FBT Film and Entertainment acts as a central resource to provide the film industry with everything it needs
The “Hollywood South” phenomenon in Louisiana generates a lot of flash, but what’s fueling the fire of the booming movie and TV industry in our state are steadfast people like Leonard Alsfeld. The president and CEO of FBT Film and Entertainment (an organization under the umbrella of First Bank and Trust), Alsfeld has emerged as a go-to expert on the tax credits that have been instrumental in growing the industry.
“The legislators were so brilliant in this area,” Alsfeld says. “It’s easy to knock politicians, but this is one of those cases where they got it right. The tax credit laws have done more for our state than the legislators probably ever imagined themselves.”
Following groundbreaking rounds of Louisiana tax credit legislation in 2004 and 2005, more than 40 other states jumped on the bandwagon and enacted similar, often quite aggressive, tax incentives to attract film productions within their own borders. As a result, Louisiana legislators passed even more changes in 2009 to remain at the front of the pack.
“Louisiana is staying competitive because our tax credits are transferable and the net is greater,” explains Alsfeld. “And we have four different areas with state-of-the-art studios for different-size movies: New Orleans, Jefferson Parish, Baton Rouge and Shreveport. On top of that, we have a better workforce and a better attitude. Film companies like the way they’re treated here. There’s no paparazzi, no price jacking at hotels. Our hospitality wins them over.”
Regarding the most recent changes to the laws, Alsfeld gushes over the inclusion of tax credits for “digital media.” What is digital media? Well, it could be just about anything, and that’s the point. It might entail video games, phone downloads, iPad apps, YouTube videos, website development and on and on.
“Credits to encourage digital media companies to relocate in Louisiana were seen as an afterthought, but the beauty of the digital credit is that it makes permanent jobs where film productions make temporary jobs,” says Alsfeld. “It’s no longer the stepchild. It’s a smart bet on the future of the state.”
Since the tax credits are transferable between those who earned them and others who want to purchase them, the role of FBT Film in all this is to broker the credits between parties. But in actuality, FBT Film’s role is much bigger than that. For productions coming to town, the company has positioned itself as a central resource. It taps local partners to provide functions like payroll, accounting, legal, completion bond financing, gap financing and more. In essence, FBT Film has developed a wide local network to provide all the services a film production might need, while the company itself offers any necessary banking support.
Alsfeld is actively involved in recruiting productions to the state and frequently travels to film financing events in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere to give talks. “If I’m not there representing Louisiana, someone from some other state is going to be in that seat,” says Alsfeld.
Alsfeld’s current expertise is finance (he’s also president and CEO of two other divisions at First Bank and Trust), but in the 1970s he graduated as an English major from Providence College in his home state of Rhode Island. He later got a job at a men’s clothing shop, which instilled in him the success-projecting lessons of “heavy starched shirt and a high-shine shoe.” That sales job led to a sales position in a brokerage, which led him to a brokerage job in New Orleans in 1981. Alsfeld was a “happy bachelor” with no intention of staying here long, but he met his wife-to-be, Cynthia, his first month in town and never left. They now have four children.
One thing he certainly misses about living up north, however, is his beloved sport of ice hockey. So Alsfeld’s passion over the years has been bringing hockey to Louisiana. Twelve years ago, he was instrumental in starting Tulane’s hockey team; he provided financing and a budget, recruited players, coached them, monitored their academic performance and supported the team in countless other ways. After many years, he turned the team over to a coterie of student-athletes, but soon after he launched a hockey team in Baton Rouge for LSU. Again, Alsfeld coached and supported it, stepping down from coaching only last year. He was also involved in the Brass, New Orleans’ mid-level professional hockey team that played from 1997 to 2002 and whose general manager was Alsfeld’s college friend Larry Kish.
So Alsfeld is a big hockey fan, but as someone who works in the film industry, is he a big fan of the movies?
“Absolutely not,” he says. “I couldn’t name three actors outside of my sister-in-law, Patricia Clarkson. I’ve attended probably 12 red carpet premieres in my life, and I’m bored by whole thing.”
What he loves about what he does, however, is helping the region’s economy grow and supporting local talent. “We’ve created opportunities for so many talented Louisiana people to get involved in film at a high level,” he says. “They’re producing, writing, scoring, directing, designing, building. My dream is to keep pushing these great talents up the ranks. They’re becoming masters of their craft and can’t be denied their rightful place in the film industry.”