Thursday, December 23, 2010

Downtown Baton Rouge Gets Its Close-up in "Battleship"

07 December 2010
By Rebekah Allen, The Advocate

Sichin Li-McCall shivers in an alley under a heavy coat Monday morning in 45-degree weather. Her face and clothes are lightly spotted with dirt.

A voice booms to clear the set, and she sheds her coat.

“Ready, action,” the voice says.

A giant dust cloud erupts behind Li-McCall, filling all the corners of the alley. Li-McCall runs frantically ahead of the dust cloud along with dozens of other people.

The dust clears, and Li-McCall walks casually back to her spot in the alley and replaces her coat, before she does it all again.

Baton Rouge resident Li-McCall spent Monday morning working as an extra for the movie “Battleship,” a Universal Pictures production, with an estimated budget of $70 million, according to documents filed with Louisiana Entertainment, the arm of the state’s economic development division responsible for awarding tax credits to the films produced in Louisiana.

The scene is intended to reflect an alley of downtown Hong Kong, but locals may recognize it as the Third Street entrance to the Shaw Center for the Arts disguised with some Chinese flair.

“Battleship,” to be released in May 2012, is the largest budget movie to film in Baton Rouge, said Katie Harvey, project manager with the Baton Rouge Film Commission.

The movie is directed by Peter Berg, director of “The Kingdom” and “Hancock,” and features pop music star Rihanna, Oscar-nominated actor Liam Neeson, from “Schindler’s List,” “Batman Begins,” “Taken” and “The A-Team,” Taylor Kitsch, from “Friday Night Lights,” and Alexander Skarsgard, from HBO’s “True Blood.”

None of the stars were involved in the downtown shoot on Monday.

The movie is based on the classic Milton Bradley warship guessing game, except in this version naval forces are uniting to fight an alien attack.

In the movie, an alien space craft enters Earth’s atmosphere and breaks into pieces making impacts across the globe, said R.J. Mino, production manager for the second unit, which mostly handles special effects.

The scene shot Monday, which took hours to set up, multiple takes and could cost up to $100,000, will last only a couple of seconds in the finished product, Mino said. The scene depicts people in downtown Hong Kong running away from a dust cloud kicked up from the space craft’s impact. A green screen will be used to superimpose images of buildings crashing down behind the people running away.

Li-McCall, who is an elementary school French tutor, said her 10-year-old daughter takes acting classes at the Celtic Media Centre, which is also housing “Battleship” and “Breaking Dawn” film productions.

She said she was picking her daughter up from the class one day when she was asked if she would be interested in participating as an extra in the film.

She said later this month she’ll film another scene as a NASA worker.

“I don’t usually like sci-fi movies, but I will definitely watch this one,” she said.

“Battleship” began filming in Baton Rouge on Oct. 21, said Ernie Malik, a spokesman for the movie. He added that staff have been in the area since before June setting up and building scenes.

About half of the filming took place in Hawaii, and the remainder was filmed in Baton Rouge. Mino said most local scenes were filmed in the Celtic studio, but there were also recent shots on the U.S.S. Kidd, which was subbed in for the U.S.S. Missouri, and in a Port Allen field, which will double as Scotland highlands, Malik said.

About eight downtown businesses were rented Monday to film the scenes and close the street, including the downtown lobby of the Shaw Center, where the camera crew worked.

David Briggs, executive director of the Shaw Center, said downtown business owners have been supportive of being able to lend their shops to the movie, and were fairly compensated for doing so.

“Everyone’s pretty much on board,” he said. “It’s bringing a lot of attention to Baton Rouge and Louisiana and it’s bringing in a lot of money for the economy.”

Mino said there are about 300 people working in Baton Rouge for the movie, which wraps Dec. 17.

The Shaw Center location was chosen because it has a modern look that could represent downtown Hong Kong, Malik said.

Louisiana, he said, offers one of the best tax incentives in the movie industry. Malik added that with New Orleans, Shreveport and Baton Rouge, Louisiana has a wealth of diversity to offer film makers.

Alex Schexnayder, 22, said he fortuitously got a job on set as a camera production assistant, despite having no film experience.

The LSU creative writing graduate and Donaldsonville native, said he was considering moving out of state for a job before the opportunity arose.

“A few years ago, I would have never expected for me to be working on a movie set,” he said. “But now there are a lot of things happening here in Baton Rouge.”

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