Louisiana’s film incentives program is so big "they actually shot an upcoming film initially titled ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ in New Orleans!"

Paul Stekler on Saturday, January 24th, 2015 in an oped column


Paul Stekler says Louisiana's rich incentives caused a 'Texas' movie to be made in New Orleans

Texans oft think everything — everythang — is bigger and better here.

So we were startled when a University of Texas professor declared neighboring Louisiana has a big leg up.

Paul Stekler, who chairs the UT Department of Radio-Television-Film, said in a commentary posted online by the Austin American-Statesman Jan. 23, 2015, that the Texas film industry may be imperiled unless state lawmakers bolster a state incentives program.

Things were dandy a decade ago after Texas launched its program to encourage film production in the state, Stekler wrote. But other states beefed up, Stekler said, adding: "The biggest program is in Louisiana — so big that they actually shot an upcoming film initially titled ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ in New Orleans!"

Neaux way!

By phone, Stekler told us his conclusion about the Louisiana incentives causing the movie centered on Texas to be made in the Crescent City was just "common sense. If it’s a Texas-based film, why would you film in Louisiana — unless they were getting a much better deal?" he said.

He urged us to consult the Texas Film Commission, which is part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.

Abbott’s office did not address our inquiries, but we spotted a summary of the Texas program’s declared effects in a January 2015 report by the Texas House Select Committee on Economic Development Incentives. By offering rebates to successful applicants with confirmed in-state expenditures, Texas had awarded nearly $147 million in rebates through October 2014, the report said. In turn, awardees spent more than $1 billion in the state over the years, it said.

Next, we turned to checking on the Louisiana parts of Stekler’s statement.

An online search landed a May 2014 New Orleans Times-Picayune news story saying "Don't Mess With Texas," an action-comedy starring Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara, was to be filmed in Louisiana starting that month. For Witherspoon, the story said, the production marked a return to New Orleans: She was born there in 1976 while her father was in school.

The story made no mention of  incentives causing the film not to be shot in Texas.

But incentives are in play. Christopher Stelly, who oversees the state’s film outreach, confirmed the film’s producers submitted an application for incentive credits and anticipated spending about $34 million in Louisiana. As of February 2015, Stelly said by email, the state hadn’t fielded an audit to validate any related spending so credits had yet to be awarded.

We asked if Louisiana has the nation’s biggest film incentives program, as Stekler wrote.

"We have one of the more popular programs," Stelly said by phone. A state spokesman, Ron Thibodeaux, forwarded an April 2013 report written for a state agency indicating that in 2012, $218 million in incentives were awarded to producers who spent $717 million making movies in Louisiana (up from $677 million spending the year before).

By a recent news account, the Louisiana program is bigger than other states’ programs. The Dec. 2, 2014, news story in the Advocate, a Louisiana newspaper, called the state’s film tax incentive program "one of the state’s most popular and fastest-growing giveaways, and thanks to its industry-friendly provisions, the Pelican State has eclipsed Hollywood as the feature film production capital of the nation." Of 107 projects shot in the state in 2013, the story said, 49 were feature films — more than were filmed in any other state. Also, the story said, Louisiana’s program is the "richest of its kind" in the country, covering "between 30 and 35 percent of in-state production costs, including eight-figure actor salaries, as long as a film’s local costs top $300,000."

A graphic with the story, attributed to Cast & Crew Entertainment Services, which vends payroll services to productions, indicates each of the states touching Texas offers greater tax incentives for making movies:

12022014 advocateFilm-incentives-by-state_webedit.jpg


Source: News story, "Giving Away Louisiana: Film tax incentives,", the Advocate, Dec. 2, 2014 (Map information attributed to Cast and Crew Entertainment Services)

We asked Stelly if the movie singled out by Stekler was made in Louisiana due to its incentives outpacing incentives available in Texas.

He said he didn’t know. But generally, Stelly said, "the way the business works today, incentives do play a major part in the decision-making process. But again, at the end of the day, you have to look at what the area has to offer. How is the crew base? What is the infrastructure? Do you have what it takes?" Louisiana, he said, has hosted projects set "anywhere from New York to outer space," including "Texas Killing Fields," a 2011 crime drama.

We asked a publicist for the film itself about whether Louisiana’s incentives caused the movie to be made there. Jayna Zelman, representing MGM, declined to comment though she emailed a web link to an Internet Movie Database (IMDb) page stating the movie, set for release in May 2015, is lately named "Hot Pursuit." Plot summary: "A police officer and a prisoner are on the run in Texas." A linked IMDb page says the movie’s previous working title was "Don’t Mess With Texas."

Our ruling

Stekler said Louisiana’s film incentives program is so big, "they actually shot an upcoming film initially titled ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ in New Orleans!"

Louisiana has a strong incentives program and a chase movie set in Texas was filmed there; its makers are primed to receive incentive aid. However, we see no confirmation Louisiana’s incentives explain why the movie was shot on the not-Texas side of the Sabine.

We rate this partly proven statement Half True.

HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.



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