Sunday, May 16, 2010
Shreveport/Bossier Area film industry improves after lull
Filmmakers work on "Drive Angry" recently on Clyde Fant Memorial Parkway. (Henrietta Wildsmith/The Times)
Northwest Louisiana's film industry appears to be on the upturn following a relatively slow 2009.
Less than halfway through 2010, combined budgets for the Shreveport-Bossier City area's productions are larger than all of last year. That comes out to about $99 million for six television shows and movies this year, according to the Shreveport-Bossier film office, versus $98.2 million for 18 projects in '09.
An increase in the amount of money the state offers companies in the way of rebates is the driving force, experts say.
Industry publications kept the state and area in top five lists for best places to do business, but at one point in 2009, Shreveport had nothing shooting. After steady activity since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina pushed production here from New Orleans, the shortage of productions hurt. Georgia — still considered one of the Bayou State's main competitors — increased its rebate incentive rate to 30 percent in 2008. That drove companies to Atlanta while Louisiana offered companies only 25 percent of the amount of money spent in-state.
Louisiana since has upped its incentive to 30 percent, and Shreveport and Caddo Parish offer smaller add-ons.
"I've been here for five years, and I have been consistently working for five years," said Ryan Glorioso of Shreveport's Glorioso Casting, "but right now it's just extremely busy."
Meeting the bottom line clearly matters. While incentives help, according to Shreveport film director Jeffrey Goodman, a still unrealized cost-cutting opportunity is the availability of local post-production facilities.
That should change this year with the arrival of the long-awaited Nu Image/Millennium Films studio just west of downtown in the Ledbetter Heights neighborhood and Moonbot and Blade studios at the central city Intertech Science Park. "Once those facilities are up and running, I'm not really sure what we're missing," Goodman said. "To me it's just very encouraging to hear about these new infrastructure projects. We've done something right."
The industry's local presence has not affected only directly film-related business.
Cyndi Brenner, unit production manager — the person whose job is to keep a show on budget — for Fox Television Studios' ABC series "The Gates," said her four years here have seen major changes in available temporary living spaces.
Hotels were the main option early on, Brenner said, but now many apartment complexes offer corporate housing, or fully furnished units. Moving into apartments with no furniture or utilities would waste time.
"It would mean us having to go in and baby-sit while the cable guy comes and the electricity gets turned on and all of those things that I don't' have the manpower to do," Brenner said. "But we're willing to pay a certain amount to have it done for us."
Shreveport-Bossier's film office also includes a database of available housing.
The next trickledown effect Brenner hopes for: direct service from Shreveport Regional Airport to Los Angeles.
Shreveport's film commissioner, Arlena Acree, said that since January she's tracked nearly 350 film-related plane trips from here to there. "We definitely are still trying to pursue direct flights to L.A."
While Acree agrees that it's money that brought and has kept the film industry here, there is one perk that seems to have taken a slide. Movie stars used to say the Ark-La-Tex was a respite from the fan and media glare in Hollywood or New York.
But there may need to be etiquette for approaching actors.
"Don't be knocking on their door or making them cookies. Don't put it on Facebook," Acree said. "Actors will be in restaurants or shopping and people come up to them and want to get their picture made. Leave them alone."
What doesn't seem to be a major nuisance for residents, Acree said, is blocking traffic for filming. In recent weeks production has closed sections of major north-south artery Clyde Fant Memorial Parkway.
Last year, the northernmost on-ramp to Interstate 49 was closed for weeks. The city doesn't track its closures, but Acree recalled receiving only one complaint about I-49. "Most of them are maybe a half day or certain hours a day," Acree said. "It doesn't make it that bad."