Katrina, tax incentives turn city into filming hub

“We woke up one morning and found ourselves in the film business,” said Arlena Acree, director of Film, Media and Entertainment for the mayor’s office in Shreveport, La.

Every city should be so lucky — although Shreveport isn’t gloating. It was after Katrina devastated New Orleans along with its thriving film production that filmmakers redirected their production lenses to the film friendly environs of Shreveport.

And, the city was ready. “Our success is a result of the passage of our tax incentives and also the unfortunate circumstances of Katrina,” said Shreveport Mayor Cedric B. Glover, who was instrumental in getting the incentives approved when he served as a state representative.

Dubbed “Hollywood South” in a recent MSNBC news report, Shreveport offers the benefits of Louisiana’s generous tax incentives as well as an “anywhere, U.S.A.” type of landscape.

Scott Stuber’s production, “The Better Man,” needed both.

“We chose Shreveport over New Orleans after scouting both cities and finding that our key locations — small town, family house, lake, etc. — were better for what we needed in Shreveport,” Stuber said. “Overall, it is a good place to shoot. The people and the film commission are terrific and very easy to work with.”

“Filming in Shreveport offers tremendous artistic and commercial opportunities,” agreed Tim Clawson, the Weinstein Company exec VP of physical and post production. ” ‘The Great Debaters’ is based on events that happened nearby and the Louisiana tax credit incentive is a valuable bonus.”

That kind of press as well as a newfound fear of hurricane season has secured an abundance of post-Katrina production for Shreveport including feature pics such as “Factory Girl,” “Premonition,” “Mr. Brooks,” “Homeland Security” and “Blond Ambition.” From August 2005 to December 2006, the city’s film revenue registered $300 million.

” ‘The Guardian’ was the turning point,” Mayor Glover said. “We helped recruit, build and keep the tank used for the film — which ranks with the James Cameron tank used for ‘Titanic’ — as part of our permanent film infrastructure.”

The Louisiana Wave Studio, which houses the tank, is the only feature film facility in the U.S. that can automatically generate a variety of waves up to nine feet and horizontal storm conditions. The 8,000 square-foot tank, 100 feet long, 80 feet wide and 8 feet deep, holds 750,000 gallons of water.

Part of Shreveport’s film infrastructure now includes production studios, according to Acree, with plans for a subsidiary of Nu Image to build a $10 million facility expected to be completed year.

That studio will join:

  • StageWorks of Louisiana, offering clear span sound stage space totaling 52,000 square feet and 25,000 square feet of networked productions offices, including a wide range of amenities. The facility has hosted TV and film projects including, Kevin Costner’s “Mr. Brooks,” Warner Bros.’ “The Year Without Santa,” the Weinstein Company’s “The Mist” and Nu Image’s “Mad Money.”

  • Mansfield Studios, with more than 75,000 square feet of office space and 120,000 square feet of converted stage space with 26-foot clear ceilings, full service production offices and vendor support services.

  • Stage West, in association with TurnKey/Louisiana, has more than 50,000 square feet in stage space, hosts Cinelease & Expendables Plus and Avid Meridian offline edit suites.

  • Mansfield Studios, in association with Louisiana Production Consultants, boasts 80,000 square feet of office space and 120,000 square feet of air-conditioned stage space and 26-foot clear ceilings.

While this bodes well for Shreveport, there is an offsetting balance to the city’s lure.

” ‘Major Movie Star’ is the fifth Nu Image/Millennium Films’ production we’ve done here. The city is tremendously accommodating with locations, permits, closing of roads and the people are great,” producer Michael Flannigan said. “The drawback is that this is not Hollywood where there is an abundance of resources. You have to bring in a lot of people and equipment. In the long run, it eats into those tax incentives.”

New Orleans, while immersed in shoring up its city’s infrastructure, intends to also restore its lost film production that posted revenues of $550 million in 2005.

Elston Howard, location manager for 20th Century Fox’s fall TV skein, “K-Ville,” has a vested interest in the rebirth of the city and its production. Howard, a native of New Orleans’ 9th Ward, said the series will showcase the devastation as well as pre-Katrina flashbacks of the city’s historic Garden District, French Quarter and a variety of surrounding locales.

“We wanted to contribute to the rebuilding, New Orleans’ coming back, and show that it’s not a Third World country without running water,” said Howard.

The studio committed to filming subsequent episodes solely in New Orleans, if the pilot, also shot in the city, was picked up.

According to Jennifer Day, director of the Mayor’s Office of Film and Video for New Orleans, the city extends its own hands-on Southern hospitality to projects of any size, offering a range of pre-production services from location scouting to script and budget analysis.

Feature pics such as David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Tony Kaye’s “Black Water Transit,” in addition to other projects for TV are contributing to the city’s production rebound.

“Currently, the City of New Orleans is lending support to several infrastructure projects and surplus warehouse space is increasingly being converted to studio space,” Day said. “I am finding that as word of our success continues to spread, skilled crews from Los Angeles and around the country are flocking to New Orleans for work and to enjoy a quality of life that only New Orleans can offer.”

Local nonprofits, such as the New Orleans Video Access Center, are also engaged in hosting training programs to supply the growing industry.

Shreveport’s Glover agrees with the importance of developing an infrastructure to retain film production. The city’s 2007 slate includes “The Great Debaters,” “Last Lullaby,” “Harold and Kumar II” and “Cleaner.”

“It’s what’s behind the scenes that is the real value. We have a dynamic economic mix that includes the automotive, oil and healthcare industries as well,” added Glover. “Celebrities can relax without being annoyed. It’s a place to call home.”

Kevin Costner echoed the mayor’s sentiments: “The biggest compliment you can give to a location is that you would like to return there to shoot another film.”

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