Sunday, April 5, 2015

An Open Letter to the Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry Development

The "Wetlands Proposal" to Jump-Start the Indigenous Film Community
And Why That Is Important

An open letter to the Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry Development


It is interesting and worrisome to note submissions to the New Orleans Film Festival from New Orleans filmmakers are essentially flat over the last 5 years, with only a minor increase in this time of precipitous film production growth since the tax incentives were introduced.  Why hasn't "Hollywood South" been growing the indigenous indie scene?

It's the education gap.  NOLA doesn't have a history of filmmaking in the manner of Los Angeles or New York City, and training— both nuts-and-bolts know-how and a working knowledge of industry apparatus— in those two film meccas is largely done by mentorships and apprenticeships.  This kind of hands-on training, which combines the best aspects of on-the-job training with academic understanding, is impossible in a place where there are no elder masters of the craft to pass on the institutional knowledge.

The effect of this absence on the New Orleans independent film community is numerous and profound— filmmakers are forced to rely on often-obsolete book learning or to reinvent the wheel with each production they attempt;  local directors who attempt a feature almost always end up as "one and done" helmers, and, disillusioned, they are typically absorbed into commercials, music videos, and crew work.

The absence of craft masters also leads to a chronic inability to maintain a development ecosystem. A healthy development community requires a critical mass of above-the-line talent— screenwriters, directors, producers, and financiers— working (competing/collaborating) in the same community. Because the indigenous scene isn't growing, New Orleans has been unable to build one, and the attendant businesses (eg. literary agencies, production companies, spec market, etc) aren't created.

It is vital to the sustainability of the indigenous filmmaking community that an emphasis be put on creating this ecosystem, because a healthy and thriving independent scene provides work for the local infrastructure between big Hollywood contracts, gives local cast and crew a chance to work year-round, advance and prove their stuff, and provides the only line of economic defense in the disastrous circumstance of the tax incentive program going away.

Local independent filmmaking is like an economic wetlands, protecting the city from the hurricane of incentive repeal. The Wetlands Proposal is this:  let us, Louisiana, ask every out-of-state production that shoots here to donate one hour of one member of their above-the-line team to speak at a gathering of local filmmakers.

There were 50+ Hollywood productions here last year, which works out to one event a week, year round.  If each New Orleans film organization, arts society, and college hosted one talk per season, it would cover the bases.  The ideal format for the talk would be a case study from the speaker's history at the start, followed by a Q&A;  the talks should be open to the public.

The Wetlands Proposal asks us to understand that Hollywood South is an amazing economic opportunity but a one-of-a-kind educational one too.  Every day we have the greatest technicians and craftsmen in the industry working in our city, but because department heads and above-the-liners are shipped in from out of town, they're not passing down their knowledge.  It is a missed opportunity that can make a huge difference to the growth of our indigenous filmmaking community, which in turn creates business and keeps the infrastructure here robust and protected.

There are, of course, implementation details to be worked out.  Perhaps the City Film Office could coordinate the organizations that host the talks.  There's no way to find out how this will be received by out-of-state productions until we ask;  there is also the question of making it a condition of the tax credits.

The Wetlands Proposal has been discussed informally and has vast support and interest.  The ideas here have been refined over conversations with the leaders of NOVAC, NOFS, Timecode NOLA, Shotgun Cinema, Indywood, Zeitgeist, Patois Film Festival, Big Easy Film Festival, Cinema Reset, and several local film collectives.

Posted here for public discussion and dissemination.  
"You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one…" —Pherrell

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