When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana on Aug. 30, 2005, actors, directors and productions hit the roads to hightail it out of the state. In the aftermath, no one knew when production would return. Other states moved to nab productions that were fleeing or, striking while the iron was hot, to install their own incentive legislation. “It’s a shame because they were doing so well,” one film commissioner says of Louisiana’s setbacks.
What a difference a year makes, though.
Between the high-profile New Orleans premiere of “All the King’s Men” on Sept. 16 and this weekend’s release of “The Guardian,” which was filmed in and around Shreveport, it’s almost as if there was never any slowdown at all.
“We’re a lot better off than we first thought we would be,” says Alex Schott, executive director of Louisiana Governor’s Office of Film and Television Development.
Schott’s office moved quickly to help productions move to other parts of the state, ensuring that they didn’t leave. “Guardian,” from Walt Disney Studios’ Touchstone, is the best example. The Coast Guard rescue thriller was in preproduction in New Orleans when Katrina hit, a massive water tank built for it was wiped out, and technical advisers from the Coast Guard assigned to the film left it to work in the rescue effort.
The production regrouped in Shreveport and built a new tank, which the studio is now selling to the city for use as part of its film infrastructure.
The hurricane’s silver lining in regard to Louisiana’s film industry is that it showed there is an industry in the state beyond high-profile New Orleans.
“After the devastation of Katrina, companies are a bit reluctant to shoot during hurricane season, so if you want to take advantage of the great incentives, you are going to have to look around at some other places to shoot around the state,” “Guardian” producer Tripp Vinson says. “People know now that there are these other places.”
The other significant step to recovery was the return of “Deja Vu,” which Jerry Bruckheimer produced for Disney. New Orleans had been set for a key location for the film, which was to have begun shooting in fall 2005, but director Tony Scott left the project when it looked like the city was too devastated to film in. Scott returned, however, when key city components, such as the city’s dock and ferry, were being repaired, and the movie shot over the winter. “When ‘Deja Vu’ returned, that sent a message that other people could follow suit,” Schott says.
And return they did, with the state seeing a big burst of activity from January-May. It is now on its way to match 2005’s production activity. Among the productions that shot there include Lionsgate’s “Pride,” starring Terrence Howard, and “Factory Girl,” starring Sienna Miller.
Louisiana isn’t resting on its comeback. A deal between Los Angeles-based Element Films and New Orleans-based LIFT Films to create a fund will bring film productions to the state over the next three years. And the year may end on a high note if, as expected, David Fincher’s “Benjamin Button,” starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, comes to the state. With a $150 million budget, “Button” would be the biggest movie ever to shoot in Louisiana.