A Win For Locals

The passage of HB 829 is about much more than a cap on incentives.

In the wake of the $180 million film cap there was a lot of talk, and fear, about how the changes would affect the industry here in Hollywood South. But there is one group that has every reason to be excited about the passage of HB 829 — local independent filmmakers.

One such filmmaker is Kendra Jones Morris. A resident of New Orleans for the past five years, Morris has been a lot of things in her career — a photographer, an actor, a social entrepreneur — but she says that thanks to the passage of HB 829, she is planning to add film director to that list.

Created to favor local projects, HB 829 lowers the minimum amount that has to be spent on a film for it to qualify for tax incentives from $300,000 to just $50,000 if the director of the film can prove that he/she has lived in Louisiana in the last two years.

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“That’s a return of 30 percent on the dollar,” Morris says. “Money that actually comes back to us fast enough that we can apply it to post production costs.”

Morris and her husband, Keith Alan Morris, have worked together on four completed films — “Flying Tiger,” a 2003 family film; “Better King,” a 2007 film about an underground fight club; a Hallmark movie called “Rodeo and Juliet” in 2014; and a family/faith based film called “Runaway Hearts” that was just sold this year. Keith Morris also started, and currently runs, the film program at Dillard University.

“This will be our fifth movie together,” Kendra Morris explains. “It’s called ‘The Other Professionals.’ It’s a female action movie where the lead takes on human traffickers on the streets of New Orleans.”

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Morris says she has a script and a crew — Dillard students from her husband’s program. “Since we started making films together 12 years ago we’ve always had a connection with the local college,” she says. “We love to provide them with an opportunity for a real hands-on education.”

Of course choosing local crew also serves to fulfill another requirement of receiving tax credits under HB 829, which requires that the total jobs on a production be held by at least 75 percent Louisiana residents (defined as someone who has lived in the state consecutively for at least 12 months).

The Morris’ project also has an additional benefit for investors — it was written by Keith Morris, a Louisiana resident.

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According to an addition to the original bill, if the total base investment on a local film reaches over $300,000,  and that film uses a screenplay that was written by a Louisiana resident, or a Louisiana based company that employs at least three full-time Louisiana residents, each investor is allowed an additional 15 percent tax credit.

Kendra Morris is all set to maximize the tax credits offered and make a film that she describes as “something that brings attention to a social issue, but does it in an entertaining and sellable way.”

All she’s missing now is the funding to make it happen.

“We’ve found funding for our projects in the past through networking and grants,” Morris says, noting that she’s optimistic that, thanks to HB 829, the film will get made.

“This bill, it’s such a positive way to continue highlighting what New Orleans has always been good at — cultivating artists,” she says. “There’s so much great crew here and now we are really advancing local work. It’s all about local people telling local stories.”

Kimberley Singletary is the managing editor of Biz New Orleans magazine. A 20-year Southern California veteran, she has been surrounded by the film industry for most of her life and is thrilled to be covering its emersion in her newly adopted home.



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