Louisiana’s Big Picture

by Sherri McConnell

The state’s film tax credit program needs to evolve, and Lafayette is a gig city perfectly poised to become a hub of 21st century entertainment content creation.

Louisiana has lost sight of the Big Picture when it comes to developing the state’s film industry.

The Motion Picture Incentive Act states that its “primary purpose is to encourage development in Louisiana of a strong capital and infrastructure base for motion picture production in order to achieve an independent, self–supporting industry.” Yet 12 years and $1.5 billion in tax credits later, there is little evidence of that. Indeed, the suggestion that even the slightest change in the law will send Hollywood packing and film production across the state will dry up only supports that assertion. But Louisiana takes great pride in being called Hollywood South. And that’s the problem. We seem satisfied with just being a support industry for California-based companies. We shouldn’t be. We are better than that.

Louisiana, unlike all of the other film credit states, has a unique culture and creative vibe that sets it apart from anywhere else in the country, perhaps the world. I would argue that in the end, creativity is our competitive advantage in developing an entertainment business and not the generous tax credits that we throw at Hollywood and that any other state can offer at a greater rate. Sure, we started this tax credit thing, but we can adjust it and make it better — even sustainable. “Hollywood” has been done before. It is time for Louisiana to create its own brand, one built on a new model of homegrown talent and new technology.

The entertainment industry has dramatically changed in the last decade. The state’s film tax credit program has not. Our incentive program needs to evolve just as the industry has. Louisiana created the motion picture tax credit program based on the old 20th century Hollywood model. Digital distribution has turned that upside down.

Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu, smart phones and tablets are examples of a growing list of new platforms and devices that are fundamentally changing how and where entertainment is consumed. Digital technology has created a new system of development and export. The new 21st century model is an incubator for ideas and entrepreneurialism and an opportunity for talented Louisianans all over the state to become players in the entertainment business.

Now is the time for the Legislature to change the film credit law to enhance investment in and production of Louisiana intellectual property. Smart public policy that provides opportunities for investment in homegrown filmmakers and digital story tellers will not only help them develop content for a global market particularly in a new media environment, but it will also provide a better return on the state’s investment.

Filmmakers from around the state would have a unique opportunity to build local tax paying businesses based on their own brand of content, no longer dependent on Hollywood production. The barriers to access that the Hollywood system has constructed are eliminated by new technology and direct access to a global market — a market hungry for content. It is a new day for independent filmmakers and a new opportunity for Louisiana. No place in the state better illustrates that than Lafayette.

Recently dubbed the “gig city” with its fiber optics, strong brand and cluster of creative entrepreneurs, Lafayette is perfectly poised to become a hub of 21st century entertainment content creation. If just given the chance and a little help from the Legislature, Lafayette and other centers of creativity around the state could set the new model for innovation in digital entertainment production. Even larger cities like New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which benefit the most from the Hollywood subsidy and see a disproportionate share of outside production, should welcome the opportunity to nurture homegrown filmmaking.

Louisiana’s greatest renewable natural resource is its creative talent. We have taken it for granted for too long. We should nurture, grow, add value and export homegrown creative products, just as we do sugar cane and cotton.

Technology can facilitate it. Public policy should support it.

Sherri McConnell is principal of McConnell and Associates Consulting, a New Orleans- and Baton Rouge-based firm focused on creative business development. Her clients range from private businesses to regional and government economic development organizations. She previously was executive director of the Office of Entertainment Industry Development, the state office dedicated to the development of the region’s entertainment industry.