Nov. 15, 2013 12:00 AM

As the state reviews its film tax credit program, Lafayette's busiest professional screen actor is wooing investors for an exemplary new project worth a look.

Ten years ago, Louisiana's film tax credit program was established to expand our creative economy beyond the traditional tri-fecta of food, music and culture. Has it worked? Yes. Is it worth the $1.5 billion the state has invested? That depends. The foundation is laid, but to maximize the state's ROI, the next step is to invest in Louisiana's emerging new class of content creators. Lafayette's own Marcus Lyle Brown is a great example.

Marcus has had a very good year. His cameo in the movie 12 Years a Slave is a powerful scene and received on-screen credit. He appeared last month in ABC's hit TV series Nashville, Lifetime's Drop Dead Diva (twice), and CW's Star-Crossed. He recently spent a full day filming in New Orleans with Sir Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds for the highly anticipated new movie SelfLess.  

 Photo by Robin May  
A Sort of Homecoming Co-producers Marcus Lyle Brown and his wife, Yvette, right, and Director Maria Burton  

But his real passion is for something he knows will return even greater value to the place he calls home: a film he hopes to produce locally from an award-winning script by his former St. Thomas More speech/debate teammate Lynn Reed, an accomplished political web developer turned independent filmmaker and screenwriter. Titled A Sort of Homecoming, it is a story of love, loss, friendship and growing up in the '80s, set in Lafayette against the backdrop of high school debate competition.

To maximize the tax benefits they can offer investors, Marcus and his co-producer/wife Yvette are working hard to raise $1.8 million so that production can start by Dec. 31. Los Angeles-based director Maria Burton has been in town scouting locations, and the Homecoming story appeals to her in part because it includes a nurturing friendship between two teenage girls - a rarity in feature films and cause célèbre in Hollywood.

Some other key selling points for the project:

High school dramas have a proven audience hungry for new story lines (Glee is the obvious example) and intrinsic potential as a series (i.e. extended return on investment and recurring visibility for Lafayette).

Homecoming explores the unique, untapped world of high school debate with its prospective audience of millions of passionate participants, past and present.

By using social media, the producers are identifying markets for an efficient, limited initial distribution, improving the potential for early returns. ("Even major filmmakers, like Woody Allen with his recent release [Blue Jasmine], are using this tool," notes Marcus.)

There is an insatiable demand for programming content in the U.S. and abroad, hence the "Long Tail" business model for creative projects that yield smaller but sustained returns to succeed.

As up-and-coming filmmakers with some experience, the Browns articulate an informed business strategy for the kind of low-budget commercial genre films proving successful in today's content-hungry world. The film tax credits they need to make it work will likely survive current legislative scrutiny, tweaked to incentivize Louisiana talent. Hopefully, the credits will also attract more Louisiana private investment for projects like Homecoming that represent the next move in the strategic development of a sustainable entertainment industry.

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