Louisiana’s Entertainment Programs Get Tailored For Maximum Impact
In June 2017, the Louisiana Legislature enhanced motion picture incentives to build a more sustainable entertainment economy in Louisiana and to spur investment in Louisiana filmmakers, screenplay writers and homegrown visual effects and digital media firms.
The modifications include a program unique to Louisiana, known as the Qualified Entertainment Company incentive. QEC offers a tax credit on payroll paid by Louisiana audio- and visual-production sites that create full-time jobs in entertainment, including administration, distribution and financing roles.
The QEC program allows entertainment firms to receive a tax credit of 15 percent on W2 wages of at least $45,000 per year. The credit rises to 20 percent on salaries of more than $66,000.
A similar program for music and theatrical companies rewards creation of permanent Louisiana jobs in those sectors at a time when U.S. and global demand for audio- and visual-entertainment content is rising sharply.
Louisiana’s first certified QEC is Deep South Studios, which is building a $63.5 million, 11-studio complex near New Orleans.
As a QEC, Deep South will qualify for up to $1 million in payroll tax credits per year over five years, with an option to renew for an additional five-year period.
Deep South Studios is building a $63.5 million, 11-studio complex in Louisiana and is the first user of the new Qualified Entertainment Company Incentive.
Taken together, program enhancements approved by state lawmakers in 2017 amount to a revamped film incentive program for Louisiana, one that builds on its commitment to revolving production while rewarding enterprises that plant enduring roots in the state.
“It’s a smarter incentive that ensures maximum benefit to the state. It’s really a new program.”
Program changes to accelerate and sustain film industry growth across Louisiana fall into four categories. They include:
For Qualified Expenditures
For Louisiana Wages
- 25 percent base credit plus 15 percent credit for Louisiana wages
- Additional 10 percent on base credit for Louisiana-written screenplays
- Additional 5 percent on base credit for productions shot outside metropolitan New Orleans
- Additional 5 percent on Louisiana visual effects expenditures
- Maximum production tax credit of 40 percent
- $20 million per-film maximum credit
- $25 million per-season tax-credit maximum for scripted series
- Five-year “super certification” for scripted series shot in Louisiana
- Yearly issuance cap of $150 million
Only State Offering
- 15 percent or 20 percent tax credit on qualified wages paid by Louisiana entertainment companies that create at least five new, full-time jobs
- 15 percent credit for new jobs with yearly wages of $45,000-$66,000
- 20 percent credit on yearly wages of $66,001-200,000
Homegrown Industry Investments
- New budget threshold of $50,000-$300,000 for projects using Louisiana screenplay extends tax credits to small and independent projects
- Matching grants for Louisiana filmmakers
- New workforce-training requirement
- Tax credits are no longer transferable, ensuring that investments go to film projects
Funding Dedicated to
- Credit buyback rate increases to 90 percent with 2 percent transfer fee to support LED workforce/education initiatives
- Deal-closing fund
- Loan-guarantee fund
Louisiana remains committed to an industry that has generated more than $6 billion in film and television production in the state since the inception of its program in 2002, which includes notable Academy Award-winning work.
In recent years, Louisiana has developed mature, production-related infrastructure that includes state-of-the-art sound stages and other post-production assets. Human assets include an experienced, highly skilled crew base.
Nevertheless, uncertainty and other challenges from rising costs prompted an in-depth look at the 15-year-old program over the past two years.
In 2016, Gov. John Bel Edwards tasked LED with a top-to-bottom review of the program with the aim of recommending changes to create a predictable and sustainable program of statewide benefit with maximum return on public dollars.
To that end, McConnell and other members of an LED task force met with lawmakers and industry experts inside and outside the state. Over the course of a year, the group gathered feedback from the state’s film commissioners, filmmakers and digital entertainment specialists. It studied best practices in the U.S. and internationally. It scrutinized the program’s effect on the state budget to determine which projects reaped the best returns. The team examined policies in places like Vancouver, Canada, where a visual-effects sector has developed into a permanent element of the British Columbia economy.
An LED-commissioned 2017 economic-impact study detailed economic benefits to Louisiana. In 2016 alone, the motion picture tax-credit program generated about $1.3 billion in sales at Louisiana firms, $919.3 million in new household income and 14,541 jobs, the study found, but escalating costs were a growing challenge.
Filming on location in Baton Rouge.
“We knew there was a good economic benefit, but the fiscal impact was a challenge and a focus for lawmakers,” said LED Assistant Secretary Mandi Mitchell, who played a key role in shepherding the proposed entertainment program through the legislative process.
LED’s robust analysis resulted in a new $150 million annual claims cap that provides predictability to the budget process.
The analysis also identified opportunities for Louisiana by highlighting gaps in its entertainment industry sector. For instance, while up to 80 percent of digital media production costs comprise sales, administrative and other operational functions, Louisiana did not provide any incentives for such operations through its original motion picture incentive program.
The new QEC incentive expands tax credits to digital media companies making long-term Louis workforce investments in information technology, project financing, research and other back-office operations. QEC targets long-term development of the visual effects industry in the same manner.
The incentive, in turn, encourages growth of a workforce whose skills apply to other valuable elements of the state economy, including digital gaming, McConnell noted.
Other modifications aimed at maximizing Louisiana’s return on investment include a per-individual salary cap of $3 million for state-certified production spending. The cap has the practical effect of limiting credits for wages paid to leading actors who often spend little time on the ground in Louisiana during production, thereby curtailing the local and regional economic benefit of their spending in Louisiana.
“All of this has to do with long-term growth of the industry,” McConnell said. “What this comes down to is investing in our homegrown storytellers to help grow the industry here.”
July – August 2016
Internally conducted preliminary research, a SWOT analysis, and planning meetings
Sent a questionnaire to entertainment stakeholders, to gather their thoughts on the current status of the program and how it could be improved
Had meetings with local economic developers, film offices, CVBs, and other stakeholders
Evaluated research and stakeholder feedback
Finalized ideas and policy recommendations
Continued briefing stakeholders about assessment progress