Written by James Peak on May 7, 2010. Posted in On Location

New Orleans continues to flourish as a filming destination

New Orleans no longer has the blues, production-wise at least. Could it be something to do with the fact that already generous Louisiana incentives have been raised to a whacking 30%?

The most eagerly anticipated TV drama of the decade has just debuted this month to astoundingly positive reviews. Treme is David Simons’ latest. Yet again, location is everything in this major drama, just as it was with The Wire’s’ crack-soaked Baltimore streets and Generation Kill’s nervy Humvee ride through post-invasion Iraq.

Treme is set in the BBQ backyards, jazz dens and broken social structures of post Katrina New Orleans. It’s a meaningful project for New Orleans, as Jennifer Day, of the City Office of Film and Video explains:

Treme is an epic journey into this great American's city's greatest struggle to survive and retain a culture that has touched the world. It provides a window into what we locals know about the city - that it's music, food and community are magical and make this city much more than just a place.”

Treme is the story of a neighbourhood getting back on its feet after the storm hit in 2005. The global exposure a David Simons project brings, typically over several lucrative seasons of filming, would have done a lot for a city keen to market itself as a major film location. However, the truth is that New Orleans needs no introduction to the world of big budget production. Generous, cleverly administrated and reactive tax breaks, have had a huge positive effect in the last five years.

Day confirms:

“Infrastructure development is booming since the storm. Our crew, vendor and support services are more robust than ever. We have 300 years worth of architecture for locations, and the largest crew base in Louisiana.”

Studio capacity has just been expanded with the new USD32 million, three sound-stage Second Line Studios in the Garden District of New Orleans, and Raleigh Studios in Baton Rouge is expanding to eight soundstages from four, and will occupy 200,000 square feet.

In the US, only LA and NYC shoot more per year. There were 23 major projects shot in 2009 bringing in USD200 million dollars to the local economy. You can’t turn a corner without running into a major crew. I Love You Phillip Morris, and Sly Stallone’s The Expendables are now playing.

Recently wrapped projects include Earthbound, starring Kate Hudson and Whoopi Goldberg, the British 3-D thriller The Mortician and Nu Image/Millennium’s The Mechanic, starring Jason Statham. Currently shooting is Summit’s big budget espionage thriller RED, with Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman. Warner Bros’ Green Lantern with Angela Bassett and Ryan Reynolds, and murder-mystery The Fields, starring Jason Clarke starts up at the end of April 2010. In addition, as we go to press, HBO have announced they have greenlit Treme's second season. Not to mention shoots for Final Destination 4, Disney’s Imagination Movers, and Battle: Los Angeles.

Why is it so busy on the bayou? In July 2009, the City upped tax breaks from 25% to 30%, which covers all spending in the state by certified crews for TV or film. These breaks were due to start descending from 25% to the 10-15% mark, but Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal could see that going ahead with these reductions could send crews packing. So instead, he raised them by 5% to a record 30% incentive.

Then, in a unique move, Louisiana agreed to cough up 85 cents for each dollar of outstanding tax credits, authenticating the market in transferable tax breaks that has sprung up. Residents and businesses now buy the credits from producers to offset their own state tax liabilities. This has stabilised the value of the credits, as lawyer and Father of Invention producer Gary Raskin explains:

"Now you know your credit will never be worth less than 85 cents, which makes it easier to get financing and means there will be no surprises when it comes time to cash them in."

Keeping the accountants happy is one thing, but what about the talent. According to a March 2010 report by the BBC’s Today programme, moviestars reeling from the scrutiny of Tinseltown or NYC love to shoot in New Orleans, as Dave Walker, Times Picune journalist, explains:

“Tax credits aside, this is a fun place to come and make entertainment. The practitioners can come here and enjoy themselves without the scrutiny they get in LA, the rock stars here are tuba players, so regular stars can come out and enjoy themselves a while.”

Producers talk about the local peoples’ unparalleled willingness to accept crews and their needs. For a major action sequence recently during the shoot for Battle: Los Angeles, the script required an action sequence at a major LA freeway interchange. Louisiana’s traffic authority agreed to block a commuting intersection for several weeks so filming could take place, which by common consent could never have happened in LA.

Scott Gripe, Line Producer on Earthbound, explains:

“It’s hard to find a city with more character than New Orleans. The people that live here just love the city. They don’t know what the value is, or the size of the productions, they just say ‘thanks for bringing this project here’.”

At a time when states are trying to out do each other with ever more generous incentives, New Orleans, Louisiana has stirred up an irresistible gumbo of production bonuses: good times for cast and crew, a fortified infrastructure, high-quality locations, the goodwill of local people and best of all 30% off the final bill. And with these incentives running until at least 2012, New Orleans will remain very busy indeed for the foreseeable future, so book now to avoid disappointment.

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