On Location: Louisiana's pull on Hollywood strengthens
The stars continue to align for the Bayou State. Showing signs of continued robust growth, Louisiana’s film industry is gearing up for another busy year, with movies starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Morgan Freeman, Harrison Ford and Russell Brand set to begin filming in the state early this year.
Summit Entertainment’s “Now You See Me,” a crime caper starring Morgan Freeman, Jesse Eisenberg, and Woody Harrelson, began filming in New Orleans last month. This month, the city will host another Summit movie called "Ender's Game," based on Orson Scott Card's popular sci-fi novels and starring Harrison Ford, as well as a portion of the Weinstein Co.’s “Django Unchained,” Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western starring Leonardo Dicaprio.
In early March, Diablo Cody -- screenwriter of "Juno" and "Young Adult" -- will begin filming her directorial debut for Mandate Pictures, a yet-to-be-titled comedy starring Julianne Hough as a conservative woman who suffers a crisis of faith and Russell Brand as an unlikely companion who helps her on her path to self-discovery.
"We are starting 2012 on a high note,'' said Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana's Office of Entertainment Industry Development. Films and television shows such as MTV's series "Caged" and Columbia Pictures' "21 Jump Street” have Louisiana on track to break 2010’s record of more than 100 projects filmed in the state, Stelly said.
Production expenditures for 2011 are estimated to reach $1.4 billion, compared with the nearly $900 million figure estimated for 2010, Stelly added. From July 2010 to June 2011, Louisiana paid $180 million in tax credits for movie projects alone, according to Greg Albrecht, chief economist with the Louisiana Legislative Fiscal Office, up from $156 million the prior year.
At a time when film incentive programs around the country are being scrutinized and, in some cases, scaled back, productions continue to flock to Louisiana, which launched its program in 2002 before dozens of other states followed suit. The state offers a tax credit of up to 35% on in-state expenditures and, unlike California's program, has no annual or per-project cap.
That's why Louisiana continues to attract large-budget productions such as Paramount’s “G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation,” which was filmed in New Orleans last summer. Its 2009 predecessor, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” was filmed in both California and the Czech Republic.
Louisiana made its tax credit permanent in 2009 -- a move that allowed production in the state to prosper, along with investments in sound stages, post-production facilities and a strong crew base, Stelly said.
Mike McHugh, business agent for Local 478 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents crew members in Louisiana, said membership in the trade union has grown from 850 in 2010 to approximately 1,000 in 2011 to accommodate the influx of productions.
“You ask any rank and file member and he worked more days [in 2011] than in previous years,” McHugh said.
-- Dima Alzayat
Photo: "Battle:Los Angeles," which filmed in Louisiana. Credit: Richard Cartwright / Sony Pictures