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When the hero of the great New Orleans-set novel Confederacy of Dunces, Ignatius J. Reilly, said, “I am apparently trapped in a limbo of lost souls,” there was no way to know that by the early 21st century, that line would apply literally—and heartbreakingly—not only to New Orleans, but most of the gulf coast.And as the scope of the tragedy continues to unfold—a major American city stagnating in toxic water, tens of thousands of domestic refugees looking for shelter, for new lives, oil companies allowed to game the tragedy and jack up gas prices everywhere, sending more ripples through the US—and world—economy—whether a particular TV show or film finishes shooting in Louisiana, or begins production at all, is, in the scheme of things, small beer.But we are charged with a particular charter here at Below the Line, a particular lens in reporting and commenting on the news, so it is the question of film production in Louisiana that we will tackle here.And we will say that for all intents and purposes, Louisiana, as a practical spot for making movies—Hollywood movies—is finished.This is not said lightly, nor for the usual reason—that the state’s main city, with its most renown and colorful locales may not be rebuilt, or viable, for a year or more (if ever, in terms of the New Orleans we all have known). Rather, there are larger systemic patterns unleashed by the hurricane.One of these is the fact that many of the skilled production workers in Louisiana will have to relocate elsewhere in the year while their state and city is being rebuilt; many, you can guess, will probably wind up in Southern California, looking for the kinds of jobs that will be few and far between in the Pelican state.But the larger problem is an aspect of Hurricane Katrina that few people are talking about, especially in the news media, one that’s crouched in the general reaction to the hurricane like it’s a one-time event, or rarely occurring, event—like the San Francisco earthquakes of 1906 and 1989, or an eruption at Mount St. Helens.Remember, unlike quakes in specific areas, hurricanes don’t occur once every few decades (i.e., one really big awful one in a single human lifetime), but rather in batches, every year. In seasons.And sure, Orleans-specific Big Blows, like Camille and Betsy, were years apart (well, okay, both those occurred in the ’60s), and there was Andrew, which took out some big pieces of Florida.But the key to all this is in those names, each of which starts, respectively, with an A, B or C. Since hurricanes have been named, they’re given an appellation based on when they occur in hurricane season, which runs from June 1st through December.So when Andrew struck in August of 1992, it was the first named storm of that season. 1965’s Betsy, coming in early September, was the second named storm of that year.Katrina, bearing the letter “K,” is the 11th named storm of this year’s season—and the worst storms, traditionally, are those that usually hit in September and October.So, for starters, there is no guarantee, that there won’t be another “Katrina” this very year, or next.And the fact that this storm almost hit the dozen mark before Labor Day is part of another sobering trend: Tropical storm seasons are getting denser—which is to say, there are more named storms, on average, in a given year, than ever before.And those storms appear to be getting more routinely destructive. This may be, in part, because of one of the predicted effects of climate change (which exacerbates all weather extremes—from drought to monsoon). The increased warmth in tropical waters continues to feed these hurricanes, making them stronger.Add to that a previously misguided policy to “straighten out” the Mississippi river, and drain and develop marshlands around New Orleans (in the first half of the 20th century), all of which used to absorb the energy from storms, and you have a recipe not just for one disaster, but for a string of them.So yes, there will be a rebuilt, reconfigured Louisiana, and yes, parts of it—as you head toward Shreveport and Bastrop—will even stay, in relative hurricane terms, dry. And there will doubtless be compelling films coming from the Crescent City (where and whenever it’s raised from its current watery grave) someday—but those gripping human-interest stories about “the flood years” will be made by local documentarians and directors (paging Glen Pitre!), probably using DV equipment, telling the stories of their towns and their people.What there won’t be, will be Hollywood productions. What brought studios out there was the tax breaks, after all—not an interest in regional storytelling. And when the place giving you tax breaks is subject to routine, violent weather half the year, for the foreseeable future, it just stops making sense from the studios’ favorite line in any script: the bottom line.So, when folks in the production office of films like Tony Scott’s Orleans-based Déjà Vu say “no comment” about whether they’ll be relocating their production this fall, it doesn’t take much to figure that producer Jerry Bruckheimer will look for a way to stay as on schedule as possible (unless he cashes in all the insurance)—and that will, inevitably, involve pulling up stakes.Meanwhile, all the calls UR has put in to friends and colleagues in the New Orleans area, from local IA reps, to film commission folk, to just plain Crescent City pals, have all been—well, not unreturned, but utterly stymied. As of this writing, there is no getting through.We wish them and theirs all good wishes for recovery, and if you haven’t kicked your 20 or more bucks to Red Cross or some other credible relief agency yet, go ahead and do it now.Yes, last issue we said we’d finish up our discussion of the big AFL-CIO split—and next time, we’ll need to find out how SAG member Arnold Schwarzenegger’s anti-union ballot initiative is faring in his fall “special” election—but for now, “destiny,” as Bogart said in Casablanca, “has taken a hand.”Stay dry. And write Union Roundup: [email protected]

Written by Mark London Williams

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