SPECIAL REPORT: THE NEW 'LA'
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.”
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
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.”
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.