It is the summer of Hollywood South, with no less than nine movies that were shot in Louisiana landing at multiplexes. This includes sequels with world-wide fan bases, kicked off by the dino-drama Jurassic World that hit theaters in June, followed by July’s Terminator: Genisys highlighted by action-packed flashbacks, and the Fantastic Four reboot in August featuring Marvel’s longest-running team of super heroes.
Ironically, during the same week that Louisiana legislators approved a highly controversial measure that suggested limiting the very same film tax credits that lure productions to Louisiana each year, three Louisiana-shot movies hit the box office (Jack Black’s The D Train, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Maggie and Reese Witherspoon’s Hot Pursuit).
Less than a week later, Lionsgate released stills of an oil-drenched Mark Wahlberg portraying real-life hero Mike Williams as cameras started rolling on the set of Deepwater Horizon (aka The Long Night) in New Orleans. It’s the biggest employment buzz among local IATSE union members this summer. The film wraps in late August, boasting deep pockets that eclipse most Louisiana-shot blockbusters now hitting the big screen.
Slated to hit theaters in September, 2016, Deepwater Horizon is directed by Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Battleship, Hancock) and co-stars Kurt Russell and his daughter Kate Hudson (appearing together for the first time on the big screen), plus John Malkovich, Dylan O’Brien and Gina Rodriguez. It recounts the 48 hours leading up to the 2010 Macondo well blowout that killed 11 people and spilled 3.19 million barrels of oil off the coast of Louisiana.
According to crew members, the movie is being made here largely because of the unlimited tax incentives that have been successfully luring productions to Louisiana. The film’s production manager, Todd Lewis, saysm “Hollywood wants to go where the best deal is.”
In Baton Rouge, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Matt Bomer (who stars in Magic Mike XXL debuting in July) have arrived for the remake of another big-budget film, Magnificent Seven, which depicts seven gutsy gunmen who come together to rescue a village from savage thieves. In production through August, the film is based on a script originally penned by True Detective creator and New Orleans native, Nic Pizzolatto.
Meanwhile, as this issue went to press, Andre Champagne, founder of Hollywood Trucks, voiced his concern about potential job loss due to the tax credit caps legislation that was underway. “A reduction of this magnitude would immediately shrink current, actual jobs by 30-40 percent across the board,” he said. “If we approve these drastic cuts this session, they will not actually go into effect until approximately 18-24 months from this time period. In essence, we would cut real jobs and industry growth right now with no real benefits at this time of fiscal deficit.”
No doubt, the trickle-down economics naturally include short films. Baton Rouge filmmaker Jeff Roedel, formerly the editor of 225 Magazine, recently released his award-winning Forever Waves, an inspiring short film starring New Orleans-based musician Kristin Diable, whose soul-searching character returns home to Breaux Bridge after a brush with Hollywood fame. “I wanted to tell a story that sort of lived where the creation of someone’s art and the creation of their life intersect,” he says.
Roedel’s fabulous flick made its local debut to a sold-out crowd during the recent Louisiana International Film Festival, and is under consideration for the New Orleans Film Festival in October (it will be available for viewing online later this year, after Roedel launches his new production company in July).
“I work on a very small independent scale right now, but I have friends who make their living going from one big studio project to another,” says Roedel. “These friends want to stay and work in Louisiana, but those bigger budget films and television shows have to keep coming here in order for that life to be sustained. Also, a lot of these people jump into small, independent projects in between the bigger, well-paying gigs. I’d hate to see legislation that affects them. If the major studios stop choosing Louisiana because the incentives aren’t there, then these people are very likely to move, and their families go with them, and the small independent filmmakers don’t have nearly as many resources because the crew base leaves and their creative friends move away.”
Now, films large and small will be competing for limited resources, and in time, Louisiana will be up against states with more generous tax incentive programs. As the hunger games begin, may the odds be ever in our favor.