Lights, Camera, Action!
● By Robert Frey
Acadiana’s Film Community Anticipates New OpportunitiesBy Frank “Beau” Summers
There are various artists within the Acadiana area who have long been committed to portraying their home through film. There is a new tax credit structure for film making in Louisiana that could benefit their passion and purpose. The new law attempts to recapture the period just before 2015 when more projects were filmed in Louisiana than anywhere else outside of the state.
For me, one of my biggest inspirations is my neighbor John Valdoterro, who has enjoyed a long career in Hollywood, but has set his sights on working closer to Acadiana while his children are in high school. His many stories of the past are balanced with questions about the future of the local industry. I met with several other locals in the film industry to help answer those questions about the industry’s future here on the bayou.
Motion Picture Tax Credit“For 15 years straight I worked locations on two or three projects a year, and almost all of them were in South Louisiana,” recalls Gerald Sellers at our meeting in our mutual hometown of Abbeville. “Location people are the first ones they contact when they are looking for a place to shoot a movie or TV series.”
Sellers is currently on a Netflix project with a very prominent Louisiana connection, and he’s been keeping busy on the OWN series “Queen Sugar.” Sellers IMBD profile is impressive, going back to his work on “Monster’s Ball.” More recently, it includes “12 Years a Slave” and “Our Brand is in Crisis.” Sellers divulges to me that throughout his long career he never experienced a slump like the one that followed the tax credit adjustment of 2015.
“We went from $1.2 billion a year in the local (Louisiana) industry to a huge drying up in just six months,” Sellers explains. “There was a mass exodus to Atlanta of capital, crews, skilled people and interest. Personally, in the worst part of that slumps, was the least I’ve ever worked in the last 20 years.”
Adam Hensgens, former staffer for Charles Boustany, gives firsthand insight to his occupation as it applies to the film industry. “I’ve been pushing a tax credit investment proposal under Promenade Pictures, LLC, and I am partnered with Mark Horowitz out of Los Angeles who specialized in film financing and international distribution over his 30 year career,” Hensgens relates. “The tax credit is supposed to incentivize job creation and growth. We don’t gain an extra dime should those movies go on to make billions.”
Incentives for the Motion Picture Tax Credit:• 25% base rate for approved films in Louisiana starting
• 10% for using a Louisiana screenplay, or Louisiana IP,
with starting minimum at $50,000
• 5% for filming 60% of principal photography outside
of New Orleans MSA
• 15% for Louisiana resident payroll
• 5% for VFX post-production that conducts 50% of VFX
post in Louisiana or spends over $1 million in post
Hensgens’ explanation gives much validity to Sellers’ concerns. Following our interview, Sellers and I meandered near the monument marker for the “Louisiana Story.” Coincidentally, Sellers’ great uncle Lionel Leblanc of Abbeville played John LaTour the trapper in the 1948 Robert Flaherty film, which was edited and premiered in Abbeville. Our conversation also shifts to Glen Pitre.
Working From HomeGrowing up in Cut Off, Louisiana, Glen Pitre worked his way through Harvard by shrimping each summer. When he was 25 years old, American Film magazine dubbed him the “father of Cajun cinema” before his first English-language release of “Belizaire the Cajun” in 1986. What is lesser known about his biography is that while Pitre was at Harvard, Richard Leacock was at MIT and landed him his first cinematography job. Leacock had been Flaherty’s cameraman on “Louisiana Story” and Pitre was a Cajun….thus the connection.
Pitre currently teaches at LSU’s film department and believes the boom enabled numerous young people to get jobs regionally, an option he didn’t have. “I learned a lot working those jobs,”Pitre says of his time shrimping and working offshore. “But not much about how to make films. This expansion is making possible a real body of very good talent for the next generation, who are mature and will be fully trained much more quickly than was possible for me.”
Local & IndependentAnother project close to our area, shot partly in Abbeville, is “Sunday Girl.” This film employed locals from Acadiana and is the brainchild of my brother John Paul Summers. John Paul is a cinematographer and the owner of Infinite Focus production company. He has made a number of commercials and some significant videos, including one for local artists the Rayo Brothers, but “Sunday Girl” is his first effort at a feature film.
“I see the future for people like me in working with independent film,” John Paul professes. “The big studios are going to bring their own director of photography and most above the line jobs. With an independent director, we have the chance to provide some of the services at the high end of the chart.”
Lafayette native and local actress Rachel Guidry Whittle was the Assistant Director and Production Manager on Sunday Girl. Whittle’s credits include a short film by local directors Natalie Kingston and Misty Kelley called “Soup’s On,” the History Channel series “Cryptid the Swamp Beast,” Lifetime’s “Dreamhouse Nightmare,” which was set in New Orleans and “”NCIS New Orleans.” Whittle is yet another local in the film industry who sees the vast advantages to creating work in Acadiana.
“I am not well acquainted with many Los Angeles and New York based talents,” Whittle reveals. “It’s easier to jump on non-union projects, which there are plenty of here in Louisiana, being a right to work state. If I can stay here, at least in Louisiana, I will. Things are picking back up, so that seems more likely.”
There is a multitude of factors contributing to the revival of the film industry in Louisiana. One such factor that cannot be overlooked is technology. Local film composer Andrew Morgan Smith had a big year in 2017 – he scored eight features, a few commercials and select other small projects. He was fortunate enough to work on the film “Jeepers Creepers 3” and with the popular hip-hop artist G-Eazy. And he owes much of his success to technology.
“The music technology allows me to create whole orchestral scores using just my computers,” Smith explains “Most audiences won’t even realize there isn’t real musicians playing behind the picture. The technology allows me to work in an area that may not have an orchestral recording industry.”
So many aspects have come together in a very serendipitous way that could lead to the perfect storm for the film industry’s resurgence in Louisiana. Two great indicators of this are the excitement the 2018 Cinema on the Bayou event generated at the end of January and the applause that Natalie Kingston and her husband Brian Richard have received for their recent film “Lost Bayou,” which was shot in Breaux Bridge. Keep your eyes open for local Lights. Camera. Action.