I'm a big movie fan. I'm not an obsessive film buff who can recall the year, producer, director and cast of every movie I've seen. And I can't recite movie lines other than the obvious, everyone-knows lines such as "I'll be back," "I'll have what she's having," or "Bye Felicia."
But I do enjoy watching movies — great ones, good ones, even some can't-believe-they-thought-I'd-like-this movies.
Behind all movies, especially blockbusters that cost $100 million or more to make, is someone weighing the production costs against guaranteed and potential revenue. Some of those decisions involve how best to make movie magic, often based on filming and production venues that welcome them with tax incentives.
That's why more than 30 states, including Louisiana, offer film tax credits. Of course, California has a generous film tax credit program. So many other states offer an array of film tax credits that it's easier to mention states that don't offer them. Among them are Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan and Florida — though Florida does offer sales tax exemptions to qualified production companies.
Starting in 1992, Louisiana has been a film tax credit leader, updating its program to keep pace with the competition and to make sure it's not abused.
The credits use a complicated formula, but essentially we give state tax credits to qualifying companies, most of which are based outside Louisiana. They then sell the credits back to the state for 90 cents on the dollar.
The program works. It made Louisiana a popular state for film production.
So popular that by 2016, the state's costs shot up to $280 million annually. Legislators responded by capping the total annual credits at $180 million and making other changes to the program.
Yes, the credits are expensive to all states that offer them.
For various reasons, including cost-benefit imbalances, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Maine and other states have ended their film tax credit programs.
Some research shows that Louisiana gets only about 23 cents for every film tax credit dollar. One study says it's worse than that — a paltry 6.5 cents per $1 in credits.
"It's a terrible return," state Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, said during a legislative hearing.
I get it. Ask any bean counter and you'll hear, "That's not a good investment."
On the other hand, ask the thousands of Louisianans employed by the film industry — like the husband and wife hustling out of bed to take their food truck to a filming location to serve hot breakfast and coffee to local film technicians and production hands. That same couple will quickly turn around to prepare lunches for directors, set designers and wardrobe workers before heading back home to restock and rest — and then do it all again the next day.
Or ask the kids across Louisiana who get to watch a movie shot in their hometown, or who get to have a nice birthday party because their mom or dad had a job — even a temporary one — that paid them a living wage, or gave them a chance to start a local business that now serves other customers besides film productions.
The film tax credits support some 10,000 jobs in Louisiana. The people who hold those jobs might otherwise leave to find work elsewhere. Consider the food trucks, transportation businesses, lighting companies and others that might shut down without regular work made possible by the tax credits.
Nelson argues that the millions given away annually to companies that make films in Louisiana would be better spent on other needs, including early childhood education.
But does the choice have to boil down to jobs versus early childhood education? Can't we have both?