Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rules set for claiming film credits

By Mike Hasten • mhasten@gannett.com • December 8, 2009

BATON ROUGE — Louisiana's rules dealing with film industry tax credits are now in writing but the office that handles it is still free to negotiate with applicants.
A joint House and Senate committee Monday gave conditional approval to the rules that members said need "a little tweaking" but no serious alterations.
Sherri McConnell, director of the Office of Entertainment Industry Development within Louisiana Economic Development, said the rules are simply putting into writing what her office has been doing for the past several years.
She said it has been working on the rules for the past three years but "the law kept changing, so we had to start over with new rules to fit the new law." McConnell said her office conducted eight public hearings in 2008 and 2009 on proposed rules but when the Legislature came into session in March, "it changed the law again."
Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said the department needs to "be careful with the language because it could allow two claims on the same expansion."
The rules primarily deal with tax credits for infrastructure improvements — everything from buying trucks to transport movie equipment to building studios.
One of the sticking points was a requirement for "cash or cash equivalents" for infrastructure. Industry representatives said they would have to borrow money and finance some projects, so that language might limit projects to cash-only.
After a discussion, Phyllis Simms of Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge said "the goal is to exclude IOUs and promises," which she agreed was appropriate.
Nick Thurlow, owner of Louisiana Media Production Services, told the panel that the film industry nationwide is looking to Louisiana to adopt the rules so it will know what needs to be done to claim the credits.
"Publish the rules and move on," he said. "These are actually pretty good rules. You don't get $600 million in in-state production with bad rules."
Thurlow, who said he has worked on filming 50 movies and post-production work on 30 filmed outside of Louisiana, said he got frustrated by the committee taking more than an hour "arguing about one sentence in one paragraph."
Panel members ended up changing "shall" to "may" to give the film office flexibility in negotiating with studios and individual business that work with the film industry.
Andre Champagne, owner of Hollywood Trucks of Baton Rouge, said his business started with two people. He now employs 10 full-time and 40 part-time workers with a fleet of 250 trucks, but "we don't have enough vehicles to serve the industry right here."
Hollywood Trucks have been seen all over Baton Rouge in recent weeks as two movies were being filmed at the same time.

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