Louisiana seeing busy fall filming season

AP News
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Posted: Nov 16, 2009 1:45 PM

With hurricane season ending, film and TV production in south Louisiana is picking up, and New Orleans is on track to break last year's filming record.

David Simon, creator of "The Wire" and "Homicide: Life on the Street," started shooting the first season of his HBO series "Treme" in New Orleans this month, and actor Jason Statham had a downtown office building bustling with production of a scene for the action thriller, "The Mechanic."

They are among at least eight film and TV projects in the New Orleans area this fall _ and more than a dozen statewide _ providing an end-of-the-year boost after a sluggish summer, said Sherri McConnell, head of the state film office.

"Summer is usually a slow time for us," McConnell said, citing higher production costs during hurricane season, which runs June 1 to Nov. 30, as a factor. But this year film industry strikes, the economy and uncertainty over the future of Louisiana's entertainment tax credit program were also to blame, she said.

Before the state Legislature approved a 5 percent boost in incentives for movie and TV makers this spring, the 25 percent tax credit was set to drop to 20 percent in 2010 and 15 percent in 2012.

"That had a lot of production companies reluctant to do business here," McConnell said.

The boost to 30 percent "was a very positive move," she said.

McConnell said her office received 25 applications for projects in the first half of 2009, but since July 1 more than 60 have come in.

"We have more than doubled the amount of applications in the office since the change in the law," McConnell said.

If all the projects get under way before the end of the year, the state may reach its filming record of 84 projects, set last year.

Bill Chartoff, producer of "The Mechanic" _ a remake of 1972 Charles Bronson film _ said the stable state tax credit was a plus, as was the charm of New Orleans as a backdrop.

"New Orleans has a wonderful mood and atmosphere and character to it," he said.

Robert Sertner, executive producer of "The Business of Falling in Love" starring Hilary Duff, which also is filming in New Orleans this month, said his decision to shoot in Louisiana was bottom-line driven.

"It's always about the financial bottom line," he said.

While activity is spread across the state _ with the action flick "Battle: Los Angeles," in Baton Rouge and Shreveport and "Secretariat" with Diane Lane and John Malkovich in Lafayette _ New Orleans is seeing the bulk of the action with at least eight projects through the end of the year.

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Among them is "Brother's Keeper," a film by World Wrestling Entertainment, which also shot "12 Rounds" in Louisiana last year and "Knucklehead" earlier this year.

The city is on track to break last year's record of 21 projects, said Jennifer Day, director of the New Orleans Office of Film and Video, which expects to have 23 projects by year's end.

Since 2002, more than $400 million in tax incentives have been awarded in Louisiana, and production expenditures since 2002 exceed $2 billion _ including $200 million in payroll _ according to state figures.

The incentives program has not been without problems. Former state film commissioner Mark Smith pleaded guilty in 2007 to taking about $65,000 in bribes to help inflate tax credits. He was sentenced to two years in federal prison in July.

On Dec. 12, Malcolm Petal, producer of "Bug," "Factory Girl" and "Mr. Brooks," pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe Smith. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

In 2007, a state law tightened oversight of the program, which provides tax credits to production companies that use goods and services while shooting in Louisiana.

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