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Jobs, businesses growing as Hollywood embraces Louisiana

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NEW ORLEANS - A batch of big-budget films is set to be shot in Louisiana over the summer as the state's investment in a tax credit program draws cost-conscious producers.

Among planned shoots are "Fantastic Four," ''Terminator 5," ''Pitch Perfect 2" and "Jurassic World," the fourth film in the "Jurassic Park" series. The television series "NCIS: New Orleans" and "American Horror Story: Freak Show" are also being shot this summer.

The flurry of activity is encouraging entrepreneurs who provide services for production companies, in turn creating jobs. Louisiana ranked ahead of California — and anywhere else — in the number of live-action movie shoots in a study of 2013 releases from Hollywood's largest studios.

Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Entertainment, the state-run film office, said officials certified nearly $810 million in production company spending on 123 projects in 2013 and issued $251 million in tax credits.

Louisiana offers tax credits of up to 40 per cent of the money spent to buy, build and use movie production facilities.

Since the tax credit program began in 2002, services that have grown in the state include studios, sound stages, special effects, casting, costume rental, post-production and editing.

Andre Champagne's Hollywood Trucks LLC is one of the success stories. The Louisiana native launched the company in 2007 with a private partner and assistance through the state tax incentive program after moving back from Los Angeles.

The company has grown annual revenue from about $600,000 in its first year to $5 million in 2013, Champagne said. Its fleet expanded from seven vehicles to more than 300, including luxury trailers used by Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Ben Affleck and Chris Rock.

Hollywood Trucks recently expanded to Georgia and has plans to open in London.

"One project led to the next, led to the next, led to the next, and before we knew it, I was here for two or three years, and it's just grown substantially every year since," he said.

Louisiana's progress was demonstrated in a recent report by the permitting agency Film L.A. that examined the locations for shoots by the six major movie studios and five of the biggest independent studios. The agency said that 18 of the studios' 108 motion pictures released last year were shot in Louisiana, including "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," ''Dallas Buyers Club" and "Grudge Match."

California and Canada had 15 projects each, followed by Britain with 12 and the state of Georgia with nine.

"Now we represent about 14,000 jobs, up from roughly zero 10 years ago, and that's a pretty important thing for us to do," said Will French, president of the Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association.

French said TV production is also thriving in Louisiana. Among the newest is a pilot now filming in Shreveport called "Salem," based on the colonial-era witch trials.

"It's exciting. It just is," said actor John Goodman, who starred in the New Orleans-shot HBO series "Treme" and moved to New Orleans from Los Angeles in the 1990s. "I don't like to see Los Angeles getting hammered, but it's nice to see so much business down here."

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