When you see the dramatic oil rig scenes in the upcoming movie about the BP oil spill, Deepwater Horizon starring Mark Wahlberg (Sept. 30, 2016), just remember, those huge sets that explode were made by some of the 1,350 union craftsmen in Louisiana.
The “look” of hundreds of Louisiana-shot film and television productions has been at the skilled hands of local union members who are promoted by their key business agent, Cory Parker. A former set dresser who still works on big-budget movies, he moved to New Orleans from Austin, Texas in 2004 after getting call-backs to work on films.
“We’re the guys who get it done on the sets,” he says. “We have one of the strongest crew bases in the country. When you’re trying to bring your production somewhere, you want the best of the best working on your film.”
Louisiana’s crew base has grown by more than 400 percent since the initial tax incentives were put into place in 2002. “When the infrastructure became really strong in 2009, the crew base started to grow. Small percentage of locals were working on films. Today, for the [$150 million] Deepwater Horizon movie, over 80 percent of the crew was local.”
The business agent for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 478 (I.A.T.S.E., the New Orleans chapter of the labor union representing skilled film and television, theatre and broadcasting workers throughout Louisiana, Southern Mississippi and Mobile, Alabama), Parker is a man of many hats. As a union agent, he negotiates everything from contracts and safe working conditions to overtime and breaks. He also deals with enticing producers to make films in Louisiana by showing them the infrastructure and locations, and lobbies the politicians about legislation.
These days, Parker is focused on keeping the film industry alive and well in Louisiana. The downward spiral since July 2015, when former Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the $180 million tax credit cap into law, has extended well beyond the film industry. It has also effected supplier businesses and their employees throughout the state. Besides the 13,000 jobs created by the film industry (most at the $60,000 level), everyone from real estate agents to restaurateurs, hoteliers, grocers and car rental companies have been taking a hit. “We spend an insane amount of money on gas,” Parker adds.
The good news is that Louisiana’s film industry didn’t make the chopping block again during the recent special session in Baton Rouge. What’s more, the Buyback Program has been reinstated as of July 1, 2016. It was on a mandatory hiatus for one year.
“We’re the only ones in the country that have this program,” Parker explains. “One of the biggest problems our film industry had to overcome was the suspension of the Buyback for 12 months. The $0.85 state Buyback created a financial backstop, that banks could lend money on and a value for the tax credit market for brokers,” he states.
“The 12-month freeze of the Buyback created uncertainty with brokers and no value for tax credits in the marketplace. Now that the freeze has been lifted as of July 1, the market for new film tax credits will have a starting value of 85 cents. This will bring value to tax credits, credibility to banks and certainty to filmmakers doing business in Louisiana.”
A new PSA, featuring Louisiana professionals voicing their opinions about the economic and cultural importance of the industry, can be viewed at Keep Film in Louisiana -YouTube.
Shown in the photograph are motion picture studio technicians of I.A.T.S.E. Local 478, working on the set of NCIS: New Orleans that airs on CBS. I.A.T.S.E. union workers range from scenic painters and sculptors to grips, cameramen, set dressers, motion picture animators and theater ushers. While the blockbuster film productions have tapered off somewhat since last summer’s jarring legislation, Louisiana-shot television series continue to gather steam, including Season 3 of “NCIS: New Orleans” starring Scott Bakula and Lucas Black. Shooting for Season 3 begins July 11 and continues to May 3, 2017 in New Orleans; the new season will air in the fall. The dramatic series (which portrays the local field office that investigates criminal cases involving the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps) employs nearly 300 locals and works with more than 350 local businesses. It also promotes the city to huge national audiences, with an average of 14 million viewers. The show premiered in September 2015, and is the third member of the “NCIS” franchise. Other current TV series of interest are “Queen Sugar” (Season 1) filming through July 14 in New Orleans; “Scream” (Season 2) featuring New Orleans actor Bryan Batt in the recurring cast; and Season 3 of the supernatural thriller “Salem,” produced in Shreveport; it’s set to be released on Halloween weekend, 2016.