In 1987, director Taylor Hackford and actor Dennis Quaid came to Baton Rouge to make Everybody’s All American, about fictional 1950s football hero Gavin Grey. It wasn’t the first big-budget movie to shoot in Louisiana, but the film business was pretty much a novelty here, and thousands of locals served as extras or body doubles.
Michael Papajohn, who patrolled centerfield for the first two LSU baseball teams to play in the College World Series, was in his last semester on campus. He heard the filmmakers would pay athletes willing to absorb and dole out some punishment in the football scenes filmed at Tiger Stadium.
“I think I had $11 in my checking account,” he recalls. “I said, I’ll take some hits.’”
By the time shooting wrapped, Papajohn says he had doubled for Quaid, “killed” John Goodman’s character, and earned his Screen Actors Guild card with a line in a frat house scene. With encouragement from Hackford and former LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman, Papajohn did what young people who catch the Hollywood bug have always done: move to California.
But after 25 years as a stuntman and actor in films like Spider-Man, For the Love of the Game, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Papajohn moved back to Baton Rouge. He has a deeply personal passion project that he’s trying to finish, and he thinks he can do that here.
That’s because nowadays, film and television is growing into a nearly billion-dollar industry in Louisiana, thanks to more than a billion dollars in taxpayer support since 2006. The state’s film subsidy is generous and open-ended, and the more successful the program is, the more expensive it gets.
One way to look at it is that Louisiana has a good thing going, so let’s not mess with success. But doesn’t the state have more important things to do with all that money? And now that it has fed at the public trough, will the movie business ever be pushed away?
Next year’s fiscal legislative session is another chance to eliminate, slash or reform the program. While sizable cuts could save money at the risk of chasing the industry away, the right tweaks just might improve the state’s return on investment without compromising Louisiana’s chance to make “Hollywood South” a permanent reality.
Louisiana enacted a relatively modest Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit Program in 2002. Lawmakers have since expanded the program into arguably the most generous in the country.
There are more films and TV shows in Louisiana than in any location in the world. This incredible climb has occurred in slightly over a decade since the advent of the tax incentive program.
As part of a multi-segment interview about the Louisiana entertainment industry, Chris Stelly, Executive Director of Entertainment, Louisiana Economic Development, in part I, discussed the rise of the film industry in part one. In part II, Stelly focused upon the digital media sector.
In today’s segment, the discussion turns again to the opportunities within the Louisiana film industry, the reasons for its success and creative ways to incorporate google hangouts.
Google hangout expert Ronnie Bincer, Louisiana-based Google hangout advocate Wayne Nix joined Bayoubuzz publisher and Google hangout and promoter Stephen Sabludowsky in the interview.
Sabludowsky: So let me follow up on the film industry, if I might. As I understand it, we are currently number one in the world in terms of movies that are filmed, TV programs, that are filmed in Louisiana. Am I correct?
Stelly: I think you are correct. Thank you. Yeah, we were recently rated the number one feature film production destination for the calendar year 2013 by our counterpart on California. So that was a great pat on the back for what we do here in the state of Louisiana and the tremendous strides that we’ve made in that industry. The fruits of that labor are certainly showing off.
Sabludowsky: But it’s not just the tax credits that are bringing people here, bringing the Brad Pitts, and I can go on with some of the other actors and actresses and studios. It’s not just the incentives, is it?
Stelly: Well, you know, the incentives are an important piece. To not recognize that, that’s just the way the film industry has evolved into where they make decisions based on fiscal matters for them. However, philosophically speaking, if you have a great incentive, but you don’t have the support structure built up around it, then it’s just a number, and you can’t maximize that return on that spend. So what’s we’ve been able to do is really focus our efforts on streamlining the programs, making it easy, and at the same time working with companies to develop a great infrastructure. We have sound stages located throughout the entire state. We have a great crew base. We have film friendly communities where people still aren’t so worn out by the presence of the film companies that they welcome them in. It’s a great experience for anyone coming in to shoot here in Louisiana. We have a temperate climate, things that you don’t necessarily think of. It’s sunshine year around. So you can come to Louisiana in the dead of winter and have a great experience where it’s not too cold or snow or anything like that. We have a unique historical and cultural tie to the arts. So those things really give the creative people a sense of time and space and a tie to history that you don’t get anywhere in the US. So it’s a combination of all those things. You got support from the Governor through the Legislature on down to the community level with Mayors and City Councilmen to the individual residents. So it’s been a very, very good experience overall.
Sabludowsky: Where are the opportunities in that particular sector, film? Are we producing? We’re filming; but are we the other, the second half, of the production? Are we strong there? Are there opportunities there?
Stelly: There are opportunities across the spectrum. I think the next step for Louisiana would really be to take what we have accomplished today and make sure that it’s long-term and self-sustaining. So that goes from fostering the idea through distribution. I don’t know what that plan looks like, but certainly the opportunities for anyone, if you want to work below or above the line, are here in Louisiana. I’ve got a few friends out on the West Coast who continue to wait tables, and I’m like, “Why are you working in a restaurant here in LA when you could be at home working?” So there’s ample opportunities in the post-production space, in the distribution space, and really all over the place.
Sabludowsky: Ronnie, Wayne, you have friends who probably need to get into the film or any one of these entertainment industries?
Nix: Well, of course, we all know somebody who wants to be famous. But what I’m thinking more of at the time is how these Hangouts could actually benefit what you’re trying to do with the state. You know, just to constantly have some interaction and keep people informed. I think Ronnie can chime in more on this. I mean, basically, we have marketing like never before. It’s at our fingertips. Everybody has a phone. You know, I just think it would be awesome if we could get somebody shooting on the corner all of a sudden going live and just have a questions. You would have that constant marketing, and it would drum up those sorts of wants. Because I know just living in New Orleans; I’ve lived in New Orleans several times, and I’m sure I’ll be back; you know, every now and then, like the last one I stumbled across was The Butler. That was not too long ago. It just happened to be around the corner from my apartment. I had no clue. That sort of thing, just to be able to pop up on site or even to be able to get with the…you know, no longer do you have to spend tons of money on advertisement. You just go on Google. Like I said, I think Ronnie can probably elaborate a lot more on that, because he’s talking with a lot of the David Amerland’s and things that are actually leading this cutting-edge field.
Bincer: Okay. Well, some of the ideas are that we can take; Wayne had alluded to it or mentioned to it; this thing right here, which is called cell phone, and this turns into your own TV truck. So you can be walking on the set and doing behind-the-scenes broadcasting of what’s going on and potentially grab one of the stars and bring him over and just ask him a quick question. Somebody can actually interact with them live. And that can bring buzz to the space that shows off that there’s all this film development going on right in their backyard. So it’s a quick, easy way, inexpensive, because these tools are basically free, to just go around and basically be the voice that’s talking about this particular industry. Of course, you have to deal with the legal aspect of it. Is it okay to do a broadcast from the set? So that’s something that you’d have to wrangle through, but the idea of the space being so much easier to get into. This visibility and these tools that are just flying at us, coming one right after the other to allow us to broadcast that, is pretty incredible.
Nix: And can I interject one more thing? I saw Giorgio Tsoukalos the other day right before they did, you know, he does an ancient alien show. They had a live event where people could ask him questions. So there are people in the major industries out there starting to use these tools. We have them here, so it’s just figuring out, like I said, maybe some of those legal things like Ronnie alluded to.
Stelly: I’ve certainly been in several meetings with studio execs and been at panels and functions like South by Southwest, etc, etc, where the studios in particular have set up social media divisions to do just these sorts of things; to get the word out. You know, now you have what’s called second screen, right? So you’ve got people that are watching a program on television and interacting by Twitter or another social media platform. So those things are certainly always something that people are looking at, and the idea makes good sense because, you know, the one thing that you’re trying to attract whether you’re producing a film or making a record or creating a video game, is an audience. So the more buzz that you can build…just take, for example, comic book movies. At one time, there was maybe one or two comic book movies every two or three years, right? We weren’t inundated and one coming out year after year. But what they did smartly, they went to all the comic book fans and brought them into the process and invited websites like Ain’t it Cool Muse and What Harry’s Doing over in Austin. They invited him to the set to make sure that they have that interaction. So it makes sense that the next logical, natural evolution of technology would be something like what you guys were proposing.;
A hopeful crowd of indie moviemakers raised a traditional shot of tequila toasting the 2014 Louisiana Film Prize in Shreveport on Aug. 12. The festival, which is celebrating its third year, received over 100 submissions of films ranging from five to 15 minutes long. The top 20 finalists will compete in October for a whopping $50,000, one of the country’s largest cash prizes for a short film competition.
“The Film Prize has claimed its place in the indie filmmaking world as one of its premier competitions,” said Executive Director Gregory Kallenberg in a statement. “We are incredibly excited about this year’s group of films and being able to show this work to our jury and the Film Prize audience.”
Because the grand prize winner will be chosen based on the festival audience’s votes as well as a jury of industry professionals, finalists are encouraged to increase their chances of winning by promoting their films and enlisting support from their community. “Louisiana Film Prize Fest Weekend has become part Sundance, part Lollapalooza, part American Idol,” said Kallenberg. “As the filmmakers lobby for their vote and interact with the public, there is an atmosphere in the air that can only be described as ‘electric.’” The festival encourages a healthy spirit of competition leading up to Oct. 10–12, when the top 20 will be screened with great fanfare.
In addition to the $50,000 grand prize, the top five films will receive distribution through Shorts International on iTunes and go on to other festivals across the country. The Film Prize also gives out $15,000 in filmmaking grants, further solidifying Louisiana’s growing stature in the indie film industry. Over the past three years, the festival has injected an estimated $5 million into the local economy.
Festival participants were required to produce their films in northwest Louisiana, where movies such as “Olympus Has Fallen,” “The Iceman,” and “The East” have shot scenes. “We are hoping to help galvanize the idea that Louisiana is a film capital,” said Kallenberg. “The real goal of the Film Prize is help show filmmakers that you can create all types of film here.”
The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said Williams was found unconscious and not breathing inside his home in Tiburon, Calif., around noon local time, and was pronounced dead shortly after. Tiburon is across the Golden Gate Bridge north of San Francisco.
The sheriff’s press release identified him by his full name, Robin McLaurin Williams. Investigators also said they will hold a news conference Tuesday at 11 a.m. PT (2 p.m. ET).
The county coroner suspects the death was “a suicide due to asphyxia,” which could mean death by hanging. But a comprehensive investigation must be completed before a final determination is made; an autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday, the press release said.
Williams’ rep confirmed the death to USA TODAY.
“Robin Williams passed away this morning,” said Mara Buxbaum, president of his PR firm. “He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”
His wife, Susan Schneider, issued a brief statement: “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken,” she said.
The news of his death sent shock waves through Hollywood and the nation, and prompted an outpouring of grieving tweets and statements from everyone from the president of the United States to the Sesame Street gang.
“Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between,” President Obama said in a statement. “But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.”
CNN reported a statement from Pam Dawber, Williams’ co-star in the wacky Mork & Mindy of the late 1970s, which introduced Williams to an amazed nation. “I am completely and totally devastated. What more can be said?!” Dawber said.
“We mourn the loss of our friend Robin Williams, who always made us laugh and smile,” the Sesame Street tweet read.
“I saw him on stage the very first time he auditioned at The Improv in Los Angeles,” said Jay Leno in a statement. “And we have been friends ever since. It’s a very sad day.”
Williams’ last tweet and Instagram was on July 31, when he wished his daughter, Zelda Rae, a happy 25th birthday and posted a picture of himself with her as a child. “Quarter of a century old today but always my baby girl,” he captioned the photo.
In San Francisco, where Williams for a while lived in the fog-shrouded oceanside Sea Cliff neighborhood, residents were shocked and saddened.
“He seemed like a good San Franciscan,” said Griff Behncke, 35, who was waiting to take the ferry ride back to Sausalito, near Tiburon. He remembers Williams donating blood after the 9/11 terror attacks, and then entertaining the long line of people waiting to donate.
Williams will reprise his role as Theodore Roosevelt in the third Night at the Museumfilm. Fox issued a statement, according to Entertainment Weekly.
“There really are no words to describe the loss of Robin Williams. He was immensely talented, a cherished member of our community, and part of the Fox family. Our hearts go out to his family, friends and fans. He will be deeply missed.”
Williams, who won an Oscar for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting, also recently signed on to reprise his beloved role as Mrs. Doubtfire in a sequel to be directed by Chris Columbus, according to EW.
Williams has battled health problems and struggled with substance abuse for decades. Only last month he went into rehab at Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesota, and was expected to stay there for several weeks.
CBS also issued a statement: “Our world has lost a comic genius, a gifted actor and a beautiful man. We will remember Robin Williams as one of the unique talents of his time who was loved by many, but also as a kind, caring soul, who treated his colleagues and co-workers with great affection and respect. Our heartfelt thoughts and sympathies go out to his family, loved ones and friends.”
Williams talked to USA TODAY last fall before the premiere of his CBS comedy, The Crazy Ones. He talked about the favorite characters he’s portrayed:
“In terms of voices, it’s the genie (from Aladdin) just because it was like 32 different voices,” he said. “But in terms of acting roles, I think Awakenings, because it’s Oliver Sacks and he’s this extraordinary man who introduced me to the whole idea that the brain is this incredible organ and all the different aspects of it. And creativity, and looking at the brain from the inside out.”
Twentieth Century Fox Television, producer of The Crazy Ones, issued a statement: “Robin Williams was a comedy giant, and although we only knew him personally for a season, he was warm, funny and a true professional. His cast and crew both loved him and loved working with him, and our hearts go out to his family and friends. He was one of a kind.”
Williams’ many friends and admirers, famous and not famous, could barely process the news, and took to social media to mourn.
“There are many talented, legendary, iconic people in this world but Robin WIlliams could be set aside in a category apart from everyone else,” said Robyn Knapton Ridgley, a Hollywood writer/producer who worked with Williams in the past. “His scintillating genius I treasure to this day.”
But his epitaph could never be confined to just 140 characters. When he spoke to USA TODAY last year, he reflected on the happy point he had reached in his life.
“I’m lucky. I’m really blessed. I have a wonderful life. Good peeps.” USA TODAY: Your kids? “Wonderful. And my wife. It’s just a good time in my life. Wonderful place to be.”
Posted Aug. 6, 2014 @ 9:00 am
Updated Aug 6, 2014 at 9:57 AM
The Louisiana film industry has been getting a tremendous amount of attention lately. With films like Green Lantern, 12 Years a Slave, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes already released, Terminator 5, Picture Perfect 2, and Fantastic Four all coming soon, and NCIS: New Orleans and GI Joe 3 about to start shooting, film and television production in Louisiana has been booming. With all the focus on Louisiana’s recent film growth, it is easy to overlook the state’s rich past in films. Steel Magnolias and The Pelican Brief are just two of the many films made in Louisiana in the past. Ed and Susan Poole, two local film accessory researchers, have made it their goal to make sure modern day filmgoers will not forget Louisiana’s past film history. For over 35 years, the Pooles have been involved with documenting, recording, and preserving film accessories such as press books, movie stills, movie posters, and general press materials. Their knowledge and love for film have evolved from being collectors of these materials to eventually full time researchers.
Ed and Susan Poole will visit the Ascension Parish Library in Gonzales on Tuesday, August 19, 2014, at 6:30 p.m. to discuss Louisiana’s vast movie history. A short documentary film on Vitascope Hall, the first seated indoor theater in the United States that opened in 1896 in New Orleans, will also be presented.
The Pooles’ dedication to film in Louisiana has led to several reference books being written including their latest, Louisiana Film History: A Comprehensive Overview Beginning 1896 published by Margaret Media. Immediately following the presentation, there will be a question and answer session and a book signing of several of their books. Professionally printed film prints will also be available for purchase.
As Gov. Bobby Jindal and other local politicians called for more information on the 1,000 unaccompanied immigrant children placed this year in Louisiana, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Friday the children all were discharged to sponsors, not state or federal agencies.
The mostly Honduran children, who often have fled gang violence at home fueled by the drug trade, likely will face a lengthy immigration court process, most without legal representation. Many of the children placed in metro New Orleans are joining parents or other relatives who came following Hurricane Katrina.
Ken Wolfe, a HHS spokesman, said Friday that almost all of the minors were released “to sponsors who are family members, or in some cases, friends of family. Most sponsors are parents of the child.”
About 70 percent of the unaccompanied minors awaiting hearings in New Orleans immigration court are from Honduras, followed by about 20 percent from Guatemala and about 7 percent from El Salvador, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) Immigration Database.
Nationally, as of mid-June, U.S. Customs and Border Protection stated that it had apprehended more than 52,000 children at the border, with about three-quarters of them originating from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras after traveling for weeks through Mexico. The Associated Press has reported that more than 57,000 immigrant children have crossed the U.S. border without parents or guardians since October.
Under a 2008 law meant to combat child trafficking, children from noncontiguous countries, such as Central America, are referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and assured an immigration ruling before being deported or allowed to stay. For children from Mexico though, the Department of Homeland Security has the authority to screen and then immediately deport them back to Mexico without a formal hearing.
Late Friday, House Republicans passed a bill, which would provide $694 million, about one sixth the amount proposed by President Barack Obama, and which also would modify the 2008 anti-human trafficking law to make it easier to deport unaccompanied minors.
Obama said at a news conference Friday that House Republicans were “trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable versions of a bill that they already know is going nowhere, that can’t pass the Senate, and that if it were to pass the Senate, I would veto.”
The immigration court process
And despite some recent moves to speed up the court process, the 1,071 unaccompanied immigrant children placed in Louisiana this year have a backlogged New Orleans immigration court system ahead of them.
After being processed at the border, the mainly Central American children are scheduled to have a hearing, similar to an arrangement, wherein they plead to the charges of removability.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review said that expedited 21-day hearing schedule was put in place on July 18, and is one of “a series of recent steps to help address the influx of migrants crossing the southern border of the United States.”
The docket typically is assigned to the immigration court nearest to the children’s resettlement.
But, following the initial master hearing, the next hearing date often can take more than a year.
Still, many immigration attorneys and advocates say that trying to push the hearing process forward too fast can violate due process and that the year or so wait often does give the immigrants time to get their cases together and find representation.
“Even though it seems like a long amount of time to wait for a court date, it really is a benefit for the child who has a right to qualify for a visa,” said Jolene Elbert, an organizer with Congress of Day Laborers, a nonprofit that works with Latinos across the metro New Orleans area.
“After paying a coyote anywhere up to $6,000 to bring their kids over, they are suddenly confronted with the fact that they may have to pay what amounts to another $6,000 for juvenile visa.
“Your kids just arrived and luckily you have about a year, but you should start putting money aside now.”
Syracuse University’s TRAC Immigration Database, which consists of Executive Office for Immigration Review data, shows there are about 6,200 total adult and juvenile immigration cases pending in New Orleans immigration court. And, that court only has one judge, who sees both adults and juveniles.
The average wait time for a hearing in New Orleans immigration court is 418 days, according to the TRAC database.
Hiroko Kusuda, who runs the immigration law section of the Loyola Law Clinic & Center for Social Justice, advocated for a second judge in New Orleans immigration court, both to help with the caseload but also to have a judge who only handles juvenile cases.
She said such a judge “could be trained so that they are sensitive to kids’ needs” and that having “a separate docket for children would help us screen each child’s cases so that they don’t fall through the cracks.”
And despite the Loyola clinic attorneys and others’ efforts, Kusuda noted that the majority of unaccompanied immigrant children do not have any legal representation at all.
“They are not guaranteed a court-appointed council,” Kusuda explained, adding that she and her 10 student attorneys can only handle so many cases.
The TRAC database show that of the 1,216 pending juvenile cases in New Orleans court as of the end of June, 991 of those children were not represented by an attorney.
Nationally, TRAC data through June showed that in more than 100,000 cases analyzed, almost half the children were not represented by an attorney. And, for those, only one out of 10 of them were allowed to stay in the country versus about half the children who were represented by an attorney.
The violence at home
Kathleen Gasparian, a partner with the immigration law firm Ware|Gasparian, recently has started an effort to recruit and match pro-bono attorneys with immigrant children who cannot afford legal services.
“While they are safe from the conditions in their home countries, they and the families that have taken them in now face a new set of challenges,” she wrote in a recent letter asking colleagues to join her in the effort.
“They must now navigate a strange city, strange schools, a strange language, and a strange, complex and vast legal system.”
Gasparian said on Friday that the program would focus on a type of deportation relief called special immigrant juvenile status for children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected by one or more parents.
Many of these children’ are fleeing violence. … There may be people that they are freeing from,” Gasparian said. “Many of them deserve protection.”
Elbert, with the Congress of Day Laborers, said that many of the children she meets with are fleeing gangs in Honduras.
“They are looking to join their mother or father here in New Orleans after they were left at a young age with grandparents or uncles,” Elbert said. “And as they get older, their kids can’t go to school anymore because leaving the house to go to school, they are being threatened by gangs, with gang members often forcing girls to join gangs as their girlfriends.
“I have heard of kids as young as 8 that they are trying to recruit. And so their parents send for them now, many after not seeing their parents since the hurricane (Katrina), because there kids will never have a life back in Honduras since it is so violent.”
The 2014 North Louisiana Gay & Lesbian Film Festival will be held, Sept. 5-11, at the Robinson Film Center in downtown Shreveport. The festival is an annual presentation of P.A.C.E., a nonpartisan organization that works to advance equality in northwestern Louisiana. The featured guest for the 2014 festival is LGBT advocate Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in October 1998 in what became one of the most high-profile cases highlighting hate crimes against LGBT people.
On Friday, Sept. 5, Judy Shepard will appear at the festive opening night reception from 6-7:30 p.m., and will conduct a Q & A following the 7:45 p.m. screening of Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, a new documentary about the life and tragic death of Matthew Shepard. On Saturday, Sept. 6 at 10 a.m., Shepard will give a free public talk entitled “The Legacy of Matthew Shepard” in the Whited Room at Centenary College of Louisiana.
The festival will also include daily screenings of a juried selection of films, including: Appropriate Behavior (Comedy, 2014), Camp Beaverton: Meet the Beavers (Documentary, 2013), Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda (Documentary, 2014), Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine (Documentary, 2012), Open Up to Me (Drama, 2014), The 10 Year Plan (Comedy/Romance, 2014), The Circle (Docudrama, 2014), The Dog (Documentary, 2013), The Foxy Merkins (Comedy, 2013), and To Be Takei (Documentary, 2014). J.C. Calciano, writer/director of The 10 Year Plan, along with actors Matthew Hamilton and Jack Turner, will attend a screening of the film at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 6, and will participate in a post-screening Q & A.
Though known best for crawfish, hurricanes and Mardi Gras, Louisiana is California’s newest film industry rival.
Currently, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are fighting crime with a Pelican State backdrop in 22 Jump Street. You may have watched Anna Kendrick sing her way through Baton Rouge in Pitch Perfect and soon in its sequel. True Detective took us through the bayous, while Treme showcased the ins and outs of the nation’s most eclectic city, the one also serving as setting for the new NCIS: New Orleans.
In fact, according to Film LA, 15 years ago, California produced 64% of the top 25 live-action films (by ticket sales). This past year, it produced 8%.
Hollywood still exists, but movies aren’t being made there.
Hollywood still exists, but movies aren’t being made there.
Since time immemorial, there’s been talk of the “new Hollywood.” But 2013 is the first year another city fully surpassed it in sheer number of productions, leaving the film industry fractured. Movies are being made in Louisiana, mainly New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport, thanks to a mixture of tax credits, attractive filming locations and a growing pool of local on-set talent.
We wonder about the iconic town’s future when Hollywood’s primary export is being produced elsewhere.
The city of angels vs. the city that care forgot
Twenty-four-year-old aspiring actress Jennie Kamin is pretty, witty and a master of accents. In other words, she’s ideal for an acting job. Toss in the fact that she debuted on stage at the tender age of five, following in the footsteps of her mother, grandmother and stepfather, and it seems like a sure bet.
After graduating from Tulane University in 2012 and joining the Screen Actors Guild, she was faced with a choice: Remain in New Orleans, her adoptive home (and one close to her actual home in Texas), or move to Los Angeles and follow the Sunset Boulevard dream.
Ten years ago, L.A. would have been a no-brainer. But 10 years ago, Louisiana didn’t offer the best tax credits in the country for filming and production. According to Louisiana Economic Development, the 2002-born tax credits provide “motion picture productions a 30% transferable tax credit on total in-state expenditures, including resident and non-resident labor, with no cap and a minimum spending requirement of $300,000. For productions using in-state labor, Louisiana offers an additional 5% payroll tax credit.”
That tax credit directly led to Kamin’s choice: New Orleans, for awhile. Living in the Central Business District and auditioning weekly, it seemed like a dream. Though filming seemed to be a constant, and she loved living in the city — “The unique part about New Orleans is that people love to live there. There’s creativity there. It’s really an artist’s town.” — a vital aspect of her burgeoning career was missing. Kamin landed roles in the indie Father-Like Son (currently making the festival rounds) and SyFy’s made-for-TV movie American Horror House, but she wasn’t building up the necessary network to truly break into the industry.
Crews might abound in New Orleans, but studios don’t. To find this, she, like so many before her, moved to Los Angeles.
“People are starting to trickle down to New Orleans, but I still think the majority of people at the beginning of their careers are migrating to Los Angeles,” Kamin says. “It is Hollywood, and I think it’ll always be Hollywood.”
On the other hand, born and bred New Orleanian Kristen Blaum, 28, left Louisiana for L.A. immediately after graduating from LSU, where she studied broadcast communications. She started at a West Coast NBC Page Program — yes, like Kenneth in 30 Rock. That was in 2009.
But after three years in L.A. and experience working as a production assistant on the TV series Hollywood Heights, Blaum returned to New Orleans. There, she worked on the sets of the Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club, the New Orleans-set 2013 season of Top Chef and the blockbuster sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
“I’ve seen a definite growth in the film industry in NOLA, especially since 2009,” Blaum says, adding that locals are being trained in direction, writing and crew work. “[I hope they] stick around as they work their way up the ranks.”
Therein lies the bifurcation the film industry is seeing: Production is outsourced from the creative hub of L.A. It may not be the first time, but it’s the most extreme one.
Toronto, Michigan and yesterday’s “Hollywood of tomorrow”
According to Ira Deutchman, managing partner of Emerging Pictures and head of the producing program in the graduate film division at Columbia University, Toronto was once a burgeoning film center. So was Michigan, says Trey Ellis, the Emmy-nominated screenwriter responsible for HBO’s The Tuskegee Airman and associate professor in Columbia University’s film department.
The former city offered a good trading rate between the Canadian and American dollar, and the latter offered tax credits. But the moment the dollar evened out and those credits ceased, so did the booms. Like moths to lights, the film industry straight-lined to the cheapest production hub. If Louisiana loses its tax credits, it could lose its grip, too.
There’s always the chance that politicians will revoke Louisana’s tax credits, because it’s impossible to measure the trickle-down impact of filming. The opportunity cost, meanwhile, is far easier to track. Louisiana will be out about $6.2 million for Duck Dynasty alone, and a reported released by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office shows the state will be out $170 million due to the credits.
“Michigan doesn’t have the weather or the history of Louisiana,” says Ellis, but he quickly admits it comes down to money.
Likewise, there’s always the chance that California passes similarly attractive credits, though it seems unlikely. According to Deutchman, California simply can’t afford those same tax credits. In fact, he says “I met the new mayor of Los Angeles, and he was at Sundance trying to find ways to bring production back to L.A.”
As Mari Kornhauser, LSU screenwriting professor and writer for HBO’s post-Katrina series Treme, reminds me, the creative talent isn’t moving to New Orleans. The production crews are. While production crews make movies, they don’t make the decisions to make movies.
When Hollywood leaves Hollywood
The studios have much to lose, little to gain by relocating, especially when they can just fly a director and cast to a city with built-in crews. There’s no immediate reason for that infrastructure to move. Still, it’s easy to see the cracks forming in Hollywood’s golden façade.
There’s hope for Louisiana as a major film hub, if not the major film hub.
Ellis says, “I really think Louisiana is setting itself up to be a long-lasting, important film hub along with New York, Miami and Toronto.”
Kornhauser points out the ever-changing infrastructure of film distribution, citing production companies like Court 13 — the one responsible for the Oscar-nominated, Louisiana-set-and-filmed Beasts of the Southern Wild — and local comedy company The New Movement*, begun by Chris Trew and Tami Nelson.
The former forewent trained actors by casting a local baker and a young student as the leads in the acclaimed Beasts of the Southern Wild. The latter, meanwhile, trains local talent much like the Upright Citizens Brigade or Second City might and then creates web series such as Sunken City or the New York Times-featured My Purse. My Choice, by comedy troupe rude.
Neither company is a threat to the monolith of Hollywood, but Kornhauser cites both as proof that the inevitable new distribution models could change the status quo. She compares the film industry to the music and publishing industries and points out that, were the film industry ever to mirror those in terms of losing control of distribution (which it arguably already is), there’s no reason why smaller companies couldn’t take over.
And New Orleans is vibrant with creation.
“The more you have going on, the more people will start to create their content,” Kornhauser says. “New Orleans is a very good place to get training as an [assistant director] and jump over to something else.”
For now, production junkies like Blaum will move to Louisiana, while aspiring creatives like Kamin head out to Los Angeles. But, for the first time in film’s history, those creatives might have sights set on Louisiana for the long-term.
“There’s an idea in New Orleans that it’s a place where dreams come true, and Hollywood used to have that,” Kamin says. “But the community in New Orleans really supports that idea, and that’s why I believe it’s going to persist and thrive.”
As movie productions around Baton Rouge wrap and others begin, a number of workshops geared toward locals looking to get into the industry are scheduled for the coming summer weeks.
These programs are hosted by the Arts Council of Baton Rouge and the Baton Rouge branch of the New Orleans Video Access Center, which began offering job training here in March.
Creative Industries Corp: The Arts Council’s program begins Aug. 1 and focuses on the production of a short documentary film. Students will finish a 12-minute documentary about the Lincoln Theater by the end of the weeklong training, which ends Aug. 8. The program costs $100, except for residents of Old South Baton Rouge who can take the classes for free. Go to the Louisiana International Film Festival’s website for more information and to register.
P.A. Boot Camp: Workshop participants will focus on the basic skills required of production assistants from instructors from Quixote Studios in Los Angeles. These classes will take place at the Celtic Media Centre on Aug. 16 and Aug. 17. The program is free. Register online at www.novacvideo.org.
Intro to AD’ing: This workshop offers an inside look at what it takes to be an assistant director on a movie set. Quixote Studios instructors will teach this free course as well from Aug. 19 through Aug. 21. Applications are available on www.novacvideo.org
it’s become well known that many locations in Shreveport have been turned into movie sets. If you take a drive on I 20 east and you will find Camp Minden. Although closed to the public at least 10 films have been shot there. And now farther east to the city of Minden which has been building up its resume of filming locations.
Lynn Dorsey, the executive director of the Webster Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau says “One of the things that has been successful about Minden is because it looks like small town USA You could be in any part of the country and have a little downtown with brick streets. The appeal is that to the movie producers. It just looks like small town USA”
And now an innovative idea has come to light. It’s a brochure that details the locations where dozens of movie have been shot in northwest Louisiana.
Lynn Dorsey explains “This is a brand new brochure we are so excited to have. It’s the Northwest Louisiana Film Trail. It identifies sites from Shreveport all the way to Minden Louisiana. Inside people can identify by number the movies they are interested in. And then they can actually open the brochure and those numbers correspond to downtown Shreveport and downtown Minden which is of course what we are really promoting.
Trisha Sprouse told KTBS “I’m here to visit family but I’m also here to produce a segment for my food and travel blog called thevignetteblog dot com. We are just going around town and getting some the historic buildings and old houses. Trying to get some of the atmosphere. We think it’s great my husband and I are from Los Angeles. Both members of the screen actors guild. Moved away to Los Angeles and now the movie business has come here so we think it’s fabulous. We love that.”
Lynn Dorsey goes on to say “From a tourism stand point it has brought and will potentially bring many visitors to our area who would have never known about Minden Louisiana otherwise. Amercian movies are a big big draw.