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August 2014
Issue: April 1, 2008

SPECIAL REPORT: THE NEW 'LA'

By: Ken McGorry
NEW ORLEANS — The state of Louisiana is aggressively claiming a growing chunk of the film and television business — arguably the biggest chunk after Los Angeles and New York.
The state’s goal is not only to revamp itself into a new LA, but also to challenge Hollywood by building a “new LA” right here from the ground up. A side benefit is to stanch “runaway production” (Canada, Bulgaria, Hungary, etc.) and keep much more in the States.

Speaking of states, Louisiana’s is not the only state government that’s hit on the idea of enticing big-spending film productions to their state with generous tax credits. But the folks in LA (Louisiana that is) are quick to tell you why producers choosing to work in their state have made the better choice.

New Orleans has seen a large uptick in film and TV work, starting in 2006 with films such as Tony Scott’s thriller Déjà Vu and blossoming into a growing list of well-known features: The Reaping, The Guardian, Premonition, Mr. Brooks, The Mist, The Great Debaters and Mad Money to name a few. A college-buddy comedy, Mardi Gras, is shooting in New Orleans and the Jack Black comedy, The Year One, complete with Biblical desert scenes shot near Shreveport, is currently in the works. David Fincher is at work on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt, in New Orleans.

COME, STAY AND SAVE

One issue, as those who work on movies and television know, is convincing production companies, directors, talent and crew to pack up and leave the devil they know — Los Angeles — for parts unknown, e.g. Louisiana. The state got the ball rolling with attractive tax credits — rebates, essentially, on production spending done in the state. Then Louisiana’s growing number and variety of production services and talent kicked in. Add to that the state’s natural beauty; the geography’s flexibility for location work; the weather’s (usual) cooperativeness; the friendliness of the hard-working population and other intangibles; and then factor in the great cooking you find everywhere you go. Importantly, the cost of living here is just plain lower than in New York and Los Angeles.

Post production and CGI companies are starting to lay down roots, but key functions such as film processing, telecine and DI are still done out-of-state.

Louisiana offers a 25 percent tax credit granted on in-state expenditures exceeding $300,000 related to the production of a motion picture. An additional 10 percent is granted based on the total number of Louisiana residents hired on the production. There’s also a 40 percent tax credit granted on expenditures related to infrastructure that supports and services the motion picture industry, but this credit will end on the first day of next year (unless the state decides to keep it going).

Jennifer Day is the director of New Orleans’ Office of Film and Video. She says the eight movies being produced in New Orleans in the first half of 2008 alone — with budgets totaling around $150 million — will top the total of film work done there in all of last year. She stresses that growth in production should be balanced by a sensitivity on the part of filmmakers to “work harmoniously with tourism in New Orleans.” Citing New Orleans enthusiast Tony Scott, she adds that directors come to the city for its special ambiance, not as a generic “cheat” location standing in for another city.

GOT IT ALL, ALMOST

It’s easier to mention production services they do not offer in Louisiana: as mentioned earlier, film processing and telecine (for these you rely on Dallas, Atlanta or farther afield). There is not much in the way of (get this, big-time post companies) DI presently in the state either, but watch for Technicolor’s Creative Bridge DI truck pulling into New Orleans soon (see below).

Based in Shreveport, Gary Strangis, co-founder of Turnkey|Louisiana (www.tk-la.com), provides kit, expendables and services ranging from pre-pro through production and post. Red cameras, Fuji film, lighting, offline edit systems, you name it. Strangis spoke with Post after a very late night tracking down an emergency supply of additional HDCAM stock for a producer who was experiencing the joys of consuming lots of cassettes instead of canisters. “Rather than being a ‘pass-through’ company, we’re here to help,” Strangis says. “That’s what keeps our clients coming back.”

Strangis says Louisiana “is always at the forefront of the tax-incentive movement. It’s a tax credit that can be sold or brokered on an open market, almost like a commodity [as long as you spend inside the state]. The more you spend, the higher your tax credit is, but it’s money going into the state and the local area.”

Outside the main citified areas — New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport — the state’s rural areas can double for (or “cheat”) any number of more exotic locations, from New York period locales to Guantanamo Bay (see the new Harold and Kumar comedy).

“Editing is probably the last phase of outsourcing,” says Strangis, but he adds, “We’re seeing growth in offline edit.” Directors are still going home to do their final edit, but Strangis cites Tommy Lee Jones’s new In the Electric Mist as a prime example of an all-Louisiana job: talent, crew and post (not counting that darn film processing and telecine). “We’ve got digital dailies and transferring data by fiber,” he says, “all sorts of things that make it more comfortable to edit on the road.” Strangis also expects to see more visual effects talent come and set up shop here as well, adding “it all qualifies for the tax credit.”

Swelltone Labs ranks as a high-end “benchmark in the state” for audio post, according to Strangis, with Tommy Lee Jones, Soderbergh and David Fincher among its clients.

Fincher’s Button was shot digitally and a movie for TNT, Librarian 3 with Noah Wyle, is also shooting digital in New Orleans as one of the first films to use the 4K Red One camera. Two Reds, in fact, provided and supported by TK|LA.

STORYVILLE

Right near the storied Swelltone Labs audio house in New Orleans stands Storyville in a house of its own. The full-service production and post operation has been in New Orleans about 20 years and is currently undergoing major renovation to accommodate the influx of film projects, in addition to its roster of TV and spot clients. Storyville (www.storyville.la) resides in a classic 1800’s town house with four floors of detailed period architecture now devoted to Avid offline and online editing, graphics and audio production and post. (They also pride themselves on great New Orleans cooking.)

Sergio Lopez is Storyville’s executive producer and he says the shop is seeing a mix of film-based and HD spots and longform work with the majority still originating on film. Agencies still prefer film, Lopez says, and work in Digital Betacam in post. Film clients first send their reels off to Los Angeles, Chicago or Dallas, and the distances do not pose a drawback, Lopez says, since “it’s all overnight.”

The Storyville Website plays clips from such projects as the American Express Members Project installment that was dedicated to the rejuvenation of New Orleans. Mylo Percle and Paul Grass are house editors.

Storyville's Digidesign Pro Tools|HD suite is set up for surround mixing but clients still tend to ask for standard stereo. Weston Ganucheau is the shop’s audio engineer and David Torkanowsky produces and composes for Storyville. Lopez says that music and sound effects are how you “create emotion” in a project.

ACTIVE IN BATON ROUGE

Ken Badish is president of movie production company Active Entertainment and new post sister company Sweetpost Productions (www.sweetpost.net), based in Baton Rouge. “We fund indie films and will now look at films that need finishing monies that maybe need post services to finish, which we can provide and help them get to completion and delivery,” says Badish. Sweetpost is equipped with Final Cut Pro, Maya, LightWave, After Effects and Imagineer’s Motor for CGI and visual effects.

Active had Haunted Palace, based on the Edgar Allan Poe tale, set for theatrical release this month and more films from the action/thriller/horror genre, including Jaws of the Mississippi, set to premiere on a near-monthly basis.

Badish and company stress their mastery of the state’s tax credits to lure thrifty filmmakers to come and use Sweetpost’s services. They also tout the area’s low cost of living. “We have a superb team of editors and a growing CGI team using state-of-the-art software for our in-house and third-party post work,” he says. The company’s senior staff, including Badish, have relocated from Los Angeles and are “knowledgeable in the needs and work habits of the Los Angeles and global community of producers and directors.”

THE NEWEST IS BIGGEST

The Celtic Media Centre in Baton Rouge holds bragging rights as “the first and only full-service studio/soundstage complex built from the ground up” in the state. As it stands, Celtic (www.thecelticmediacentre. com) has huge soundstages, but there are four more under construction, the idea being to entice filmmakers to shoot on set as well as in outdoor LA locations.

Heavy construction equipment was recently clearing the way for the next soundstage – a 28,000-square-foot behemoth, scheduled for completion in June. There are three more buildings planned for the Celtic complex — one 50,000-square-foot structure that can be separated into two stages and two more 25,000-square-foot soundstage structures. These will also have floors for production and post production offices.

Kevin Murphy is director of studio operations for Raleigh Studios Baton Rouge. Raleigh, the Hollywood-based soundstage and production services company (www. raleighstudios.com), is in a management partnership with Celtic. In this relationship, Murphy explains, one operation with two names can be all the more effective in garnering interest from prospective filmmakers on their home turf. That is, Raleigh can go after the Hollywood business, while Celtic goes for the local trade.

To Murphy, it’s important that Hollywood producers understand that the new Celtic stages are “purpose built to attract $30 million, $40 million and up productions that used to go to Canada or London. We are doing everything in our power to give them state-of-the-art services.”
Locally made small films and independents are welcome, too. Working from the Celtic Media side of the fence, Hollywood audio post veteran Howell Gibbens has been testing out Celtic’s new audio mixing theater and has used the small film The End of the Spear (about missionaries in South America) as a test case. Gibbens uses a Digidesign console in the large theater, which can project film or digital, and he recently proved that he can make a small film like Spear sound — and feel — like a big picture.

LMS

Hollywood transplant Jerry Gilbert is president of two-year-old Louisiana Media Services, an audio post and FCP/Avid editing house in Baton Rouge. LMS (www.louisianamediaservices.com) has provided services for a string of films such as the new Middle of Nowhere with Susan Sarandon. LAMP (www.lampbr.com), Baton Rouge’s Louisiana Media Productions, a sister company to LMS, provided production services. This movie, which was shot on 35mm, was produced by Hollywood’s Bold Films but had its post performed locally.

Gilbert says he has “been increasingly impressed by how all aspects of the industry are rising to meet the demand for high-quality production and post production resources throughout Louisiana. With this depth of resources continuing to grow, an increasing number of clients are choosing to stay in the state for their entire post process, rather than returning to Los Angeles after shooting, and a considerable number of clients that I am working with now are coming to Louisiana for post even after shooting in other locations.”

LMS is a Digidesign house with point-to-point file exchange with Hollywood via DigiDelivery on T-1 lines. LMS works in HD on Final Cut using Apple’s ProRes and AJA video cards.

RIVER ROAD CREATIVE

Richie Adams, a rising star in main title design for film and television, is another example of talent moving from Los Angeles to Louisiana. But Adams is a local boy who made good in Hollywood and returned to set up River Road Creative (www.rrc.la) in Baton Rouge.

While in Hollywood, Adams made his name with creative takes on titles such as Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Ladder 49, S.W.A.T. and Babel. In his new shop, Adams created the open for Doug Limon’s recent big-budget action hit, Jumper, as well as the New Orleans-based police drama K-Ville for Fox.

Adams and company provide the full production and post experience for his main title work and he is looking to expand his shop to encompass more services, including visual effects. He works in FCP, After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator and Maxon Cinema 4D, but also specializes in filming practical images and lettering for his titles.

“The film industry down here is absolutely blowing up,” enthuses Adams. He hopes to grow River Road into “the go-to creative entity for independent films” with a new Final Cut room for editing full-length movies in a setting with an LA/NYC boutique feel.

WHY SHREVEPORT

Shreveport became the recipient of some unexpected film business in the direct aftermath of Katrina. Productions were literally fleeing north in trucks and vans to escape the destruction and high water and Baton Rouge quickly ran out of hotel rooms. But the Shreveport/Bossier City region in Northwest Louisiana was able to accommodate a number of production pilgrims and that became the basis of an ongoing relationship with Hollywood says Arlena Acree, Shreveport’s director of film, media and entertainment.

Louisiana Production Consultants (LPC) partners Alissa Kantrow and Lampton Enochs (www.laproducers.net) had just such an experience. The production management specialists were able to get their client, the TV movie Scarlett, upstate and back in production on new stages within 30 days of the hurricane.

One year ago their company moved into and took on the management of the Mansfield Studios, 350,000 square feet of stage, office and vendor space in Shreveport. LPC has added some impressive titles to its credits including Pulse, The Mist, Factory Girl and lots more. Tekken, a new movie based on the videogame, and a hilarious-looking sequel to Harold and Kumar are currently in the works.

Enochs was recently providing production management on Tekken. A recent Tekken action sequence, shot on HD, took over a local coliseum — fallow most of the year — and remodeled it to serve as a Tekken martial arts coliseum. Two main adversaries face off in the film’s prop-heavy amphitheater as fire pots flare on cue before an audience of about 2,500. There were perhaps 25 rabid audience members on hand from the local area. The rest of the crowd, which was quite well behaved, was shipped in from California — inflatable attendees blown up for the shoot.

Down a hall in the Mansfield complex sits Neo Art & Logic (www.neoartandlogic.com) production coordinator Josh Smith and his crew. These young people work on as many as three movies in tandem to maximize productivity: “To shoot one while prepping three more is pretty intense,” he says, “but we pulled it off fine.” New movies include genre thrillers Feast 2 and Feast 3, Pulse 2 and Pulse 3 and The Midnight Man to be distributed by Dimension Extreme. From Smith’s perspective, after an eight-month stint he and his crew will return to Los Angeles as experienced film production veterans with five titles to their credit.

Smith saw an unusual progression as they moved from film to film. The earlier Feast flicks had much more greenscreen. The Pulse movies shot with F-900s and were cut on FCP. By the time they got to Midnight Man, they were shooting Arri 16mm film and using practical sets such as a local house that sees most of the action.

RED AND DOUBT

Veteran Hollywood director Peter Hyams has also served as DP on his 20-plus films, many of them action extravaganzas. He has shot film until now. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is his first digital shoot and he’s using two Red cameras and contentedly lighting shots for this legal thriller exactly as if he were shooting 35mm with Panavision.

Hyams says he was never one for poring over film dailies, so for him the change to Red and no dailies at all is not a stretch. He and his crew rely on a nice, carefully calibrated HD monitor to check that they have their shots and lighting right and, Hyams says, “I’m totally confident. When you’re looking at a large high-def monitor you can tell when things are sharp and properly operated.”

Hyams adds, “I really wanted to wait until there was a legitimate 4K system. The Red camera seemed perfect to start with — it’s lightweight, doesn’t require umbilicals.” Although the Flash cards Hyams and company use may capture only four minutes of action, “they can be replaced in a matter of seconds. It’s not like changing a magazine.”

For very long scenes, the production will use a new Red hard drive (now in beta) “which are two or three hours in length.” Hyams credits the Flash cards with being very robust and reliable.
Jeff Gullo is editing Beyond a Reasonable Doubt on Final Cut. As for questions about post workflow and pipelines for big 4K Red image files, Hyams is stoic. “Like all things as new as this system is, it requires some experimentation. In the end though, it works. And one assumes it will only be getting better.”

DI TO THE RESCUE

Technicolor Creative Bridge was founded by Brian Gaffney and New Orleans resident Dan Lion the week that Katrina made landfall near New Orleans in 2005.  Creative Bridge is mobile and full of DI gear — it involves a 36-foot trailer that houses a theatre with a native 1920x1080 projector and six-foot viewing screen; a Mobile Digital Lab; color timing; and digital mastering.

The company became a division of Technicolor in 2007 and has provided on-location services to feature film and TV projects in the US and Canada. Technicolor Creative Bridge (www.creativebridgeinc.com) will be on location for an upcoming feature film shooting in New Orleans in May. The company is providing an end-to-end workflow for the digital production shooting with Panavision's Genesis camera. Creative Bridge will provide realtime color correction for dailies and DI using their DP Lights color grading system, which employs Technicolor’s award-winning color science and print emulation. DP Lights has been used on many recent films, including Superbad, Walk Hard and Get Smart. Color decisions made on-set are exported as an ASC Color Decision List. 

The shoot’s master HDCAM SR tapes are cloned and XDCAM dailies are color timed and available the same day the scene is shot. Audio is synched and editorial receives the color-timed XDCAM HD disk with Avid List Exchange on the same day. “DVD dailies are processed before the day is completed for all to review the day’s work,” says Lion. “Most importantly, the ASC Color Decision List will be available for the DI work to make the process more efficient.” 

DIGITAL FX

Who has the most awards — Telly’s, Addy’s Emmy’s and more — on their walls in Louisiana? It would be hard to prove you had more than Baton Rouge-based Digital FX (www.digitalfx.tv), they seem to be on shelves everywhere. Headed by production veteran Greg Milneck, the shop boasts four editorial suites, two visual effects rooms, CG animation, audio finishing and a complete digital studio.

The jewel in the Digital FX crown is its new Red One camera and a workflow that gets the rich (but too big for TV) 4K images through post production and on to delivery. Milneck, a film lover who has made the leap to 4K acquisition, will soon be expanding the shop via fiber to handle long-distance film and color work from Dallas and thereby serve visiting producers and others needing digital production capabilities. The revamped Digital FX will offer 72TB of storage and a 4K-capable pipe (while continuing to work, for now, in 2K). While the shop currently provides color grading in Smoke, the plan is to bring in a Lustre.

CG work includes Softimage|XSI modeling and animation for National Geographic shows such as photoreal snakes (that can be broken down anatomically) created by Aaron Michel.

Currently Digital FX is treating unsuspecting local clients, such as family-owned Kleinpeter Farms Dairy, to 4K Red production while Milneck and crew master the new workflow. Red image files go into a Smoke operated by Justin DeLong. Milneck’s upgrade will include a beefed up network to accommodate Red files, but he says, “We love the camera; it was designed for post.”

LOOKING AHEAD

TK|LA’s Gary Strangis is impressed by how Louisiana’s colleges and universities are introducing new curricula in film and media. New technology is under development in Louisiana and now other businesses in the medical and biotech industries are noticing the successes in filmmaking and taking interest in setting up here as well.

All high-tech industries need research and high-end facilities and that could be another new niche for the state. Take for example LITE — Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise — in Lafayette. LITE (www.lite3d.com) is loosely affiliated with the University of Louisiana Lafayette and offers very high-end visualization, high-performance computing and high-speed networking to interested parties not just from the entertainment space but also the industry, government and scientific research communities.

If you wondered where all the big, high-speed computers went, they reside here, including the SGI Altix 4700. There are also 11 Altix 350s and 32 Intel Itanium processors all interconnected via InfiniBand. LITE’s large roomful of large computers generates a 3D immersive experience in a large theater setting, but also within a six-sided cube that can hold a handful of people who want to immerse themselves in virtual reality e.g. the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Sienna in Italy. The practical entertainment app for this technology, says Marty Altman, LITE technical director, lies in previs, setting up camera shots in advance, and finding ways to make videogame production cruise along beside film production without re-inventing the wheel.