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Louisiana’s film industry weathers hurricanes

Can Denzel Washington and Sandra Bullock help the state recover?
/ Source: The Associated Press

Inside a riverfront bar in this rural town 60 miles northwest of New Orleans, the cast and crew of “Road House 2” are shooting the sequel to the 1989 movie that starred Patrick Swayze as a tough-as-nails bouncer.

In between takes, Rafford Caston rests on a log outside the bar and reflects on his newfound good fortune: Out of work since Hurricane Katrina left his New Orleans home under 6 feet of water, he landed a job this month driving a truck for the film production.

“It’s a really good job, with good pay,” said Caston, 61. “This is the only thing keeping me sane.”

Tax incentives made Louisiana a popular Hollywood destination before Katrina, and state officials say the speedy return of movies and television shows that their film industry has weathered the hurricane.

Last year, more than two dozen film and television productions created 3,000 jobs and spent a total of $375 million in Louisiana — up from $20 million in 2001, the year before it started offering tax credits ranging from 10 to 20 percent.

This year, state officials expect to exceed last year’s numbers even though Hurricanes Katrina and Rita forced some filmmakers to suspend production or find alternate locations.

“It’s one of those industries that can certainly be part of the rebuilding process,” said Alex Schott, director of the Governor’s Office of Film and Television.

Denzel Washington heads for New Orleans
No major productions are filming in New Orleans, and it could be months before the city is capable of hosting one. However, the makers of the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced thriller “Deja Vu,” starring Denzel Washington as a time-traveling FBI agent, are in talks with the state to begin filming in and around New Orleans in February.

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Barry Waldman, the movie’s executive producer, said the filmmakers don’t want to strain city resources during the massive rebuilding effort: “We’re very reliant on the places we go for so many support services.”

While New Orleans remains closed to big-budget Hollywood productions, other parts of the state are picking up the slack.

“The Reaping,” a Warner Bros. piece starring Hilary Swank, wrapped last week after filming near Baton Rouge. The hurricanes forced them to evacuate their sets twice.

Next month, Disney is scheduled to start filming “The Guardian,” starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher, in Shreveport and other locations. Although they scrapped plans to film in New Orleans, the film’s director, Andrew Davis, said the studio never seriously considered moving to another state.

“We felt an emotional commitment to the people we were working with in Louisiana who lost homes,” said Davis, whose directing credits include “The Fugitive,” “Under Siege” and “Holes.”

The hurricane forced Davis and company to relocate and rebuild an expensive water tank, and it delayed the arrival of a 75-foot fishing boat. Their decision to endure those logistical snags and stay wasn’t purely altruistic, of course.

“The motivation to begin with was dollars and cents,” Davis said. “For the best bang for your buck, this seems to be it.”

For example, a production that costs $5 million can save about $1 million through the state’s tax incentives, according to the Governor’s Office of Film and Television.

More films heading for Louisiana
This month, Shreveport is hosting “Chlorine,” an independent film starring Ray Liotta and David Arquette, and “Thief,” an FX cable series starring Andre Braugher that shot its pilot in New Orleans.

Other films due to be shot in Louisiana in the coming months include “Premonition,” starring Sandra Bullock, and “Factory Girl,” starring Sienna Miller and Guy Pearce. Both are being made with assistance of the Louisiana Institute of Film Technology, the state’s largest film and television production company. LIFT, which provides editing, accounting, transportation and other services, has seven projects in the works.

According to the state, roughly one-third of each production’s budget goes back into the local economy, including salaries for crew members. In the case of “Roadhouse 2,” about 85 percent of the crew is from Louisiana.

The sequel, which replaces Swayze with Johnathon Schaech playing his son, recently shifted locations from Shreveport to Springfield to shoot exterior scenes on the patio of Tin Lizzy’s bar.

Director Scott Ziehl said they were three weeks from shooting in New Orleans when Katrina hit, forcing them to evacuate to Houston and wait out the storm. More than two months later, they’re still on schedule and under budget, although there were some increased costs.

“I think Sony wanted to show good faith,” he said, “and not turn our back on the people of Louisiana.”