Despite the national recession that has been ongoing for years, one sector of the state’s economy doesn’t seem to have been affected much – Louisiana’s burgeoning TV and film industry.
Largely due to generous tax incentives given to film production companies by the state, New Orleans has become a hotbed for film and television production. A Louisiana economic impact study found that in 2010 alone the media production industry in the state produced $1.08 billion statewide. That translates into a lot of jobs for local Louisianans.
Gary Michael Smith teaches a course at the St. Charles Parish Community Education Center entitled "Working in the Television and Film Industry." And he said it is a great time for people to get into the business.
"There are people moving from outside the state into Louisiana because there are more jobs here," he said. "Not only do they like the locations in New Orleans, they like the people too."
For those who are just starting off in the film and TV industry, there are two different levels of workers in the field. Those who are deemed to be ‘above the line’ are credited employees, such as directors, producers and executive producers. These positions are usually held by workers with at least a bachelor’s or specialized degree in film production. Work ‘below the line’ consists mainly of crew members who help in various menial aspects of the production where no advanced education is necessary.
Smith began work ‘below the line’ in 1995 as an extra and has appeared in 19 films since then.
"The two easiest jobs to get into are production assistant and extra work," Smith said. "Extra work is probably not going to lead to anything else but more extra work and it’s going to be minimum wage and it’s not union. But I know people in New Orleans that do it full-time and that go from film to film."
Certain members of a film production, such as those dealing with more technical aspects, are unionized. For jobs that require union membership Smith said the process of getting work is more difficult only because unions are hard to get into.
"If people want to work camera, stills, publicity, cinematography, electrician work or lighting – they join a union," Smith said. "You have to have a referral to join the union. Once you are a member of the union, film production companies know that you pretty much know what you are doing."
Smith said those jobs generally pay quite a bit more, but take years of service in the industry to break into.
Smith said the easiest way to find out what jobs are available for non-union members is to check with local film commissions.
"Contact the film commission office and let them know that you want to work. There, the easiest job to find will be either a production assistant or extra work," Smith said. "The Louisiana Film Commission does provide monthly reports of work that is going on and full contact information for those that are looking for workers. That is gold."
The Louisiana Film Commission can be reached online at Louisianaentertainment.gov or by calling (225) 343-5403. The New Orleans Film Commission can be reached online at filmneworleans.org or by calling (504) 658-4315.
The New Orleans Film Commission’s website currently lists five major films in production in the area with five more slated to start within the next few months.
Smith said one of the easiest ways to get a job in the industry is to list yourself on the film commission websites.
"I tell my students to go to the Louisiana Film Commission website and there is a link to get listed," Smith said. "Production companies do go there first before they come to Louisiana to try and line up the dots. The caveat is that in some of these fields you’ve got to show previous credit. You have to fill in that you’ve done work on film before they let you list yourself."
Smith said that those Louisiana residents who are listed stand a much better chance of landing a position with a production than those from out of state because more tax incentives are granted for hiring locally.
For local students who are trying to get into the media production industry, some have a leg up on others. St. Charles Parish Public Schools offers hands-on media production training at the Satellite Center in Luling.
Albert Dupont has been a media production teacher at the Satellite Center since 2005. Before taking on that position he worked as a cameraman for the local Fox affiliate in New Orleans for more than a decade.
At the Satellite Center, students are given the chance to learn by working hands-on in media production.
"What we do over here is mainly focus on video production, which could give them the skills for local TV stations," Dupont said. "We go over everything from writing scripts, pre-productions to editing."
Broadcast television has two main job opportunities – studio-based jobs in support of local news crews and freelancers.
"In studio broadcasting I would say almost everybody has a degree in mass communications," he said. "If you just want to work freelance you don’t necessarily need a degree."
Dupont said many of his students have gone on to college and received degrees in mass communications and are working locally. In addition, he said high school students in the program right now do get opportunities for freelance work.
"Freelance work is really booming, especially in high school football when they are shooting these games. I could probably go out and find three freelance gigs a night if you want," Dupont said.
For those focusing on careers in freelance media production, it is really up to them to make the best of their opportunities.
"You’ve got to be kind of a go-getter when you are actively starting out," Dupont said. "Once you do a few jobs and you show you are reliable and people can count on you, you are going to be lighting up."
Similarly, Smith said it is really up to those who want to work in the media industry to take advantage of every chance to be involved in the industry.
"There are jobs to be had, just be diligent. You need to make connections, so don’t turn people down," Smith said. "If you turn people down they are going to go to the next on the list and you may not get called back. Availability is important as is paying attention, learning the craft and doing what you are told. Those are all important things."
For those in the parish who are thinking about getting into the media production industry, the construction of Quixote Studios, the largest soundstage in the region, in St. Rose should make more work available in the area. The studio is estimated to encompass 90,000 square feet and have four soundstages. The studio anticipates becoming the ‘go to’ destination for local film productions looking for studio space.