Monday, January 24, 2011

Local film crews look forward to busy year in growing industry

NEW ORLEANS- A New Orleans neighborhood has been transformed this week, complete with a mini-mart where the old St. Roch market once stood.

It's gotten neighbors talking.

"When I first rolled up and I saw them doing that, I was like, 'Oh, they're getting ready to open the market back up!' I didn't know what was going on," said William York, a resident of the St. Roch neighborhood.

Turns out, it's all for Mark Wahlberg's new movie, "Contraband." Set in Panama, the movie's being shot in the Crescent City.

"I'm loving every minute of it. It's revitalizing the neighborhood, the city. The economy's going to get better. As you know, all we do is hospitality, but this is something else that we can do," said York.

It's just one of the movies being shot in New Orleans this year. A few of the movies on slate for 2011 include "Cogan's Trade," starring Brad Pitt. 21 Jump Street will be shot in New Orleans in April. And Miley Cyrus is in town this week shooting "So Undercover."

According to New Orleans film commissioner Katie Gunnell, more movies are being made now in Louisiana than California. Thirty-five feature films were shot last year in New Orleans alone, bringing in nearly $300 million. Compare that to just three movies in 2002, the year Lousiana's tax incentive program began.

It's been a big boost for local actors like Clay Chamberlin.

"I came down here because of the tax incentive, so thank you politicians," said Chamberlin.

While the tax incentive is a big draw, many say New Orleans' unique culture is also big plus.

"We love New Orleans," said Contraband's publicist, Wendi Laski. "The people are so nice and so accommodating. It's been incredible."

"And then add in the fact that we have world class hotels and restaurants and shopping, and it’s an easy place to spend a couple months," said Gunnell.

Stars like Jeremy Piven have been spotted at Hornets games and it's become almost commonplace to see production trucks around the city. And that means jobs for local crews.

"I was planning on just going to California and working," said local film grip Jimi Ryan. "But it was so busy here, I was able to stay and just keep working here, and not leave the state."

"It's been unbelievable," said Chamberlin. "I didn't have to move to California. Dreams have come true every single day for years now."

Still, crews say the local industry has some unmet needs. Right now, they say there's no local wardrobe or prop house.

"It's better than six years ago," said Ryan. "There's more infrastructure, but there are still things that need to be done."

by Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News

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