Hollywood Down in the Bayou

The Shreveport-Bossier area has become a big hit with the film industry thanks to attractive incentives, the right infrastructure, and good old fashioned Southern hospitality.

When thinking about places in the U.S. associated with the film industry, Louisiana is does not immediately spring into the minds of most Americans. Surprisingly though, the state is ranked only behind California and New York in volume of film production, and it seems that at the center of the state’s success in the film industry is a rather unexpected place—the Shreveport/Bossier area.

This area, comprised of two Louisiana cities separated by the Red River, is the commercial and cultural hub of Ark-La-Tex, the area where Louisiana comes together with Arkansas and Texas.

The city, which was once a big-time player in the oil and gas industry, suffered a sizable blow to its economy when many of the oil and gas companies left in the mid 80s after a substantial economic slump in the industry. Today, the area is a bustling center for tourism, with many gaming establishments. It also happens to be the new nexus of a flourishing film industry in Louisiana.

So, how did an area that wasn’t even on the filmmaking map prior to 2005 already attract 14 projects with budgets totaling $185 million so far this year?

Two words: Hurricane Katrina. After Katrina struck in August of 2005, several movie and television projects taking place in New Orleans were left scrambling to find some place else to finish their productions. That place for many ended up being Northwest Louisiana, and several projects went some 300 miles northwest to the Shreveport/Bossier area in order to salvage their productions. One of the bigger features that came to the area at that time was Disney’s “The Guardian,” starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher.

The facts speak mountains for the area’s rapid success in this industry: since October 2005, 25 movie and television projects have been shot or green-lit in Northwest Louisiana, bringing in an estimated $340 million in production.

The area has been a location stand-in for such places as New York, Alaska, New Hampshire, Amsterdam, and Maine, and has been the destination for well-known films such as “Blonde Ambition,” “Factory Girl,” “The Mist,” “Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” and “The Great Debaters,” “The Year One” starring Jack Black, Michael Cera, David Cross, and Oliver Platt recently wrapped, and Oliver Stone’s “W,” starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Banks is currently in production along with three others film and television projects.

Major film-industry companies like Paskal Lighting, Cinelease and Panavision all have taken up residence in the area thanks to this film boom.

Nu Image/Millennium Films just had a ground-breaking ceremony to celebrate a new studio project. Construction on phase one of the project will begin soon on 6.7 acres, with the intention of eventually expanding to a 20-acre full-service studio, complete with three sound stages, production offices, a mill, and prop house. In addition, MovieMaker Magazine ranked Shreveport the third best place to film independent movies, behind such hubs as California and New York. So what is it that has facilitated this unlikely pairing between Northwest Louisiana and the film industry? For starters, massive incentives: The state offers a 25% tax credit for an in-state production worth $300,000, plus 10% more for the use of local labor.

“The state tax credits are bringing them into the state and we keep them coming in repeatedly by our film-friendly area (logistically a super easy place to shoot film productions), Southern hospitality, and great infrastructure. A production can easily shoot four to five locations in one day,” notes Arlena Acree, director of film, media and entertainment for Shreveport. The Shreveport area provides state-of-the-art infrastructure with production spaces like Mansfield Studios and soundstages StageWorks and StageWest. Louisiana Wave Studio offers the only tank with automatically generated waves in the United States.

Thanks to Shreveport’s burgeoning film industry, the city is the recent recipient of the $3.7 million Robinson Film Center (RFC), a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to present the best international, independent, and classic film while serving as a resource for filmmaking and education. RFC’s new facility in downtown Shreveport includes two state-of-art theaters, a bistro, and multi-purpose spaces ideal for business and non-profit use. The new facility opened to the public on May 3, 2008.

As the first film center of the south, the RFC features the latest in film and digital projection. It has private screening facilities for dailies and multi-purpose media rooms.

So, the next time you are munching popcorn at your local 12-plex, there is good chance the movie magic you are watching was made in Shreveport, LA.