Louisiana has surpassed California and New York as the world’s movie production capital, according to a study released in March by Film L.A., a Los Angeles area nonprofit agency that coordinates and processes permits for on-location motion picture, television and commercial productions.
In 2013, 18 major Hollywood films by studios including Disney, 21st Century Fox and Paramount were produced in Louisiana, including “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” “Ender’s Game,” and the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave,” according to Film L.A.
California and Canada were tied with 15 films each, followed by the United Kingdom with 12 and the state of Georgia with 9. New York was in eighth place, with only four major films produced there last year.
Philip Sokoloski, vice president of integrated communications at Film L.A., said his organization conducted the study to see where the film business, which has been dominated by California, was heading.
“A lot of filming that used to take place here was no longer taking place here,” Mr. Sokoloski said.
Part of the reason film producers are drawn to Louisiana is its attractive tax incentive program. By setting up a company for a specific film, registering in the state and spending at least $300,000, producers can receive a 30 percent tax credit.
“The production goes where they can get the most bang for their buck and Louisiana is the best spot for that,” said Keith Morris, assistant professor of film studies at Dillard University in New Orleans. “So if you spend $100 million on your movie, just for shooting in Louisiana and follow all the rules, then you can get $30 million back.”
Mr. Morris said that if producers use Louisiana crewmembers, they may also qualify for an additional 5 percent off.
“Louisiana is historically and culturally rich,” said Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Entertainment, the part of the state’s Economic Development office that deals with the entertainment industry. “Coupled with a unique artistic climate, our state has been a destination for the entertainment industry for nearly 100 years. We also have a very temperate climate, great deep skilled crew base and a very mature infrastructure.”
The Louisiana tax incentive program was developed in 2002, based on models in Canada. Will French, president of the Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association, which promotes the entertainment industry within Louisiana, said technological developments such as smaller cameras and portable editing studios have allowed movie productions to break away from the Los Angeles hub.
“These days,” Mr. French said, editing “can be done by a 9-year-old using a Mac on steroids.”
“Couple that with socioeconomic factors, like cost of living and quality of life,” said Mr. French, who is also the president of Film Production Capital, a tax credit brokerage company that specializes in state tax incentives for film.
He added: “California is expensive, has high taxes, and competition for film jobs is cutthroat. Louisiana has low taxes, low cost of living and a skilled film person is a big fish in a small pond. You end up with an industry that can move and therefore does move.”
State officials in New York are planning to introduce similar legislation that could bring business back to their states. In California, the State Assembly passed a bill that would expand the state’s incentives in late May.
“There is only $100 million set aside for the program, which is far less than what our major competitors offer,” Mr. Sokoloski said.
Mr. Morris, the Dillard professor, added that unlike cities in California, New Orleans has a historical ambience that attracts well-known stars like Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock. Mr. Pitt is known for his work helping to build houses in the Lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina, and Ms. Bullock has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a local school, the Warren Easton Charter High School.
“New Orleans just has so many different looks and music and culture,” Mr. Morris said. “Big name actors love to be here.”
This year is no different. Job postings litter the Dillard University job board with cast and crew calls for big budget films such as “Terminator: Genesis,” “Jurassic World” and “The Fantastic Four.”
Even actresses born in New Orleans, like Reese Witherspoon, come back. Ms. Witherspoon is now filming an action comedy called “Don’t Mess With Texas.” Sofia Vergara of the television show Modern Family will also star in the film.
Other films scheduled for production in Louisiana include “Mind Puppets,” starring Kevin Pollack and John de Lancie.
The booming film industry is benefiting more than just celebrities.
Victor Barrientos, operations manager of MBS Equipment, a company that provides lighting equipment to movie sets, said he moved to New Orleans from California in 2012.
“Where there is production, that’s where we go,” Mr. Barrientos said. “That’s why a lot of us have moved. It’s Hollywood South.”
Among the Los Angeles transplants is Diane Slattery, a publicist who moved to the city six years ago. She said the city embraces projects. “A movie will come into a neighborhood and work anywhere from one day to one month, and the local citizenry can handle that,” she said. “It doesn’t disrupt the normal life here. It’s a business that melds well with the way the city functions already, and people like coming here.”
“It’s become my new home,” she added.
Locals are also seeing an economic benefit to the arrival of newcomers. Susan Brennan, a New Orleans native, originally bought a block in the Lower Garden District with plans to build luxury condos to rent. But her plans changed after Hurricane Katrina, when the price of building materials began to skyrocket. But when she learned about the tax incentives, she said, she decided a sound stage would be cheaper to build and would bring in more money than condos.
Her indie film studio, Second Line Stages, has been home to a number of films including “Django Unchained.” And a new comedy called “Get Hard,” starring Will Ferrell, just finished shooting last week.
“Right now we’re totally full,” said Ms. Brennan. “I’m turning down business.”