With N.O. still reeling, filmmakers bank on Shreveport

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When he arrived in Shreveport, La., in January to shoot "The Mist," an adaptation of a Stephen King story for the Weinstein Co., director Frank Darabont was impressed by the little city tucked in the northwest corner of the state.

"We're at the tip of the wave of coming here, but I think there are going to be a lot of other folks coming here once they catch wind of what's available," Darabont raved at the time.

That wave is now a flood. A year and a half ago, Shreveport wasn't even on the filmmaking map. But so far this year, five movies have shot there, and three others have just begun production.

Credit Hurricane Katrina.

Louisiana, which introduced film incentives in 2002, was a growing hotbed for film and television when Katrina slammed New Orleans and its environs in August 2005. While most films migrated out of the state, Touchstone's "The Guardian" shifted to Shreveport, inadvertently opening the door for a new revenue stream.

Now, a city that didn't even tabulate film production has seen 12 productions totaling $300 million from the end of 2005 to the end of 2006.

Filmmakers want to stick with Louisiana because of its rich film incentives, which offer a 25% tax credit on production worth $300,000 or more, plus an added 10% for the use of local labor.

But there are other factors in play to explain Shreveport's rise. For one, New Orleans, despite the help of big budget productions like "Deja Vu," still is recovering from Katrina.

"There are areas that are still problematic, and many parts of the city still bear the mark of the disaster," said director Renny Harlin, who just wrapped shooting "Cleaner," starring Samuel L. Jackson, in Shreveport.

Harlin, who scouted the state for a city that could double for Trenton, N.J., looked at Baton Rouge but found that city "doesn't offer the kind of versatile urban environment that Shreveport does. You won't find that L.A. look, but Shreveport is like any Midwestern town."

Callie Khouri, now in the first week of production on Millennium Films' "Mad Money" starring Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah, said she loves the city's look.

"They haven't torn down their old buildings. They have everything from 1901 to the present. They don't have huge downtown city skyscrapers, but we don't really need that," said Khouri, who is using Shreveport to double for Kansas City, Mo. She, like Harlin, was delighted that the contained downtown core was "like a little backlot."

Khouri also is surprised how quickly Shreveport's infrastructure grew.

"We moved in fast motion," notes Arlena Acree, director of film, media and entertainment for Shreveport.

Within a year after Katrina, the city had three designated soundstage areas. Crews initially came from New Orleans, Los Angeles and, when production began to pick up, Texas and Florida. City Hall and the police department said yes to everything from street closures to waiving fees.

Productions sometimes found themselves in the teacher's seat. Said Harlin: "(Shreveport) didn't have a permit system, and they would say go ahead (to filming). And we had to educate them that you have to create a permit system because we have to know that if we're on a street corner, nobody else is going to show up right next to us. You need to have a system where you know where everybody is at any given time."

Shreveport's scorching production wave isn't about to cool anytime soon. Productions lined up for this summer include Denzel Washington's "The Great Debaters" and "My Beautiful Mistake" with Antonio Banderas.
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