film jobs. Employment is expected to grow across all entertainment sectors, including music and digital media, thanks in part to a $2 million job training program announced by LOEID last December that will focus on "building skilled Louisiana labor for entertainment careers."


In 2007, Louisiana was home to over $500 million worth of film and television projects. The statewide economic impact of this spending was roughly $1.5 billion, creating Louisiana jobs in everything from catering to carpentry. Through the first six months of 2008, about $300 million worth of film and television productions had filed with LOEID for tax credit certification.


One of the most notable sources of film jobs in New Orleans this year was the Paramount feature The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Its reported budget of $150 million makes it the largest movie filmed in Louisiana to date. The film's A-level cast and crew and release date of 12/19/08 could bring it Oscar attention. It stars Brad Pitt as a man who ages backwards, and was written by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Munich) and directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac). The cast also includes Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton.


But the film industry has also spread entertainment jobs beyond New Orleans. In addition to the Robert E. Nims Center for Entertainment Arts and Multi-Media Technology in New Orleans, film and TV production jobs in Louisiana have been created by StageWorks of Louisiana in Shreveport, Louisiana Soundstage in LaPlace, and the Celtic Media Center in Baton Rouge. With current development proposals, a total of 32 sound stages and indoor filming studios could be in operation by 2011.?Shreveport has recently become one of the most popular spots in the state for movie production, including the Oliver Stone film W., which is scheduled to be released in late October. Besides StageWorks, other major sources of Shreveport, Louisiana jobs in film production are Mansfield Studios, Stage West, and the 750,000-gallon Louisiana Wave Studio. As of June, film and television production in the Shreveport area had already surpassed the 2007 total of $181.5 million.


--Joshua Avram

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